By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
The track record of receptionists successfully transferring calls is not good. In fact, based on my experience, successful call transfers actually occur less than half the time. The most common result is being disconnected.
The receptionist attempts to transfer your call, but there is no ringing and no music on hold. As you listen to silence, there is that growing realization that your call will soon come to a premature end. The return to dial tone or the automated instruction to “hang up and try your call again,” confirms that you have been summarily disconnected. Although this could be the result of technical problems, it is much more likely the consequence of human error.
When a disconnected caller calls back, how has their mood changed? The happy caller has likely become irritated, the irritated caller has become irate, and the irate caller has become abusive. None of these outcomes are necessary, and the additional stress to agents is unwarranted.
You can tip the odds in your favor, by following some common sense, but often overlooked, steps:
The proper transfer procedure must be covered in training. Additionally, the trainee should be able to experience the transfer from three different perspectives: the caller who is being transferred, the receptionist doing the transfer, and the person receiving the transfer. All too often, receptionists are deprived of experiencing the call transfer process from the standpoint of either the caller or the recipient. But doing so gives them a better understanding of how errors affect others and provide a means for some much-needed empathy.
To master a skill, it must be practiced until it becomes rote. Ample practice should occur prior to attempting it with a real caller. Plus, for receptionists not frequently transferring calls, ongoing practice is wise.
Most telephone systems provide multiple ways to transfer calls. Pick the most universally applicable method and teach it to all employees. Get the trainers to concur that this standard method will be taught and no others. Finally, discourage receptionists from using different approaches, seeking shortcuts, or sharing alternative methods with others.
Decide on one philosophy for transferring calls. A blind transfer is the quickest, but least professional. With it, the receptionist dials the number, connects the caller, and hangs up before the call is answered. Although common, it is not even close to a “best-practice.” In an announced transfer, the receptionist dials the number, tells the recipient about the call, connects the caller, and then hangs up. A confirmed transfer is one step beyond an announced transfer, in which the receptionist stays connected long enough to ensure that the recipient can address the caller’s needs.
Transfer lists need to be periodically checked. Not just read, but actually dialed. Over time, lists become outdated; frequent verification is the only sure way to make sure that receptionists have accurate information. During a slower time of the day or week is an ideal time to assign an employee to the task of testing each number on the transfer list. Less you write this off as too time-consuming or not cost-effective, consider the cost of dealing with an irate or abusive caller who calls back after being cut off. Even worse, what if they never call back?
If you pursue the first-call resolution, the need to transfer callers is greatly reduced. Perhaps that is the best prescription of all.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is publisher, editor, author, and blogger with 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for tips and insights.