“How Are You Today?”

Do we smile when we answer the phone?

Do we smile when we answer the phone?

How do you respond when someone asks you this question when you answer the phone? Better yet, how does your staff respond to this question when they answer? What first impression are we giving people who call us and ask us this question?

Something that I started doing a short time ago in my phone calls is take the time to ask, “How are you today?” when the phone is answered. Nine times in ten, I am met with a response, like “um . . . fine . . . ,” and in a tone that suggests I might be about to try and sell something. This tells me that the person on the other end is now “on guard” against whatever I may say, or worse, ask for, next.

Is this the kind of response any lawyer or law firm should allow from its staff? This is especially off putting coming from a court clerk, which unfortunately is quite common. Think about how this speaks to your callers. Is it possible that the caller is simply being friendly? Even if it is a salesperson, can’t they be friendly, too? As lawyers, we are all sales professionals. Should we not be equally polite and friendly to all callers, regardless of the reason for the call? How often is it even a sales call, anyway? I’ve been guilty of this type of response when I think it’s a salesperson. Now, I realize they are just doing their jobs and deserve a modicum of polite conversation, like everyone else. Can’t we simply say, “no, thank you” and wish them a nice remainder of their day?

Because this irritates me, and I can’t be the only one to notice this, I thought I would do some internet searching on phone skills. I found a good article by Susanne Gaddis, PhD, “The Communications Doctor” here. She makes some very good points about how to answer the phone, from which we can all learn something.

The way you, or your staff, answer the phone speaks to people. The way you, or your staff, treat the caller also speaks. Why do we tend to lose politeness when we are not face to face with the other party to a conversation? Have you considered spying on your staff to see how they answer? Have a friend call in (caller ID blocked, of course) and ask your receptionist “How are you today?” and see what type of response they get. Better yet, have the friend put the call on speaker, so you can hear the intonation, inflection, etc. Judge for yourself.

Have you checked your first impression lately? What did you find?

Please keep this conversation going, and leave some comments below.

About Kris Krol

Kris Krol is an attorney in private practice in Lansing, Michigan. Since 1998, she has increased her knowledge about the “business” of practicing of law. Specifically, she has learned how to streamline her practice and to maximize various software solutions in the practice of law. In 2005, she began an 18-month transition to a completely paperless office.
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