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Properly Prioritizing Phone Time

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Over at the website, a commenter retold the story of the “best use of a cell phone” he has seen. The call was placed while standing in line to the same desk.

Here is the original posting:

So I’m in line at the customer service desk of my local grocery store. Four people ahead of me in line, and one person working the desk. And it seems that this woman has to answer 6 phone calls for every customer in person that she serves in person. After 8 phone calls…the guy in front of me pulls out his cell phone and starts fiddling with it.

Then he makes a call and the customer service desk phone rings (again). She stops what she’s doing and picks up the phone:

Her: Metro, Customer service.

Him: From a customer service point of view, doesn’t it make sense to serve the people who have actually made the damned effort to come into the !@#$ store?

Then he waves at her and hangs up.

She ignores the phone ringing after that.


© Flickr user David Prasad

I have to admit that I love this story, even though the behavior of the “hero” is rather rude. That’s because it provides an essential lesson about productivity: we can collaborate most effectively when we do so at a time and place that is mutually convenient. People in the store have been waiting in line. They will obviously become annoyed if someone else receives assistance first.

This is the same reason why I’m always talking about the telephone. By picking up the phone without having previously scheduled the call, you are almost certainly inconveniencing someone else. Even if you have arranged to have the conversation in advance, we all know that talking into a plastic box leaves a lot to be desired. If you really need to work through an important issue it’s best to do so in person.

Phone Calls Mean Interruptions

Don’t you hate when you’re in the middle of a project and suddenly your phone starts to buzz? Despite all the momentum you have going, the interruption of even a single ring is enough to screech you to a halt. Well, if you feel that way, then do you really expect that the people you’re calling feel any differently?

There’s also the obvious problem in this story of the customer service representative clearly not feeling empowered enough to ignore the phone. It may seem obvious that the people who are there in person should be attended to first, but if the customer service representative was told that she was supposed to answer all the phone calls, then it isn’t really her fault that she kept getting distracted from the people who were in line. It’s the fault of the manager who didn’t provide her with the authority to decide which customer’s needs are the most pressing. There also probably should have been another employee if this many calls were pouring in, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Certainly it’s smart to be available to customers by telephone. However, consider placing another desk in the back office that can take overflow calls. Simple, straightforward tactical changes can have a tremendous impact on productivity and stakeholder satisfaction. Or maybe it isn’t phone calls that get in the way of your productivity. Perhaps this is an issue you addressed long ago. There still might be something that you haven’t properly prioritized within your organization. Regardless, it’s time to get aware and find the fix before you become nothing more than an anecdote in a Reddit thread.

Learn more about how we can help your company improve day-to-day tasks. Contact our organizational productivity firm today!

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


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