Have you ever been greeted, either in person or on the phone, by a receptionist who wasn’t exactly the friendliest or most helpful? I have, and it leaves a lasting impression of that company that’s hard to forget, even if the service or product they eventually provide turns out to be good.
All too often, some receptionists view their role as that of a gatekeeper, adopting a “thou shall not pass!” mentality, and in doing so, forgetting the fundamental basics of their role. We’ve all come across them and so to try and avoid these classic pitfalls of call screening, we’ve put together this guide to help.
Table of Contents:
Whether you’re new to the reception desk or you’ve been handling calls for years, the following article should hopefully give some helpful tips on screening calls, from prioritising calls and tasks, to the importance of remembering to smile.
What is Call Screening?
Working as virtual receptionists, our operators are adept at screening calls but what is it and do we screen calls for every client? The short answer is yes, screening calls is something we do for every client, in some shape or form, but not all in the same way. Some clients request more screening than others and some simply don’t want any calls transferred at all whilst they are diverting calls to our call answering service.
Call screening is the art of evaluating incoming calls and determining their relevance and urgency in order to decide whether or not that caller should be; transferred to the department or person they believe they need to speak with, placed on hold or a message taken. It can be a surprisingly very fine line between a helpful, professional, receptionist and an officious, rude one that seems intent on blocking a call.
As a caller, you may well feel like some of the questions are superfluous, or even plain irritating, but there may well be a good reason why they are being asked. As a business owner, you know what calls or clients are truly important to you and so to be disturbed when you don’t want, or need to be, can be very annoying.
The Importance of Screening Calls for Businesses
People like to speak with people, however there are times when other business takes priority and call screening is required to make sure only the requested callers disturb you.
As a call answering service, screening calls for our clients is an everyday task and it’s rare that our operators are required to act in the same way from one client to the next.
For example, some clients only use our service when they absolutely don’t want to be disturbed, by anyone. In this case it is very much down to our operator’s professionalism to collect the required details, transcribe into a detailed message and organise a callback whilst still making sure the caller doesn’t feel like their call has been wasted or that our client is avoiding them.
Other clients may require only VIP callers or prospective clients to be transferred, again these calls need to be screened in order to make sure only the correct callers are passed through to our client.
Knowing that your business phone is not going to ring allows you to relax and concentrate on the more pressing business of the day, be that the accounts, marketing or business planning, it all adds up to greater productivity.
Having a professional and well-trained receptionist answering, handling and screening calls can leave a lasting impression on clients and help shape a business’s reputation so here are our top five receptionist call screening tips:
Our Top 5 Receptionist Call Screening Tips
Tip 1: Prioritising Phone Calls – Instructions!
Recognising the urgency and relevance of incoming calls is one of the most important factors when call screening. Not all calls are created equal and not all callers may be as important to the business they are calling as they believe themselves to be. That’s why it’s important to have clear instructions on what your client or end user classes as urgent or worth being disturbed for.
Work with your management to create a clear set of guidelines that categorize calls by urgency and type. This could include designating certain calls as high priority, such as calls from VIP clients, emergency situations, or time-sensitive enquiries.
For a call answering service, such as Connect’s, the operators will follow on-screen instructions or guides that tell them who, or under what circumstances, a caller should be transferred. They answer each business call professionally by greeting the caller, asking how they can be of assistance and at that point, allow the caller to take the lead in offering the information needed to ascertain if the call should be transferred or not. If, at this point, the caller is not for divulging the required information then the operator will use their professionalism to try and encourage more.
Callers often provide limited reasons for their calls, “she’ll know what it’s about” or “just put me through to him, he’s expecting my call”. They may well be a cold call or, it may be somebody with a genuine reason to call, either way further details are required. If the caller doesn’t fall into a category of “green light” transfers, the receptionist needs to have the confidence to explain that he/she won’t be able to transfer the call without first knowing the reason. Make it clear that you are following instructions and not being purposely difficult,
“Mr/Mrs X has instructed that I ask for the these details before transferring calls”.
It may well turn out that they have a valid reason for calling however, it may also be the case that they are a sales call, or someone else even more undesirable, and are simply trying their luck.
The best way to prioritise calls is through clear instruction, either from your management or, in in the case of a call answering service, the client. Without this the operator can’t be expected to handle calls as professionally as possible.
Tip 2: Professional Communication – Smile!
