Controlling personal calls at the officeNancy Friedmanguidelines, in-person customer, eye contact, courteously end conversations Personal calls ... we all get them at work: family, friends and even co-workers who just want to chat. If you allow personal calls at the office, is the privilege being abused? Here are some ideas and tips to help control personal calls at the office. First, and this is a must, let your staff know of your guidelines on personal phone calls. If you're looking around and thinking, "Gee, we don't have any guidelines," now is a good time to develop some. It will help all concerned if there are specific guidelines on personal calls at work. We've gathered up a few suggestions and hope they help. Obviously, if you have others to share with us, let us hear from you. Guideline one Never let an in-person customer wait while you are on a personal call. Even if it is a business call, the customer needs be acknowledged. The most effective way to do this is to make eye contact with a gentle smile and nod as to recognize he is standing there. What we hear most about employees on personal calls at work is that they don't even do that much. If possible, the person who is standing there should be offered something to read about your company, like a pamphlet or new product brochure. Guideline two Sometimes, employees may just not know how to tactfully tell friends or relatives they're at work and unable to talk. They may not know how to courteously end conversations. They may be embarrassed to tell them that they are busy. Here are a couple of Telephone Doctor tips on how to handle those situations graciously: •"Aunt Mary, I'd like to hear more about your trip, but I'm at work and need to finish a project I'm working on today. Let me call you later tonight, when we can talk more in depth. Thanks for calling. Talk with you later;" or •"Hi, Sue. Good to hear from you. Can I give you a call later on today, around lunchtime or near 5:00 p.m.? I'm working on something now that needs my full attention." Most importantly, let your employees know that if co-workers or supervisors approach them at their desks, they are expected to put their personal calls on hold, perhaps ending the conversations at that point. Personal calls can wait; other office personnel shouldn't have to. If an employee is on a legitimate business call, he should attempt to use the client's name during the call. It makes it easier for the person standing there to realize that it is a business call. There's not an intelligent manager around who would intentionally interrupt a business call. Besides, using the customer's name also helps to build rapport. If an employee is receiving too many personal calls, it's time for, as they say, an "intervention." Let the employee know that he certainly may have a few personal calls (if you allow them); however, lately, it has been over the top. Would he please ask those individuals to call during lunch, closer to 5:00 p.m. or when he is at home? What about emergencies? They're not a problem. Just make sure employees know to make other office personnel aware when they arise. Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St. Louis. For more information, call (314) 291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.