Screening Calls: How to Make Your Boss More Productive

By | Oct 26, 2009 Free Shipping- 120x600For any administrative or executive assistant, you have one basic goal, making your boss more efficient and productive. That’s it. Everything you do during your workday should have this one basic goal behind it. One primary way to save your boss time and help her be more efficient is to properly screen calls.

Now, when we talk about screening calls, we usually think about sales calls. And, yes, it is important to screen out unwanted sales calls. But screening calls is about much more than just blocking people selling things you don’t want. It’s also about redirecting calls that your boss doesn’t really need to handle.

Why Redirect Calls?

Let’s face it, the higher up in the organization your boss is, the more of a generalist he’s going to be. Here’s an example. I worked for the Director of Human Resources at a local university. While he was very knowledgeable about HR in general and the policies of the university in particular, he probably only knew general information regarding the health benefits provided. If you had a specific question about health benefits, you probably needed to speak with someone in the Benefits Department rather than the Director of all HR.

And yet, people regularly called the Director of HR with these types of questions. Why? Because they knew his name and were high enough up in the university hierarchy to demand the attention of the Director. Their impression is that they would get faster service by calling his office than by calling the front desk of HR. The truth is, they would get faster service from the front desk, because they are used to taking those calls and transferring them to the appropriate person. But you know how higher-ups tend to be.

Saving Your Boss Time: The Meat of the Matter

So now we come to your role in all of this. When you answer a call for your boss, your immediate response should not be to ring it through. Instead, your response should be, once you know who the caller is, to ask what the call is concerning.  Because if they only want to ask about a specific health benefit, you can then divert them to the benefits manager, who can likely answer their question. Which, of course, is the same thing your boss would do once she takes the call.  My usual line is, “May I ask what your call is concerning?”

Voila! You have now saved your boss the several minutes it would have taken him to do the same thing. And you’ve provided the caller with good customer service, since odds are your boss wasn’t available at that moment and the caller would have to have just waited for a return call. Add up all those minutes over the course of days and weeks, and you can see how properly screening and redirecting calls gives your boss much needed time to work on her real duties.

Share Your Strategies

What are your strategies for screening and redirecting calls?  Leave a comment and let us know.

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21 Comments so far
  1. Joan Kabura (2 comments) October 26, 2009 11:34 pm

    wow…this is just what i needed…my boss has been having a problem getting time to work due to the frequent calls and visitors…now i can get him more time to due more productive things than handle things that can be done by others in our organization. thanks for the tip

  2. Jodith (189 comments) October 28, 2009 1:24 pm

    I’m glad you found it helpful. Good luck handling all those people.

  3. Gh Blogger (1 comments) October 27, 2009 3:37 am

    I have just printed a copy for the secretary here. Really grateful this insightful article

  4. Sean Pellegrino (1 comments) October 28, 2009 9:49 am

    Nice tips. You really have to know the technical skills of your boss to apply this. But I’ve been wondering how to turn away uninvited visitors gracefully. It seems that the only way for us to do this is to either lie that Im outside or in a meeting or whatever. Visitors expect to be treated well since they took the effort to come to the office; however, that’s not always the case since they have to abide by the boss’ availability.

  5. Jodith (189 comments) October 28, 2009 1:21 pm

    You do need to know the technical skills of your boss, but that is part of being a good admin, learning those types of things. Your boss can help with that. Let him know that you want feedback if calls are inappropriate for him and who they would be appropriate for. It’s always a learning curve with each new boss.

    As for uninvited visitors, my usual reply (which is the same for callers) is that the boss is “unavailable at the moment”. I ask them what they are there for and if someone else can assist them. Of course, if the boss has an open door policy, it’s harder if they can just stick their head in the door and see you at your desk working.

    I’ve always tried to keep work periods sacrosanct for my boss. Managers spend so much time in meetings that they must have some uninterrupted time during the day to get work done. There must be time when they are “unavailable.

  6. Ayana (2 comments) October 29, 2009 1:10 pm

    I worked for school principal who took his time in calling back parents….disgruntled parents. I would always say he was not available and take messages (as he told me) but he would not get back to these parents for like days! By the end of a day, the parent is so mad they are yelling at me.

    I am up for another job at a school. What do I do if this happens again?

  7. Jodith (189 comments) October 31, 2009 5:11 pm

    Do you keep a copy of all the messages you give him? I like to use a message book with the npr copies, so I always have a copy of all messages I’ve taken.

