How to Teach Phone Skills

Teaching your children phone skills will eliminate the answer "I don't know" when you ask who called?

I used to work as a telemarketer for a phone company — and I hated every single minute of it! But the experience did give me the opportunity to observe how completely awful many people’s telephone skills are. Even now, since I’ve been free from that horrendous job as a telemarketer, I can’t tell you how many times a conversation like this has happened when I call someone.

ME: Hello, may I speak with Melissa?

THEM: Ummm, (short pause) she’s not here. (silence)

ME: Well, do you know when I might be able to reach her?

THEM: No. (more silence)

ME: Could I leave a message for her?

THEM: I guess.

ME: Can you please have her call Joy at (555) 55…

THEM: (exasperated sigh) Hang on, I don’t have a pencil. (Sound of phone dropping and papers rustling. What seems like several minutes pass, the phone is picked up, and they say…) OK.

ME: Please have her call Joy at (555) 555-5555.

THEM: (No response; just silence)

ME: Did you get all that?

THEM: Umm, yeah.

ME: Thanks.

THEM: (quickly hangs up)

Can I just tell you how aggravating that is! I keep wondering who taught—or didn’t teach— that person how to answer a phone.

Having even rudimentary telephone skills is so important, and it really isn’t that difficult to teach your kids how to answer the phone. You don’t need a book, an instructional video, or an expensive curriculum; just set aside an hour or so for practice and your children should be able to improve their skills dramatically.

Teaching Phone Skills Suggestions

Discussing each of the following suggestions with your children, then have them practice what they learned. To practice, just grab your cell phone, go into another room, and call your home phone. Spend some serious time having your children answer the phone to practice what they just learned. You can pretend to be a friend, family member, telemarketer, bill collector, or whatever you want. You might even have them call you and practice asking to speak with someone. Just provide your kids with ample opportunity for practicing their skills before they try them out on real callers.

Initial answering phrase

  • Start by teaching your children what words they should use when they answer the phone, whether it be a simple, “Hello,” or a longer, “Hello, Smith residence.”
  • Discuss and practice how to answer with a polite tone of voice.

What to say when someone’s not available

  • Instruct your children to say, “They’re not available right now. May I take a message?” or something similar when that person is unable to take the call.
  • Make sure your children understand why they shouldn’t let someone who calls know that they are home alone.

Taking a message

  • Have your child practice taking down a message, including the name, phone number, and reason for calling.
  • Discuss where the actual message should be left so that it doesn't get lost or overlooked.

Finding out who is calling

  • You may want to teach you children to first say, “May I ask who’s calling,” before they let the caller know if the person they asked for is available.
  • Depending on your children’s ages, they may also be able to give you a heads-up on whether the person who is calling is a dreaded telemarketer.
  • Finding out who is calling also gives you the opportunity to tell someone that you’re too busy to talk right now and that you’ll call them back without having to go the phone yourself.

What to say when someone is available

  • When the person being asked for is available, teach your children to say something like, “Yes, she is. Just a moment and I’ll get her.”
  • If it takes a while for the person asked for to get to the phone, teach your children to let the caller know that it will be a moment before they answer.
  • You may also want to teach your child to say, “Here she is,” before handing the phone over to you.

Dealing with telemarketers

  • Teaching your children to discriminate between legitimate callers and telemarketers is difficult. You should discuss with your child how to recognize a telemarketer (or robotic call) and what they should do if they answer a call from one.
  • Don't be afraid the tell your children to say, "We're not interested" and hang up on telemarketers. As a former telemarketer, I can tell you that the sooner the telemarketer ends a non-sale phone call, the sooner they can make another call and make a sale.

Placing a phone call

  • Teach your child how to call someone else. You may want to teach them to introduce themselves when they make a call, such as, “Hello, this is Michael. May I please speak with Kyle?”

Just remember that simply talking about these phone skills with your kids — but not practicing them — won’t really do them much good. So get out your cell phone, and call!

I originally published this post on my other blog, Homeschooling for the Real World.

Image by Brian Rendel
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  1. says

    Great ideas!

    I have a distinct memory of being about 4, scrabbling to answer the phone. My mom & dad, brother & sister were standing there telling me if it's for dad, he's not home. Talk about ultra confusion! The same people who said never tell a lie are telling me to lie. Well, I held to my morals and said, "He's here. Hold on." Of course, 8 eyeballs all rolled in exasperation. How dare I be honest when they were instructing me to lie!

    I picked up a lot tricks as a receptionist. And I practiced on a lot of unsuspecting callers. In the evening out of boredom I used a sultry voice to see how many men would forget why they called. Never let a little work get in the way of my fun.

    When I answer the phone, I always start with "May I ask who's calling?" (sometimes even if the call is for me).

    #1 I know up front who is calling and can determine if this is worth a message, worth my time or worth bothering my husband. I find it saves time overall…a cut-to-the-chase method.

    #2 Starting off with "He's unavailable." usually gets me hung up before I find out who called which irritates me because the same person will call back in a few hours or at least by the next day.

    BTW When I was in telemarketing (for a whole month), I was surprised at how many people actually listened to my script patiently and then answered my questions willingly.

    Anne-Marie’s last blog post..I Will NEVER Be a Socialist!


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