The Art Of Screening Calls Without Annoying Your Clients

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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.

So, let’s look at ways in which you can screen, without screening!

Introduce a No Screening Policy In Your Business

I’ve always had a “no screening” policy in all my businesses. This means, no asking their name, no asking their purpose of the call or any other information. But yet, I still know exactly who is on the phone when they’re put through to me.

So how do I do that? Let me share the 8 things your receptionist can implement immediately so that you can screen without screening:

  1. Get your receptionist to ALWAYS answer the phone using their first name and last name
    This is usually one of the most difficult things for business owners and receptionists alike to come to grips with. What! My receptionist answering the phone using her first name and last name!!

    So why do I insist on answering the phone like this? Because its human nature that when you hear someone using their first name and last name, that we automatically respond in kind. 99% of your callers will respond with something like “Hi Jane, it’s Frank Butler here from XYZ Company. Is Bob there?”

    It also establishes your receptionist as a person of authority within your business. Suddenly the person who is calling you, but can’t speak to you, will always feel more comfortable asking the person answering the phone how they can help.

  2. Always Use the Phrase “He/she is WITH SOMEONE right now”
    How many times does a receptionist take your call, put you on hold, then return to your call saying … “I’m sorry, but Bob is in a meeting right now. Can I take a message”?

    And what do you automatically think? One of two things usually – either that he’s in an internal meeting, or that he can’t be bothered to take your call.

    Get your receptionist to update her terminology with …

    “I’m sorry, but Bob is with someone right now. I can interrupt him if it’s urgent, or would you prefer that I ask him to call you back the moment he’s free.”

    Interestingly enough, I’ve never been interrupted yet! When your callers know that you’re “with someone”, then suddenly, you’re with a real person. Usually your clients will honor this. And if they don’t, you can guarantee that it’s urgent.

  3. Always block off time each day where you return all your phone calls
    When they can’t reach you, most people will then ask the receptionist what time you’ll be free. If you have a set time each day that you return calls, this enables your receptionist to communicate that to them without having to constantly check and interrupt you.

    “John, Bob will definitely be free between 2 – 3pm which is when he returns all his phone calls. Did you need to reach him prior to that, or is there a better time to call you back?”

    If it’s urgent, you’ll find that most people will communicate this and respond with a time that works for them.

  4. Update your receptionists terminology
    When taking a message, ask your receptionist to use the following terminology:

    “Jane, I can either pass on a message to Bob, or I can certainly try to help you if you prefer”.

    That gives your caller a choice. And usually, if it’s something trivial, they will then ask the receptionist. Your receptionist can then work out whether it would be best answered by yourself, or another person. If it’s another person, then they can forward the call through immediately.

  5. Train your callers on who best to contact
    If after all this, you’re still getting calls that would be best directed through to someone else, then the best way to deal with this is by offering exceptional customer service and training your clients to ask for the right person.

    For instance, if you receive a call that is better responded to by one of your sales people, simply respond with …

    “Frank, thanks for your call. I’m really glad you contacted me about that. The best person to help you with this is our customer relationship manager, Trevor. He always has a great outcome from these types of enquiries, so let me introduce you to him and he’ll be able to look after you. Is that OK with you?”

    And then, pop them through. If you want to, follow up with a quick follow up phone call a day or so later to make sure that they’ve been looked after. But don’t try to resolve their issue for them. Otherwise, you’ll always be resolving them!

  6. Outline what you’re doing every step of the way
    Ensure that your receptionist outlines what she is doing each step of the way. By this I mean that if she’s about to put someone on hold, then let the caller know that.

    For example:
    “John, I think Bob’s with someone at the moment, but let me just pop you on hold for a moment and I’ll check his availability”.

  7. Use the callers name as much as possible
    Everyone loves the sound of their own name … so use it! Encourage your receptionist to use the callers name where possible.

    For example:
    “Sure John, let me take your contact details down”.

  8. Train your receptionist
    Interestingly enough, the art of screening is easy to implement, but it often goes wrong when you don’t train your Director of First Impressions (i.e. your receptionist!) properly.

So, here’s 3 must do’s to help you capture every opportunity that comes into your business:

  1. Provide your receptionist with a phone script that incorporates the above key points. And explain why you want it used.
  2. Schedule in time each day where you can allocate to answering phone calls, so that your receptionist can set caller expectations about when you will call them back.
  3. Ask your receptionist to test the concept and then ask for her feedback to see if its working.

Now, for the full phone script

So, in summary, here’s the phone script that you can implement into your business today and improve your client response.


“Good morning/afternoon, welcome to Innova Business Momentum. This is FIRST NAME / SURNAME.”

[Hi, this is John Smith, can I speak to Bob Brown please]

“Sure Bob, I’ll just pop you on hold for a moment and check if he’s in”

[Put caller on hold to enable call to be transferred]

If out of the office, or unable to take the call

“I’m sorry John, Bob’s with someone at the moment. Would you like me to ask him to call you as soon as he’s available?”

[When will he call me back?]

“John, Bob will definitely be free between 2 – 3pm which is when he returns all his phone calls. Did you need to reach him prior to that, or is there a better time to call you back?”

[Can you ask him to call me?]

“Sure John, what would be the best number to reach you on”

“Thanks for your call John, Bob will be in touch will you shortly”

Key Considerations for your receptionist:

  • Make sure your receptionist smiles when she answers the phone – the caller can hear it in their voice!
  • Ask your receptionist to speak clearly and confidently – do not mumble
  • Use the caller’s name when possible
  • Let them know what you’re doing e.g. putting you on hold, etc.


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