The Mystery of the Telephone

By July 3, 2015 March 19th, 2019 Evolve Insights

As it appeared in the daily nation of April 28th 2015

Lucy Kiruthu

Your Call is Important to Us, please hold on until the next available agent! Seven minutes later I was still patiently waiting because I desperately needed help from my internet services provider. In addition I wanted to know just how long it was likely to take for my call to be answered. As I waited, I wondered if this call was really that important to the company in question. If it was that important it should not have taken that long to be picked up. When I sought to find out why the long wait, I was informed that the volume of calls was high. I knew why the volume of calls was high; there were many other customers calling in need of help.

The telephone has been in use for many decades as an important business communication tool.  Millions of business calls are made every day. How an organization deals with customers on the telephone speaks volumes about their customer focus. More than a century after the first transcontinental telephone call was ceremonially inaugurated by Graham Bell in New York, the mystery of the telephone remains. In Kenya, some calls are handled very professionally while many leave a lot to be desired. Many calls go unanswered, others take too long to get an answer and when answered sometimes customers are tossed from one extension to another. Other conversations are very unprofessional leaving many callers feeling frustrated and pushing them to physically visit the offices for assistance.

Since the telephone is also used for social interactions, many do not differentiate the need to remain professional when on a business call. Ignoring calls, lack of a greeting and introduction, use of slang, harsh responses, poor listening and general lack of telephone etiquette among other ills are sometimes seen as the norm. In some instances these ills find their way into business calls. These can be replaced by a well thought out telephone handling process. Short wait times, a pleasant greeting, ability to listen and a willingness to assist are some of tenets of such a process. This definitely makes many callers feel much better.

The interference of personal calls goes beyond how we deal with others during a conversation. Many staff carry their cell phone to work and sometimes customers have to wait for them to finalize on a personal call before they can get assistance. The best practice in customer service is that customers should never have to wait on a staff who is on a personal call. I recall when working at Wal-Mart we were not expected to have our personal mobile phones. This is not the case in our stores, a few days ago I was seeking assistance at a supermarket’s furniture section only to find the staff hiding behind the shelves texting.

The newest fad in this mystery is that customers do not even need to call you anymore. This means that organizations need to be more proactive in communicating to customers. It is about keeping customers informed and updated. There is significant room for improvement in how we deal with our customers on the telephone and call centres need to show the way.

Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on or via twitter @kiruthulucy

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