Top 10 Phone Sourcing Rules

Jan 13, 2010

STE_telephone.nsaPeople would rather focus on phone sourcing’s sister cousin, Internet sourcing, than telephone sourcing. Phone sourcing still seems scary to most; after all, a keyboard and computer screen don’t talk back to you and stymie you in your efforts at seeking information. This reluctance is becoming today a not-so-subtle avoidance issue and hiring managers are noticing and demanding more.

With that in mind, I’m in the process of finishing a Telephone Names Sourcing Rule Book. So far I have 46 rules. The following that are the 10 rules that, so far, I see as the “top.” Feel free to add yours!

Rule #1: Say hello and state your name.

When the Receptionist Gatekeeper answers, she usually says her name. Make that your cue to say your own.

“Hello, Anne, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you…”

Rule #2: Repeat her name back to her.

“Hello, Anne, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you please transfer me…?”

It’s said that a person’s name is the most beautiful sound (to that person) in a person’s language. It’s also the beginning of the knowledge exchange and capture.

Rule #3: Ask for one thing at a time.

Do not overwhelm her. Keep it simple.

“Hello, Anne, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you please transfer me to the Director of Risk Management?” asks one question and is easy to cope with. Think of her as a child and give her one instruction at a time.

Asking several questions/giving her too much information in one hurried onslaught will turn her off, sending up her defenses and more than likely cause her to turn you away.

Rule #4: Don’t lie.

“Hello, Anne, this is Maureen Sharib. My boss is on a deadline and he talked to your Director of Risk Management last week about a possible project but I’ve lost his name and I need to address correspondence today or I’m going to lose my job and I don’t want to lose my job!Who is your Director of Risk Management?” does little more than open you up to something cold from Anne like this:

“We don’t have a Director of Risk Management and haven’t for a long time.”

You want to go there? This takes us to the next rule:

Rule #5: Listen and hear what’s in the Gatekeeper’s voice.

You have a few seconds to decide your tack when she answers. A Gatekeeper’s voice will tell you many things if you’re listening. Many times it will reveal if she’s young, middle-aged, or older. This information can speak to her level of maturity and experience on the phone. You can hear frustration, resentment, and hastiness in a person’s voice as well as happiness, patience and serenity. Having her speak first when she answers is a monumental advantage in phone sourcing that gives you a superior couple-second position to choose your approach.

“ABC Corporation. It’s cold, icy, and snowy here in Minneapolis today, Anne speaking — may I help you?” exclaimed chirpily might tell you Anne is a young and energetic Gatekeeper who doesn’t mind repeating all that yadda-yadda each and every time she answers the phone, but at some point, you have to think it gets old. It could be presenting an “ice-breaking” opportunity though:

“Hi Anne, this is Maureen. Wow, that’s a mouthful. I hope you’re staying warm!”

Anne: “Oh I am! It was really cold though when I came in this morning — they turned the heat down over the weekend — can you imagine?”

Maureen: “I had a boss that did that once. Nobody wanted to be first in the office in the morning. Consequently nobody came in before 10. He got the message.”

Anne: “I guess there’s more than one way to skin a cat!”

That above is pretty close to an actual conversation I had in the past, and afforded an opportunity to move to the next phase of my call as if we were old girlfriends with no secrets between us. I forget what was obtained out of her on that call, but rest assured it was probably pretty powerful and fruitful information!

It can go the other way though:

“ABC Corporation. It’s cold, icy, and snowy here in Minneapolis today, Anne speaking — may I help you?” said listlessly might say Anne is older and weary of repeating that mantra each and every time she answers the phone. That too, can be worked to an advantage:

“Hi Anne, this is Maureen. Wow, that’s a mouthful. You have to say all that each and every time you answer?”

Anne: “Yeah, can you believe it? It gets old but they insist…”

Maureen: “Anne, I’m trying to reach the Director of Risk Management — can you direct me?”

Anne: “Yeah! He’s onea’ the ones who insists I say all that! Don’t tell him I said anything!”

Maureen: “You’d think he’d know better! Don’t worry, Anne, I won’t say a word!”

That too comes close to a conversation (or two/change the locale/weather conditions) that I’ve had with Gatekeepers. Once again the manner in which I interacted with her set the tone for the level of cooperation she gave me. Remember, a Gatekeeper’s reality may not be what you think it is or anywhere aligned at all to your own.

There’s another not-so-pleasing way it can go as well:

“ABC Corporation. It’s cold, icy, and snowy here in Minneapolis today, Anne speaking — may I help you?” repeated tonelessly can indicate hostility and an uncooperative Gatekeeper. It’s usually best to just get down to business:

“Hello, Anne, this is Maureen Sharib. Can you please transfer me to the Director of Risk Management?”

