“Could I ask you to repeat your name one more time?”
Admins who hate asking that question may fear that they come across as incompetent or unprofessional. The truth, though, is that they just want to get it right.
Here are top tips from other admins on handling a mumbler and other on-the-phone situations:
How do you spell that? If the caller speeds through his name, ask him to repeat it. And if you still can’t catch it, say, “My apologies, but could you spell that, please?” That takes any tension out of the situation, says admin Jade, “because you make it sound like it’s your fault.”
Repeat the name back. Before you transfer the call, use the caller’s name to thank him, letting him know that you have his name right (and to offer one more chance for correction, if you haven’t gotten it right).
Help your boss manage voice mail. “When someone asks immediately—without identifying himself—to be put into my boss’s voice mail, I always ask, ‘May I ask who is calling?’ I then send my boss an e-mail telling him to check his voice mail” for a message from the caller.
Screen out sales or misrouted calls. Ask, “May I tell her the nature of the call so she can be prepared with any information you may need?” Either you’ve just prepped your boss for the call or you’ve found a way to reroute it (“Actually, Ms. Jones is not the person handling those decisions; let me transfer you to our office manager.”).
Write everything down. Each time you answer the phone, automatically write down the caller’s name and the time. That way, says senior admin Kim, if your boss doesn’t want to take the call, “when you come back to the caller to inform him that you need to take a message, you already have the info you need.”
Use last names until you’re asked to do otherwise, says admin Anita. “Until your boss has introduced the two of you (and you should encourage your boss to do so whenever she has visitors), you and the caller are strangers,” she says. “You score extra points when you start out more formally.”