Many of our patrons find it much more convenient, even imperative, to contact us by telephone rather than in person. Homebound patrons can reach us by telephone if no other way. Since we try to be as accessible as possible to all patrons the telephone is a fine way to make it easier for people to reach us. However, telephone reference requires special skills.
Tips on communicating by telephone
Telephone reference presents special problems:
- You can't see your patron's facial expressions and they can't see yours, so you lose one very valuable way of communicating.
- The telephone distorts words, so it's easier to make mistakes in hearing.
- You can't see who your patron is. It becomes especially imperative not to assume the level of information your patron wants. Ask to make sure you are using appropriate resources for your patron.
- You may feel more time pressure without the patron working with you on the search. Relax and keep the patron informed as you are able, understanding that people are willing to wait for a correct answer.
Answering the telephone
- Identify your library or branch very clearly. Follow your library's policies on how to identify yourself and your library.
- As soon as you pick up the receiver, talk to the caller. Don't pick it up to stop the ringing while continuing a conversation with someone else.
- Your initial greeting sets the tone for the rest of the interview. Practice sounding clear, helpful and competent.
- Put warmth and friendliness in your voice. Callers can't see you smile, but they can hear it reflected in your voice.
- Speak clearly and not too fast. What may seem to you to be rapid speech may sound like a curt reply to the listener.
- Always have paper and pencil ready.
- If the patron gives you a name any time during the call, write it down (telephonically) and try to use it later in the conversation.
- Use simple, straightforward language. Avoid library jargon the patron won’t understand.
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This page was updated November 24, 2003.