Anne: “No.”

Maureen: “No?”

Anne: “We have a no-names policy here. I don’t have titles here at the front desk — you need a name to be transferred. Do you have a name?”

Maureen: “Well, yes, Anne, I do have a name. Can you please transfer me to Jim Maloney?”

Anne: “He’s not the Director of Risk Management.”

(And she said she only had names at the front desk? Be aware that most Gatekeepers lie as one of their job functions. It’s a shame really. Most of them don’t like it and as a result resent having to do it.)

Maureen: “I know, but I thought maybe he could help me. Can you transfer me please?”

Anne: “What is it you need?”

Now at this point handling Anne gets tricky. I know I probably have an angry/resistant/hostile/burned-out Gatekeeper on my hands and I have a few choices here. I can either strong-arm her by insisting she send me on to Jim without stating my business, but that’s probably not going to work.

I can also excuse myself from the conversation and say something akin to: “Maybe I have the wrong information — let me check my notes and get back to you,” and quickly hang up the phone before she has a chance to say anything and this isn’t a bad tack to take with hostile or resistant Gatekeepers because if she is like this, chances are you’re not going to get a lot further anyway.

This high-risk/low-return scenario doesn’t appeal to me (usually) but if I got up on the wrong side of the bed that day I might pressingly say: “Anne, are you going to transfer me or not?” which is probably going to be met with the “not” ultimatum and is the main reason I rarely challenge Gatekeepers. Sometimes harsh, gruff words precede surrender in life but it takes a lot of emotional stamina to play that psychological guilt game with her.

I look for low-risk/high-return situations, so in most of these unpleasant situations I just get off the phone as quickly and painlessly as possible. When I first started names sourcing I was told the following and startling truth:

“It’s just a phone. If you freak out, Maureen, just hang up!”

And it’s usually what I do, though I try to do it with some grace. Some phone sourcers just hang up. That’s not very nice and might close off further chances of communication with her on a day she may be feeling better. I try not to burn bridges. I prefer to save my strength for opportunities when they present themselves. They always do if I’m patient and persevere.

This rule is so long because it’s very important. It leads us into the next rule, which is:

Rule #6: Never, ever, ever argue with the Gatekeeper.

It’s almost a 100% bet you’re not going to change her mind, so allow her to have her way with you. After she’s done this a couple times and you’ve obediently followed her “suggestions” she’ll feel an investment (of her time) in your progress. Because she is investing her time she is likely to become more, if not very, helpful at some point allowing you to begin directing her actions. This is when you gain the upper hand.

Rule #7: Understand that phone sourcing may not, and very well might not, be your cup of tea.

Phone sourcing, in general, calls for a personality type that:

  • Is in tune with their senses — uses internal feelings to deal with the outside world
  • Is likely to be quiet and reserved — difficult to know well but may appear warm and sensitive — an enigma
  • Has an interest in contributing to other’s sense of well-being and happiness — are service-oriented
  • Grasps intuitively information that belongs or doesn’t belong
  • Are attuned to underlying meanings
  • Is not easily led or controlled
  • Requires personal space — are independent and original
  • Can work with subtle differences in the personalities of others
  • Are usually penetratingly accurate in assessments of other’s personalities
  • Are action-oriented “doers” easily bored with theory unless it holds practical application
  • Make value judgments based on strong, subjective beliefs
  • May be harsh, self-judging perfectionists
  • Is spontaneous/impulsive and can lose selves in action — acting soberly and intensely in the here and now sometimes with little to no planning or preparation appearing to be caught in a whirlwind driven by some inner compass
  • Is gentle toward others, showing consideration through action rather than words
  • Do not often express themselves verbally, allowing their body of work to speak for them; this seems odd in light of the work but when you observe a good phone sourcer in action you are impressed with how little he says
  • Are competitive
  • Learn through enjoyable experiences
  • Is optimistic

Rule #8: Lose the stinkin’ thinkin’.

Anticipate reactions and prepare your own but don’t expect defeat. Be decisive. Be bold. If you can’t lose the negativity, seek professional help. There’s medicine available.

Rule #9: Be humble.

It’s one of the main lessons in life for being successful. I learned this one the hard way! Embrace your foibles. They’re what make you human. Laugh at yourself often and at others never.

Rule #10: Give back.

Take the time to help others who want to learn. You’ll come across them and they will teach you far more than what you can ever teach them. Believe me.

There are 36 other rules I see as important in the booklet but I want to hear what rules you think should be included. Post here, and if they’re different from what I already have or if they match what I already have I’ll give you credit in the booklet.

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