“Public affairs,” the woman said, in a weary tone.
“Is that really how you answer your phone?” I thought to myself. “Is that the best you can do to make a welcoming impression about your multimillion-dollar, internationally renowned charitable organization?”
This was a few weeks ago, and my next thought was that somewhere along the line she decided to imitate a poor example that she had bought into as a younger, more impressionable employee. At the core of connecting with the public is fostering positive relations with the individuals who, collectively, amount to that public.
So it's incumbent on anyone in "public affairs" (or a related position) to inject a personal touch that warms up the cold, clinical terms that might appear on our business cards.
After this cold greeting, I introduced myself and explained that a client was donating money to the association as part of a marketing campaign I was publicizing in Chicago’s near western suburbs. The woman’s warmth began to eke out and the conversation flowed from there. I sent the news release promoting the contest supporting her organization.
At the same time, I let her know that there were five other charities likewise receiving support from my client and being contacted with the same news release.
That's right--this organization is far from the only game in town, just as nobody has a monopoly on their industry. There's a survival-of-the-fittest lesson in that. It’s far easier to hang up than to put up with someone who doesn’t make you feel comfortable from the get-go. And if this gruff, impersonal greeting is how someone addresses the public on a public affairs phone line, what kind of experience are folks having when they reach other departments?
Public relations victory, in the long term, goes to those who are able to make a winning connection with as broad a spectrum of individuals as possible. It's something akin to charisma, that power to attract others and inspire confidence and loyalty. And often it starts with a conversation over the phone.
Some people, like Amway Diamond Matt Tsuruda, have the brand of charisma that carries over phone lines. For more than 20 years, Tsuruda has been a leader with World Wide DreamBuilders (WWDB), a training-and-development organization that helps people build Amway businesses. Much of Tsuruda's success can be traced to a strong, genuine interest in other people. That's a key component of charisma: compellingly communicating to other people that they are valued.
And one way to assign value to others is to answer your phone in a manner that makes them feel welcome.
So, how do you answer yours? And what does your outgoing voicemail sound like? Your voicemail, after all, is making a significant impression during those times when you are not able to answer the phone yourself.
This goes beyond phone etiquette--it is frontline public relations. On every call in which I am unsure of the person making the contact, I answer the same way, every time: “Hello, this is Matt…”
By using my first name, I am seeking to establish a warm tone that inspires a personal connection. It also cues the caller to provide his or her name, which can be a great help as I strive to evaluate the nature (and relative priority, for me) of the call.
Think about it this way: when you call someone who doesn't know you already, do you think you will get a better reception if you use your own name or if you rely solely on your title? Over the next few weeks, when picking up your phone, try this approach and see its impact on the quality of your interactions.