Back to Basics

By Nancy Friedman

It’s a well known fact. That first voice you hear when you call a company sets the tone,  makes the first impression, and welcomes the caller. Few will argue that point.

Sadly, one of the most important and overlooked techniques for hiring people who will be answering the phones for your company is not done as often as it should be. And that is to interview them by phone first. That’s right. If you’re interviewing for someone to handle your calls, have them call you and talk with them before you bring them in to the office to do the interview.

A good way to start is simply: “Tell me about yourself.” If the applicants have any difficulty talking about the one topic they should know the most about, how will they be able to talk your clients and their callers?

Be on the look out for those who only answer your questions with one word answers, like “yes” or “no.” One-word answers are considered cold and unfriendly. Listen to hear the tone of their voice. You, as owners and managers, know you can hear a smile. Is it there? If it’s not there at this point, chances are, it never will be. The old adage about first impressions is so true, especially in the interview.

You’d be much better with an over-enthusiastic individual and ask them to “tone down” than to have a mild, unenthusiastic person who needs to be “turned up.” Tell them at the time of your phone interview to be the best they can be, because this will determine if they get a second, personal interview. Since the job is that of primarily being on the phone, it’s an excellent way to test a candidate.

Don’t be surprised or disappointed if you run through several candidates before one comes up that will meet your needs. Just keep at it. Don’t lower your standards just because you’re busy. Once you do, the competition has an edge over you.

After candidates have passed the initial screening (what Telephone Doctor calls the “smile test”) then you can ask them to come in for further interviewing. At that point, you can give them the other important skill testing you need to do. Remember, most of the calls they will be taking are from people who will never see them. However, you do need a clean, well-kept person who has a great smile and great attitude.

Some of the questions you might want to ask in an interview for these positions are:

How long can you stay in one area and still be comfortable?  Ask them to tell you about the times they needed to stay in one area and how it made them feel. Reason: This position usually means staying in one area, answering phones and not running all over the office. If the applicant likes to be all over the office, it may not be a good match.

How do you feel about this position? How important is answering the phones to them? When we feel something is important, we will do much better at that job. Let the applicant tell and sell you on how key that position is for your company. In other words, don’t tell them how important it is, let them tell you.

How much telephone training have you had? Where and what? Get specific. Employees who value training will be good ones for you and they will want to continue being trained. They will expect to be trained. It’s a known fact that employees feel more secure in their position when they have been trained. They realize and appreciate that your time and money is being spent on them. Training is good job insurance for both parties.

Unfortunately, not everyone is a good candidate for answering phones. Don’t just hire someone, sit them in an area with the phones, and tell them, “Okay, now be nice.” They will need to know how you want it done. Answering phones is both an art and a science.

Telephone skills training should not be ignored, and yet it often is. Unfortunately, this position is usually a lower paid position. It shouldn’t be. Employ people with good work ethics – with a happy attitude – and pay them well. It will be well worth it for you and your company.

Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, is a speaker at association conferences and corporate gatherings and is the author of four best selling books.

[From Connection MagazineMarch 2004]