8

I work in a tech SME with 20-30 software engineers. As expected in a SME, everyone should be involved in various everyday tasks (employees safety, lab usage planning, sysadmin tasks, etc.). However my boss has recently asked that we answer the phone two afternoons a week to allow the executive assistant (who's the one who usually answers the phone) to take some time to focus on accounting. However, if answering the phone is so brain consuming that she needs to get away from it when accounting, it will be just as annoying for engineers to answer the phone while focusing on something complex. Besides the fact that we won't be doing it very well, I think it would be counter productive. We won't hire someone to specifically do that either. The company receives more or less 2 calls/week from a client that does not have the direct phone line of the person (s)he wants to talk to and one cold call every few months. However, we do get a lot of spam calls.

I thought, let's accept the fact that, two afternoons a week, nobody will be answering the phone, and people will get a message with the telephone reception opening schedule instead. When I told that to my boss, she said that a company that can't be reached two afternoons a week will look unserious. What do you think?

9
  • 1
    Does your company get many cold-callers looking for information, or will most callers already have contacts in the company they can reach out to directly?
    – David K
    Mar 16 '17 at 12:02
  • @MisterPositive No that question needs to be asked as the answer will differ depending on it
    – mmmmmm
    Mar 16 '17 at 12:07
  • 1
    @DavidK I just asked the receptionist, she receives ~2 calls/week from a client that does not have a direct contact in the company and one cold call every few months
    – 7hibault
    Mar 16 '17 at 13:04
  • 3
    The question in the title doesn't really match the body. Isn't your question really more "My manager wants the developers to cover the phones. How can we push back against this?". Simply not having phone coverage is one solution to that.
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 16 '17 at 13:19
  • 4
    "if answering the phone is so brain consuming that she needs to get away from it when accounting" - not at all. Accounting is brain consuming. And being interrupted to answer the phone knocks down your "house of cards" of data in your head. As it will for developers too. I would go along with the plan, calls being exceedingly rare, until it messes with your flow the way it's doing for the accounting person, and then tackle that problem (if it arises), most likely by asking the boss to hire a student or other part-time receptionist. But it may never arise. Mar 16 '17 at 14:40
15

Yes it does :-)

Customers and cold callers (who might be future customers) are unlikely to know when the receptionist desk is available for calls or not and are also unlikely to want to plan their calls around such a schedule.

Many companies staff customer response efforts (receptionist, help desk, etc) to cover multiple time zones.

Your boss is rightly concerned about the possibility of making a bad first impression.

Since the employee who normally answers the phone has other duties, it's your boss's job to determine who should cover for him.

It sounds like this shouldn't be a big deal - if the company only gets a few calls per week and you're covering less than 1/2 the time, there's a good chance you won't have to handle any calls at all.

1
  • Thanks for your feedback! I edited the question to correct the impression that because we don't get a lot of useful calls means that we don't get a lot of calls at all. And I mean useful from a business perspective: current or potential clients.
    – 7hibault
    Mar 16 '17 at 15:57
14

No it does not.

I work for a 500 million dollar medical software company, and our receptionist is only present Monday, Wednesday, and Friday until 3pm. We schedule our visitors to come by on the days she is here, or if that doesn't work out they call whomever they are visiting when they arrive.

We ( as most companies these days do ) have company voice mail and a dial by name directory so that in general you can reach who you need. I do not believe you can judge the seriousness of a company simply by the fact that they do or do not have a full time receptionist or someone dedicated to answering the phone.

There are plenty of LARGE and SMALL companies who don't.

5
  • 1
    I second this. I've worked at companies where there hasn't really been a receptionist formally because almost all visitors have organised to meet with someone in the company beforehand.
    – user5621
    Mar 16 '17 at 11:16
  • 4
    I think this very much depends on the company and types of calls they get. It sounds like your company is not likely to have many people cold-calling for information and that most callers would normally have a contact within the company. The OP has not really made it clear that is true for their company.
    – David K
    Mar 16 '17 at 12:02
  • 2
    Thanks for sharing your experience. As your answer covers more than what I asked so I'd like to clarify something: visitors are not a problem, it's more missing a call that my boss seems to fear. I do not think that we have a dial by name directory though, I'll suggest considering using a voice mail + dial by name directory
    – 7hibault
    Mar 16 '17 at 13:18
  • 1
    Plenty of companies don't have a dedicated full-time receptionist, but the vast majority of those still have a central number and phone coverage is then normally rotated amongst the most junior profiles.
    – Lilienthal
    Mar 16 '17 at 13:21
  • Care to explain the down vote?
    – Neo
    Mar 16 '17 at 17:40
6

However, if answering the phone is so brain consuming that she needs to get away from it when accounting, I don't think it's a good idea to have software engineers answering the phone instead

It can be argued that accounting is as important and time consuming, giving that we employees like to get paid and all.

