Projecting Professionalism

I needed to reach out to an external colleague involved in a project, so I picked up the phone and punched in the numbers for his desk phone… ring, ring. “Hello?” was the unenthused voice I heard on the other end of the line. For a split second, I thought I misdialed and had reached a residential number.

I winced at the way my monotone colleague answered the phone while representing his Fortune 500 company.  And I rolled my eyes.

This is going to be painful,” said the voice in my head. You see, I’d immediately judged this person based on his lack of professionalism in answering his business line. “I had better double-check his work. I will probably have to follow up with him on a regular basis. I will probably have to remind him of deadlines.” These were all my thoughts in the first two seconds of our conversation.

Is it really that difficult to answer the telephone with a quick introduction and modicum of emotion? I’m not asking for emotions the like of which Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar would deliver, but as long as this guy was cashing a paycheck, and he did represent a large organization in the top 50 of the Fortune 500 list. Ironically, I was calling someone at one of the big carriers… “Can you hear me now?”

Along the same vein, I find it inconsiderate when a professional doesn’t record a personal voicemail greeting. I don’t expect everyone to update their voicemail daily, announcing the date and day of the week -- although I do think it’s a nice, courteous touch -- but at least record a basic voicemail to let customers know that you have a pulse.

I’m not one to hesitate to pick up the phone to reach out to people. I find a conversation to be much more productive than back-and-forth emails for three days before a consensus is met to nail down the next meeting date. So I’d say that I’m on the phone more than the average person. And unfortunately, I can confidently say that not a week goes by that I don’t land in someone’s default voicemail box in which the greeting, “Extension XXXX does not answer, please leave a message after the beep.” And it grinds on me like nails on a chalkboard.

I share all this to ask the question, “From where does the problem originate?

Sometimes when I look at a rude kid it doesn’t take long to see that the apple didn't fall far from the tree.  But here, we’re talking about adults in the workplace.

Were the expectations of common courtesy and professionalism clearly communicated upon hiring? Because these are things that can be changed.

Years ago, a hospital hired me as a business analyst in IT. The hospital held orientation for new hires once a month. It was a two-day event that, I’ll admit, wasn’t terribly exciting, but I did find it interesting to learn so much about the operations of a hospital. I’ll never forget something that HR announced to the crowded room.

The HR director said, “Even you folks in IT need to remember that every person who walks through those front doors are customers. If they walk in and look lost, you need to walk up to them and ask if they need help. If they need directions, you are to walk them to wherever it is they need to go. It is our policy that you never give directions to someone, but to walk them to their destination. And it is our policy that no hospital employee will ever be reprimanded for being late because they were helping a customer.” I was struck by the fact that HR singled out IT, the most introverted department in the organization, and told us that we were to be held to the same customer service standards as everyone else. I admired that.

Perhaps the younger generation simply wasn’t taught some of the fundamentals of etiquette over the phone, so I’ll highlight a few:

  1. Record a custom voicemail. Let the world hear your voice.
  2. Answer the phone with your name and your company’s name.
  3. When hosting a conference call, either do introductions for everyone, or take a moment to go around the virtual room and let everyone introduce themselves.
  4. At the end of a conference call, call out each person by name and ask if they have any questions. It makes them feel remembered -- giving them a sense of value.
  5. When there’s a sense of urgency, pick up the phone. Know when email is appropriate and when a phone call is appropriate. If an answer is needed within a few hours, a phone call might be a better choice.

Have you set similar standards for your team?

Who is responsible for setting these expectations in your organization?