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The Strategically Honest Gatekeeper

I’ve had many years in my career where I’ve had to make follow up phone calls to CEOs and other company executives. Whether it was a cold call, or a follow-up call that they were expecting, I can honestly say that 95% of the time, whoever answered their phones lied to me terribly about their availability. Here’s how the conversations usually go:

Me: “Hi, is John Smith available?”

Receptionist: “Umm… he’s on another call right now, can I help you instead? ” Or “He’s in a meeting right now, can I help you instead?” or “He’s not available right now, can I help you instead?” (And usually, the “can I help you instead" is rare too).

Me: Oh, maybe. My name is Daniela and I’m calling in regards to XYZ. Is that something you can help me with?”

Them: “Oh. Hold one a minute. I’ll transfer you to him.”


Why is he available now, but he wasn’t 30 seconds ago? Were you lying about his availability? Do you think it reflects well on the company when that happens? Isn’t there a better way to lie so you don’t seem so obvious?

We’re all professionals, and we all recognize that call screening is absolutely necessary for our days to continue to be productive. But can’t the screening be done in a more honest and professional way?

Think about the difference in the above scenario, and the one below:

Me: “Hi, is John available?”

Receptionist: I’d be happy to check. May I ask what it’s in regards to?

Me: Sure! My name is Daniela and I’m calling in regards to XYZ.

Them: “Oh. Hold one a minute. I’ll see if he’s available” ….. “Daniela, he is available, and I’m going to transfer you over now.”

OR. If he’s not available, or just really doesn’t want to talk to me: “Daniela, he’s caught up in something right now, but can I take a message, and he’ll call you back if it’s something he wants to follow up with?”

See that?

There was no lying involved. John may or may not be available. And, depending on how big a company is, it’s actually reasonable to recognize that whoever picked up the phone may not have direct view or John or his activities at that exact moment, so, of course they’re going to check in with him. If John hears who the call is from and wants to talk, he’ll get on the phone. If John’s in the middle of something and he does indeed want to talk, he’ll get my contact information from the gatekeeper and will follow back up at his convenience.

It’s important to also note that in that 2nd scenario, the gatekeeper also gave John an out in case he never wants to give a call back. “He’ll call you back IF it’s something he wants to follow up with”… See what I did there?

Whatever the purpose of the call may be, by adding that statement, you’re telling the other person that the ownership for follow up will be on John, if he wants to do it. If John has no interested in talking, he won’t call back.

Simple training on how to handle just a 1 minute conversation like this can actually save a lot of time and effort in the long run, and will put out a positive reputation for your company. You truly never know if whoever’s on the phone is just an entry-level employee trying to sell you something, or the executive of another company with a fantastic opportunity. How your gatekeepers represent your company can make or break a deal.

At Virago Strategic Consulting, we can help your team learn better strategies for customer service, including their role as gatekeepers, so don't hesitate to give us a call to help train your team!

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