That said, why is it an issue to answer the phone? I work as an analyst at my current position. Some people have direct-line access to me. Others have to call Help Desk, and I've been known to answer their questions and help them calm a caller or walk through an issue so that I don't see it on my desk. Honestly, I like the occasional change of pace to keep my coding mind sharp and not dulled by hours of concentration on a single thing.

Besides the fact that we won't be doing it very well

Why not? Communication is important as a software developer, either with managers or clients or any number of other people. Learn from this, I'm sure you're good enough to answer a phone call, and if not you need to learn how to do it, because further down the line (possible as a manager) you'll have to have those skills.

The company receives more or less 2 calls/week from a client that does not have the direct phone line of the person (s)he wants to talk to and one cold call every few months.

Then why is any of this even an issue? You can take time 1 or 2 times a week to be pleasant to someone paying your bills (clients), and once a month or so for someone who wants to sell something. It doesn't seem like they're asking the world.

6
  • 1
    1. Nothing is more annoying, than interupting your work, if you're trying to hold all details of a complex system in your head at the moment. 2. Communication doesn't equal communication. Mar 16 '17 at 15:41
  • Thanks for your feedback! I also edited the question to correct 1. the impression that because we don't get a lot of useful calls means that we don't get a lot of calls at all. And I mean useful from a business perspective: current or potential clients. And 2. the impression that accounting is not important
    – 7hibault
    Mar 16 '17 at 15:58
  • 1
    @TheSexyMenhir If you know you're the person "on call" as it were, then you should endeavor to hold yourself to not diving in the deep code. Yes, I know that's hard to do, but not so hard that it's not possible. I am also confused by your comment about communication. All communication is the same, it just depends on the brevity of said communication. I am communicating with someone when I speak to them or in any way get their attention in order to convey something. Different levels of communication, sure, but talking to people is talking to people. Mar 16 '17 at 16:01
  • 1
    @7hibault I see. For #1 it's easy. Make it as quick as possible for non-important ones. #2 was more tongue-in-cheek and meant as such. ^_^ As I said to Menhir, make sure to prioritize your time based on what your responsibility is. I can't take my family to a movie on a weekend that I'm on call, because I might not be able to respond to an urgent outage or other emergency. It sucks, but work is what it is, and really I can schedule my time around any slight inconvenience. Mar 16 '17 at 16:04
  • @SliderBlackrose I would disagree: Developers (of any ilk) are primarily concerned with translating between customer wishes and technical implementation; this is a very specific skillset, that differs widely from the broadspectrum communication abilities that are required for receiving phone calls. Mar 17 '17 at 7:16
1

Solve the underlying source problem. Which is that two afternoons a week, the person who normally answers the phone cannot do so.

You certainly don't want expensive engineers dropping everything in order to take a phone call.

Outsource your receptionist duties. With any reasonable modern phone system, you can redirect calls to outside numbers. Get a company who will answer your phones two days a week; they can redirect the calls to someone in the company if necessary, or take notes if it's just a sales call. The cost is minimal compared to the hassle of getting untrained people within the company to take calls.

3
  • I think the point of the post is that they ARE redirecting the calls to someone in the company, but the OP doesn't like that they are the designated person that's being redirected to. Mar 16 '17 at 18:29
  • Outsourcing means that you get an external company to handle it - so the OP would not be the recipient of any phone calls.
    – PeteCon
    Mar 16 '17 at 20:45
  • Well, yes, I know what outsourcing means. I did misread your answer (I missed the "calls to outside numbers"), and thought you meant bringing IN outside people (temp agency). That's what I get for answering during lunch. My apologies. ^_^ Mar 17 '17 at 12:26

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .