More interactions with your business, that is. Setting great expectations for callers is a big part of excellent customer service. When the person your caller is seeking isn’t available, it’s important to avoid making promises your coworker may not be able to keep. Like a volleyball player, you want to set up the play so your teammate can WOW the caller, and a solid setup means knowing which specifics to share and which to keep to yourself. Here are a few tips for setting great expectations:

What to share. Knowing your team’s schedules and preferences can go far in setting great expectations for callers. If, for example, your sales staffers guarantee a return call within 24 hours, be sure to share that information:

“That’s a wonderful question for our sales team! A member of our sales staff will be happy to return your call within 24 hours.”

Or, say you have a caller who wants to leave a voicemail for a teammate you know isn’t great about checking voicemail. Guiding your caller to leave a written message will result in a quicker response time:

“Jane prefers I take written messages. Would you mind if I take down your phone number? She’ll be happy to give you a call back!”

Where expectation setting is concerned, a little knowledge about your teammates goes a long way!

What to keep to yourself. As a general rule, it’s best not to tell callers the person they’re trying to reach is “on the other line,” even when it’s true. This statement may cause a caller to infer that their call will be returned shortly, and that’s not always the case. Saying “He’s on the other line,” may even prompt your caller to give a reply like “Great! I’ll wait on hold until he’s off the phone,” which can be problematic for many reasons. Sure, your coworker may be done with his current call in a minute or two, but who knows if he’ll be free to talk to your caller then? Instead, keep a generic response or two in your pocket to use when a coworker isn’t free to take a call. Here are a couple of standbys:

“He’s away from the phone at the moment, but I’ll be happy to ask him to return your call.”

“She’s not available at the moment, but I’d be happy to take a message or offer you voicemail.”

What to say when you don’t know. Questions like “When will she return my call?” and “When will she be in?” can be tricky when you aren’t sure of an answer — you want to avoid dead-end replies like “I don’t know,” but guessing can lead to disaster (“You said she’d be back by noon!”). Resist the temptation to give an answer when you don’t have one, and instead, offer this upbeat reply:

“She keeps her own schedule, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call as soon as she can. Is there a time that works best for you?”

A response beginning in “She keeps her own schedule” helps you bypass “I don’t know,” and it’s a great way to segue into taking a message. Problem solved!

Photo via Flickr user John Starnes