No more phone tag

We wait on hold, talk to voice mail, play “telephone tag” … it’s no wonder some business people have gotten so frustrated with the phone that they’re increasingly relying on e-mail, faxes and other technologies to communicate.

While these new media have their places, they’re usually no substitute for actually talking with a client or business associate. Given that, here are a few ways to make the telephone less frustrating — and a much more effective communication tool.

  • Record a voice mail greeting that works.

    One of the biggest complaints about the phone is the seemingly endless games of tag we play with callers. All too often, the greeting on our voice mail is a big part of the problem. Don’t just say, “Leave a message and I’ll call you back.” The only message most people will leave is, “Hey, it’s Joe. Call me.” Instead, try, “Please leave a detailed message outlining exactly what you need. That way, I’ll have that information when I call you. Thanks.”

  • Better yet, answer your own phone.

    A lot of people think having someone screen their calls saves time, but I disagree. Messages get garbled. Sometimes people won’t discuss a confidential matter with a secretary or administrative assistant. Why duplicate efforts? Your associate’s time is valuable, too.

  • Don’t be too quick to say, ‘I’ll call you back.’

    If someone calls and requests information you don’t have at hand, but can get quickly, don’t say “I’ll call you right back.” Odds are, you’ll just start another round of phone tag. Instead, ask callers if you can put them on hold. If they hesitate, explain, “It’ll take me less than a minute to get that information and we can settle this right now.”

  • Let more callers hold.

    If you choose not to answer your own phone, instruct the person who handles incoming calls to ask everyone to wait on hold for just a few seconds, to see if you’re available. If you’re on a call, you’ll usually be able to conclude that conversation and take the incoming call. It’s frustrating to miss important calls because you were on an unimportant one.

  • Put yourself on hold, too.

    Most of us have more than enough to keep us busy at our desks, so why are we in such a hurry to leave a message when the person we’re calling is on the other line? Instead, announce you don’t mind waiting on hold, put your phone on speaker and get back to work. So what if you wait five minutes? You’re getting work done. And you know the person you need to speak with is in, so the wait is worth it.

  • Alert your assistant about important incoming calls.

    Your assistant can’t read your mind. If you’re expecting an important caller, let someone know and leave instructions to interrupt you.

  • Make calls before or after hours.

    Often, you don’t need to talk to someone — you just want to leave a piece of information. The trouble is, what should be a 30-second phone call can become a 10-minute rehash of the weekend’s football game. To avoid these conversations, leave messages before or after hours.

  • Keep your voice mail message current.

    You call a business associate Monday. Her voice mail says to leave a message and she’ll call you back. You leave a message. No return call. You leave another message Wednesday. On Thursday, you finally learn she’s on vacation. You’ve wasted almost a week because she didn’t update her voice mail message — and she probably lost an order.

Charles Nekvasil is executive counselor at Lord, Sullivan & Yoder Public Relations in Columbus. On a typical day, he makes and receives more than 100 telephone calls. Reach him at 846-7777.