Content Updated October 3, 2007
Skip the phone books use your Internet directory.
Just go to your favorite online phone directory and type in the name of the person or company you’re looking for. You’ll get any information that’s available in the phone book, plus things like maps to help you figure out where they are.
Skip the yellow pages and use Tell Me when you travel.
If you don’t have a cell phone with Internet access, try 1-800-555-TELL. It’s a wonderful system when you want to contact a travel company fast and free. You call it and it gives you a menu of words you say. Say “travel” and you get another menu with airlines, hotels, rental cars, taxi, weather, traffic, and driving directions. Say “taxi” and it will give you a list of taxi companies and connect you free of charge to the company you choose (great for when you need a taxi and have a cell phone but no yellow pages and don’t want to pay for 411). Say “weather” and get a forecast. Say “driving directions” and get directions to your destination. Plus it’s toll-free!
Before you call, make a script
This can be an outline, or you can write out word if you need some extra confidence (such as for telephone interviews). Make sure you write down why you’re calling, your account information, and a reminder to give your contact information at the very least. Make sure you have a message ready if you get an answering machine. (Don’t forget to write legibly.)
Skip through time consuming automatic phone services by pressing 0 to talk to an operator.
I love automated phone services, but some companies just don’t know how to organize their service. They give you menu after menu, each with sub-menus, and nothing seems to have what you want on it. If you notice this happening (or call a business frequently that requires you to go through several menus to get to where you want), try just dialing 0. Usually, you’ll end up speaking to an operator who will immediately put you through to the line you want. If you press 0 and it doesn’t work, try calling back and not pressing any buttons; the system may think you’ve got a rotary phone and automatically send you through to an operator.
Keep an ongoing list of things you need to ask someone but don’t need to call immediately
Let’s say you want to ask your mom about a recipe she makes every year for the Fourth of July, but it’s only January, so there’s no hurry to call her. Just write down a reminder to ask her about the recipe the next time you talk to her. This can also be used to remind yourself to tell people about events in your life, so at 3:00am you don’t end up remembering that you forgot to mention it during your last phone call. The list will eventually grow as you think of new things to ask and new topics to discuss. (Don’t forget to write legibly.) When you finally talk to her, try to get all of the subjects on your list dealt with before you start to chit-chat.
If you are making the phone call, or if you are getting called back, you can do this on your script sheet or if you are using the same script for several calls (such as when getting quotes for a service) you can make a log sheet or a phone notes sheet. You should indicate when the call was made (or returned), who you called and their phone number, who you spoke to, whether you left a message for a call back or expect a call back for additional information, what the call was generally about, answers to specific questions, and new information you receive. Keep your phone notes in your household organizer. (Don’t forget to write legibly.)
Use caller ID
You’ll immediately know if the call is for you, for your kids, etc. before you answer (if you recognize the name and number that is), so you can simply choose not to answer the phone and let the call go to your answering machine.
Use an answering machine
I recommend answering machines over voicemail because you can sit and listen to the person leaving the message while they are leaving the message and decide whether you want to pick up the phone rather than waiting for them to leave a message and calling your voicemail box to find out what the message was (which takes additional time out of your day). This is incredibly important if you end up getting a call from somebody who is calling from a payphone because of an emergency because you may not be able to call them back since some payphones block incoming calls. Many answering machines have a call in feature so you can check your messages by calling your answering machine when you’re not at home. Digital answering machines eliminate the need for tapes, which reduces the amount of time you need to listen to your messages since you don’t have to wait for the tape to fast forward or rewind, and they even have a pre-recorded greeting just in case you don’t want to put your own voice on it.
So you didn’t let your answering machine pick it up, and the call wasn’t for you, so now you have to take a message for somebody. Instead of putting it on a scrap of paper and leaving it with the other scraps of paper by the phone, where it will eventually get lost, make sure you have a message form sheet. You can buy the little pink message pads at most stores, but I prefer to make my own. Keep them all in one place and have everyone sort through the messages to find their own, or have an inbox for each person, and place it in their inbox. (Don’t forget to write legibly.) If you have a high tech family, have your computer on all day, are a fast typist, and you have your phone next to your computer, an electronic alternative is to take a message by putting it an email and emailing it to the individual it is intended for. You can email it to a standard email account or to their cell phone or alpha or two-way pager.