    If you keep a copy of the messages, it’s very easy to follow up with the boss every few hours to ask if he’s returned those calls or not. One admin professional who has a blog calls herself the Paid, Professional Nag. I think it’s an appropos title for someone in our line of work. Sometimes we have to play the boss’s conscience to keep him on his toes when he wants to avoid a particular duty.

    It’s possible that he isn’t avoiding returning the call, but just forgets them in the press of other duties. Whether that’s the case or not (we can be generous and give him the benefit of the doubt), your reminders can help spur him to get those calls made. This is especially easy with a new boss, because if you start it from the beginning, he won’t see it as a change in behavior. If he (or she) asks why you ask, just tell him that you like to keep track that messages are handled, just in case there’s any questions later. And, of course, in a school system you like to have accountability, so he’d probably consider it a good idea anyway.

    Good luck at the new school.

  8. publicidad en internet (2 comments) January 3, 2010 9:49 am

    I only have a virtual assistant, but the thing that really changed the way I handled my business was after meeting with her personally and sharing your stories.

    It’s not like Im a super busy person but I often receive about 100-200 emails daily, its really good to only read the important ones and stop wasting time skipping the unimportant ones.

    The key here is to find someone that can act on his/her own knowledge, for example if she received an bill by emal she can simply keep records of it and ask me for the green light to pay and thats it. I dont have to login, put my info, pay, confirm payment, etc. They have all that information with them and if you trust them it’ll work.

  9. Jodith (189 comments) January 3, 2010 12:29 pm

    You’ve hit the nail on the head here. This is exactly the benefit of having a good assistant, virtual or otherwise. They take things off your hands so you can concentrate your efforts on necessary tasks. This is why the partnership between assistant and boss is so important.

  10. Michael (1 comments) May 27, 2010 5:29 am

    Alot of this jargon is actually outdated and ridiculous. I have an admin that screens my calls but I know that most admins…making anywhere between 16,000—-28,000 a year….don’t have the power nor should they to turn away sales calls. They don’t have the authority nor the education nor the company knowledge to simply turn away every single person based on their limited judgement.
    Actually, commerce is what allows these people, mostly women, to even have employment.
    Your…”boss”….sold someone something enough times to even hire you. Yes, some calls are obviously pointless but seriously, some are valuable.

  11. Mike (1 comments) May 28, 2010 8:05 am

    I tried posting here and Jodith obviously took it down. Let me leave you with this real life example:

    I recently phoned a colleague who works for a large recruitment firm, to pass on an opportunity that would have made him about $30,000. Ordinarily I would have his mobile number, but that day I was experiencing problems with my electronic organizer and had to phone his office directly.

    The receptionist who answered the call launched into the second coming of the Spanish inquisition. She wanted to know why I was calling and what I wanted to speak to this person about. Not wanting to go into the intricacies of the opportunity, I told her that I knew him personally and that I had an opportunity that he would be interested in. She sighed loudly and cut me off by putting me on hold. When she returned, she told me he was too busy to speak with me and that she would take a message.

    After her response, I phoned another colleague and gave him the $40,000 opportunity.

    How much money are you losing from call screening?

    It’s amazing how much time and money we can spend on attracting people to our business, yet when they phone us, instead of a warm welcome, we annoy them by “screening” calls and making them feel unwelcome.

    So, my question to you is … how many people are ringing you and not providing you with opportunities because of your screening policy.

    Every person I’ve ever asked why they have a screening policy in place always answers the same … that it’s to save time so that they can focus on what they’re meant to be doing. Or, they’re trying to get rid of all the time consuming calls that could be easily dealt with someone else.

  12. Jodith (189 comments) June 5, 2010 12:36 pm

    Mike, all comments here are moderated. The reason your post didn’t show up is because I haven’t had time to go through and approve them until today.

    Now, to look at your example above, if the receptionist put you on hold, then she likely went to the boss, and *he* told her he was too busy to talk to you. So I’d guess that the boss wasn’t as impressed with talking to you as you seem to think.

    And it’s amazing how your $30,000 opportunity grew to $40,000 in the time it took to call a second mark….errrr….colleague.

    The people we attempt to attract to our business are customers, not salesmen who want to take money from the business. If the information you have to sell is really that valuable, then you probably need to spend more time convincing contacts of that so they put you and the “always put through” list. If you aren’t on that list, then you must not be doing a very good job of selling yourself.