Whether visiting the office in person, or calling in, the receptionist is very likely to be the first point of contact and so it’s important to come across as professionally as possible.
It’s quite easy in person to come across as professional and friendly, the number 1 way is to simply to sit up straight and smile and this is also true when answering the phone. It may sound a little ridiculous but smiling as you speak, even if you can’t be seen, really does make you come across as so much more positive and helpful person. Whether you realise it or not, when you’re smiling it’s actually quite difficult to sound and say negative things and so you instinctively turn negatives into positives. It’s an easy win.
If you are on the front desk, you probably already do sit up straight and smile as you aware you are visible, but if you work remotely as a virtual receptionist or out of vision then it’s easy to start slouching and drop the happy, positive vibes! You wouldn’t do it on the front desk, don’t do it if you’re working from home or somewhere else.
Tip 3: Efficient Information Gathering
As with our first tip, sometimes preparation is key so make sure you have a good guide or script to follow, this may include some kind of checklist so that you don’t forget important information that’s needed or been requested.
Ask open-ended questions if the caller doesn’t seem to be forthcoming with details you require:
- “How can I help you today?”
- “Can you describe the nature of your issue or request so I can direct you to the right person?”
- “What steps have you taken already towards resolving this issue?”
- “What has your experience been so far with this matter?”
Obviously the above questions may sound out of place for some calls but they should give a few good examples to follow. If in doubt, the following opening words are usually good “open-enders”:
- Who – “Who would you like to speak with today?”
- What – “What can I help you with today?”
- When – “When did you first notice this issue?”
- Where – “Where are you calling from?”
- Why – “Can I ask why are you looking to speak with…?”
Collecting the correct information can also come down to simply listening carefully and repeating those details back to the caller to confirm. For example:
“OK, Mrs Jones, thank you, so you’ve received a letter about X issue, and you looking to speak with somebody in the Y department: is that correct?”
Doing so shows the caller that you have listened and understood but also gives them a chance to correct anything that may not have been clear before you make the decision on whether or not to transfer the call, based on the previously mentioned script or guide.
Tip 4: Use Technology to help Screen Calls
There are now lots of tools that can help with screening calls and probably the best is by having an IVR menu greet the caller before the receptionist does. IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response and, for call screening, it’s a good way to triage the inbound calls to the correct department or at least filter them in such a way that you know what the call is likely to be about before you even answer it.
You’ll have come across IVR menus many times without probably knowing that’s what they were called:
“Thank you for calling X industries, please press 1 for accounts, 2 for sales, for parts it’s 3, and for anything else please press 4 or stay on the line to speak with an operator”
These are not uncommon at all now and only the most impatient or difficult of callers would be sufficiently upset by having their call answered by one as to take offence.
Tip 5: Confidentiality and Compliance
When acting as a receptionist, either in person or whilst call screening, confidentiality isn’t just a nice-to-have but an absolute mandate. Every call handled or screened could contain sensitive information that, if improperly disclosed, could lead to breaches of privacy and trust, and potentially legal repercussions.
An example would be if a receptionist gave out sensitive business or personal information to a caller without verifying their identity first.
The best rule to follow would be this: if in any doubt, don’t give out. If you’re unable to transfer the call to the appropriate person, then don’t give out any information regarding the callers query unless you are 100% certain it’s correct. Instead, take all the details necessary and arrange a call back from the person best placed to deal with the call.
Looking for Professional Receptionist Call Screening?
So that’s our top 5 receptionist call screening tips, try implementing them into how you answer and screen calls today and hopefully they can be of some help.
We offer all new enquires a 30 day free trial of our call answering services which can be used as an outsourced switchboard where we can handle calls, as per your instructions, and transfer to the correct person or department. If not available we can try a different line or take a detailed message to arrange a call-back.
Receptionist Call Screening FAQs
How should a receptionist screen calls?
Based on the caller’s response, decide if the call should be transferred, if a message should be taken, or if further questions are needed. Remember, the goal is to ensure that important calls are prioritized and directed appropriately, while still maintaining a positive and professional image for the caller.
How should a receptionist handle telephone calls?
When transferring a call to another department or colleague, inform the caller whom they will be speaking with next, as this ensures a smooth handoff. Always maintain a helpful and patient demeanor, even with complaints or challenging calls, as this reflects positively on the entire business.
How can receptionists maintain confidentiality while call screening?
Regular reminders about the importance of confidentiality and updates on privacy practices should also be carried out by the business.