In branding, even little things count. In fact, sometimes the little things have such a huge impact that your school’s image skyrockets or sinks as a result. In the case of answering the phone, it’s not only about how you present the school, but also about how you make the caller feel.

I have called schools where the people answering have made me want to sit down, put the kettle on, and have a friendly chat. They made me feel welcomed, and I could imagine the community feeling the same way. I could picture the little ones meandering past the receptionist's desk and saying, “Hi, Mrs. Gorsky!” (receptionists are usually women). If a man answers, I am surprised, but pleasantly so—no stereotypes here.

First-Time Caller. Long-Time Listener.

A phone call could be my first experience with a school. A few words and a tone of voice can leave me with a positive impression—or not. Or the call could be the umpteenth made to my child’s school. Either way, I am building a relationship, and it’s up to the school to make it a positive one.

Human or Machine?

There are some cases when I would rather speak to a machine. Take renewing a prescription at CVS. I’d prefer to simply key in my refill number and hang up. They're efficient, fast, and reliable. But imagine this:

“Thank you for calling Acme Academy. If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. For a directory of last names, please press 1.”

It's fast and efficient, but it’s also cold and "business-y,” and schools don’t usually want to be thought of as businesses.

If I have a choice between Mrs. Gorsky and a Siri clone, I’ll take Mrs. G any day. It’s important, though, for Mrs. Gorsky to have not only a great tone, but also a great script. Here are some choices: 

1. “Acme Academy.”

Straight and to the point, this tells me I have the right number. But it’s a little curt, especially if the receptionist doesn't have a friendly voice.

2. “Acme Academy. How can I direct your call?”

This tells me someone will help me reach the right person. The receptionist is on my side and will keep me from wasting time, feeling foolish, or getting frustrated.

3. “Acme Academy. Home of Aces Soccer.”

Now I know that the school thinks very highly of one of its teams. But is this what it wants to be known for? By elevating sports, the school inadvertently downplays its academics and arts.

4. “Acme Academy. Where great boys turn into great men.”

Here I discover what the school stands for. A strong tagline can remind callers of the brand, and that can only strengthen it. But depending on the tagline, the greeting can sound stilted. Sometimes taglines are better read than said.

5. “Acme Academy. May I help you?”

Like No. 2, this is an offer of help, but it’s not restricted to directing my call. Maybe I need directions or to know when school closes today.

6. “Acme Academy. This is Maria. May I help you?”

Now we’re getting somewhere. I know I reached the right number, I know who’s on the other end, and I know Maria will help me. It's the perfect way to make a first—and lasting—good impression.

Having the right script is only half the battle. Tone is the other half. Sound happy. Smile. Fake it til you make it if you’re having a bad day. Go for the Academy Awards.

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