  13. Jodith (189 comments) June 5, 2010 12:25 pm

    Yes, Michael, some are valuable. And some are just a waste of time. If you have an admin screening your calls, then you know that it is entirely possible for an administrative assistant to have the authority, education and company knowledge to appropriately screen calls. That’s what being an admin is all about. It’s not just filing and answering the phone. It’s about learning the information necessary to perform the duties of your job, and that includes screening calls. It doesn’t matter if you make $16,000 a year or $100,000 a year.

    A good admin, regardless of her salary, is constantly learning and constantly applying what she learns. If an admin routinely passes through all the calls her boss receives, I can guarantee she won’t remain employed as an admin for long.

  14. Txt Tools (2 comments) August 26, 2010 6:09 am

    I never usually look at it as saving my boss time. Whenever I call someone and I get caught with their assistant or secretary and they ask that question, i usually get annoyed and think ‘why are you asking, it’s nothing to do with you’ but now it does make a lot of sense to ask and I guess they’re just doing their job.

  15. salesman (1 comments) September 13, 2010 8:21 am

    are you serious… tips??? tip 1, call screening is helpful, tip 2, ???????????

  16. Jodith (189 comments) September 14, 2010 7:50 am

    I have some more specific tips about screening sales calls specifically. Since you’re a salesman, I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading them.

  17. Lisa (4 comments) October 28, 2010 11:46 am

    I was searching the web to find info on how to get my employees to screen my calls better, and boy, I hit the jackpot on this wonderful site !!

    As a former top-level executive assistant for a Fortune 100 company who has now become a business owner myself, I have lived both sides of this issue. Your advice is right-on!

    When I was in “Corporate America” I got many compliments from my boss on how helpful I was, but I didn’t really “get it”. As far as I could tell, I was just doing my job. Now that I am “the boss”, I really appreciate the stress of sitting behind that big desk and the huge responsibility of making the right decisions to ensure that all the bills (and the employees) get paid.

    I also appreciate the high value of getting even 20 minutes of uninterrupted time to complete a small project. I am absolutely floored that the sheer volume of calls I get that should or could be handled by someone else. Even a short, 2 min. phone call, breaks concentration and it can take 15-20 minutes to get back in “the zone” of the work I was doing.

    Effective call screening can make all the difference in whether I get my work done or not. When I am able to focus on my core business purpose and get my work done, the business grows and we are able to provide things like increased pay and benefits to everyone. When I don’t get my work done (like if I’m answering sales calls) the business slows down, and that could eventually lead to cutbacks and layoffs.

    Keep up the great work on this wonderful site!

  18. Denise Johnson (1 comments) January 2, 2011 11:06 am

    As a vet receptionist how would you handle the following scenario:

    You are the only receptionist up front ….. you are helping someone at the courter, the phone rings, some poeple walk in for appointments. How do you handle all this happening, how, in what steps, in detail.

    Thank you.

  19. David (2 comments) December 28, 2014 2:22 pm

    This post is accurate and helpful for those pursuing the administrative arts. The gatekeepers play a vital role in helping their managers be more productive, reducing their burdens, and making them look good. A proper screen call will provide the caller a lot of value as long as their concern is addressed. Getting through to the manager may only lead to a dissatisfied caller when they have to wait or they are only put in contact with someone else anyways.

  20. JRS (1 comments) May 1, 2015 4:52 am

    I just wanted to throw in my 2cents for what it’s worth-

    I’ve had the great learning experience of working for two types of bosses at the same business- The micro-manager and the laissez-faire type.

    The micro-manager always wanted to know who was calling, so whenever a call came in, even if it was a telemarketer, she NEEDED to speak to the person directly. To her, everything was an emergency. She retired last year- I think it had something to do with being burnt out. ; )

    My current boss is “hands-off” and trusts my instincts. Most of the calls, I take a message and put it in her in-box on her desk because most of the time she is focusing her attention and energy where she knows it is most important. Because of this, even in emergency situations, she is very calm.

    Now, my point is, as an “administrative assistant” to figure out my boss’s personality- are they a micro manager or are they “laissez-faire”? Knowing that can make a whole lot of difference!

  21. Jodith (189 comments) May 12, 2015 8:44 am

    That’s a great tip, JRS. Yes, knowing your boss is everything, and it’s why being an assistant is as much art as science. Thanks for the comment!

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