Phone Answering Tips for Child Care Centers

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by Cathy Abraham

"You only have one chance to make a good impression."

Telephone Tips

Everyone who is designated to answer the phone should be trained on - and familiar with these basics

  1. Try to answer the phone by the third ring.
  2. Answer the phone with a smile in your voice! Sound warm, friendly and happy to be here! No matter how crazy it may be, try to also sound calm, confident and relaxed. Identify the center and yourself by name.
  3. Start an Inquiry Card, jotting down notes as you listen.
  4. Build rapport. Ask questions to show interest in the caller and their child(ren), and to gather basic information. Use the parent and child’s name(s) in the conversation. Comment on the age of the child or on something that the caller has said. Be enthusiastic, warm and friendly!
  5. Listen for needs. Ask them what they feel is important for their child. What are their concerns? Listen to what they are really saying. If they go on and on about how "at the last center….", they are conveying to you a need that wasn’t being met.
  6. Match our program benefits to their needs. Tell parents how our program can meet the needs of their child. Example: If they are concerned about their child being shy, address this. Talk about all of the ways we would attempt to welcome and invite participation and work on developing social skills in an environment in which he would feel comfortable.
  7. Empathize with the parent. Choosing child care can be a very big &/or difficult decision for parents, and can also be quite scary.
  8. Sell the center. Tell the parent of a 2-year-old what an awesome Older Toddler Room you have, and how really fortunate you are to have such wonderful Teachers in there. Give specific examples of the great things they do. Talk about what we offer that the competitors nearby do not. (security, staff longevity, etc.) Know your centers advantages!
  9. Invite the parent to tour. Ask the parent to commit to coming in to see the center and meet the Teachers. (Know who on your staff can give decent directions!) Give a choice of 2 available times.
  10. Offer to mail more information to them – again empathizing, as "it is a big decision" and you " know that they would probably like to have as much information as possible about their choices."
  11. Close the call on a friendly note. Thank them for calling, preferably using their name. If you have made an appointment for a tour, let them know you are looking forward to meeting them on (time/date.)
  12. Follow up with written materials on the center including a short, handwritten personal note.

Effective Active Listening Requires:

  1. Having an Open Mind
  2. Being focused on the caller
  3. Summarizing the callers' thoughts and repeating them back to them - 'mirroring'
  4. Having a quiet inner voice
  5. Not being distracted - giving that person your complete attention
  6. Not thinking about what you want to say while the other person is still talking

Active listening and reflective paraphrasing clarifies individual needs, demonstrates empathy and understanding, and makes someone feel 'heard'.

The Inquiry Call

The inquiry call is our only chance at making a good first impression. If the person answering the phone does not sound friendly and knowledgeable, chances are you will never see that potential parent or that enrollment.

Here are some things to remember:
  • Designate someone to answer the phone when you are not in the building. Train these people thoroughly.
  • Make sure there are plenty of 'Inquiry Cards' and pens by each telephone.
  • Follow up on any inquiries as soon as you return to your building.
  • Give your staff on-going feedback on how they answered the phone whenever you call the center.
  • If you have to answer the phone while in a classroom, move to a quieter phone if necessary.
  • Create a sense of urgency. Don't relay that you have ten open spaces in a room. Put the caller on hold to double check for availability, then let them know that you have a space for Billy (not ten).
  • Build on "yeses." After telling a parent about a positive activity that we do, ask them to agree with you... "Isn’t that great?"; "Is that a skill you feel is important for Sally?"
  • You need to become comfortable "asking" for the tour, and actually "asking" for the enrollment at the close of the tour in order to secure it.
  • If your center is not at 100% capacity, how you handle an inquiry call will probably be one of the most important things you do all day!

Role-play Scenarios

For training support staff or practice, try using these scenarios:

  • Scenario #1: A parent calls and just wants to know the price. They seem disinterested in any other information.
  • Scenario #2: A parent calls wanting information, but doesn’t seem to know what to ask.
  • Scenario #3: A parent calls and wants to know if you "follow the ADA and accept all children?"
  • Scenario #4: A parent calls sounding like she has had 12 cups of coffee, and she wants to tell you all about her divorce.
  • Scenario #5: A parent calls and wants to know if they can start their child tomorrow, asking no questions.

You can utilize the Center Phone Shop Checklist for training purposes and Inquiry Calls.