Being Professional on the Telephone


Whenever we speak to a stranger on the telephone, our perception of them is determined solely by what we hear through the earpiece.

Whenever we talk to patients on the telephone, whether you are the appropriate person or not their perception of you and the Practice is determine solely by what they hear.

On the telephone we are limited to using only 30% of our available communication skills, which means we must work ever harder than in face-to-face communications.

What are the most frustrating things that can happen to you on the telephone?

A recent survey investigates the most frustrating things that can happen to you on the telephone. Leaving aside purely technical problems such as getting a wrong number or a bad line, these were the top frustrating to emerge:

  • The telephone not being answered quickly enough – especially when the caller knows that there are people there at the other end of the phone.
  • Encountering an incompetent telephonist who puts  you through to the wrong extension, cuts the caller off whilst trying to transfer the call, or simply does not have the knowledge about who is who and where to reach them.
  • Being left hanging on without an explanation or what is happening. Not knowing if they have been cut off or not.
  • Being called at an inconvenient time and being assumed that it is convenient to talk.  (Just because you start at 08.00 it does not mean that everyone else is up and raring to go at the same time! Always try to leave any phone calls to a respectable time – unless of course it is important and you need to phone immediately). I think that 10.00 onwards is a respectful time to call someone. Always ask the person you are phoning if it is convenient to talk. They perhaps might have someone there that they do not want hearing the conversation – or if on their mobile not be in a suitable place to talk.
  • Being forced to answer a series of closed questions that does not adequately allow them to express their needs.
  • The telephonist ending the call leaving things vague, thus leaving the caller uncertain as what is happening.
  • Being greeted by a machine message rather than a person.

As you have read through the list of frustrating things you more than likely have found some of them familiar and recognised them as being true in your experience. If so, look at them again and ask yourself “how many of these apply to me?” In other words how often do you do things that frustrate other people?

Discuss at your next team meeting if there are any improvements you can make in your surgery. Ask your team – how would they feel if they were the patient – would they be happy with the service your practice  gives!

The three stages to structure and manage telephone calls

The verbal handshake

  • Answer promptly
  • Give Surgery Name followed by
  • Good morning / Afternoon
  • Get the caller’s name
  • Sound friendly and interested (remember to smile)

Getting / giving the message

  • Listen carefully
  • Control the call
  • Take approrpiate notes
  • Use good questioning techniques
  • Speak clearly and distinctly
  • Vary voice
  • Courteous words and phrases
  • Avoid emotive words
  • Plan words – no jargon
  • Confirm the patient understands the call

Offering help

  • Give useful information
  • Say what you are going to do next
  • Summarise
  • Agee action – and stick to it.

Remembertreat people as you would expect to be treated.

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