Phone manners heed the calling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 1996, 12:00am

Lora Lai Mei-ho answers more than 700 phone calls every day. Her main duty as a telephone operator on the 1083 and 1081 hotlines is to give callers the telephone numbers they want. Having been in the industry for eight years, she has seen all the new developments come into her work such as the computerisation of telephone answering services. Ms Lai, 33, is married, with two sons and lives in Sai Wan Ho.

What's on your mind? When I am answering calls, I have to try to be patient, polite and pleasant. That's the company's motto. I have spoken to people who just ring to tell dirty jokes or speak foul language. But still, we can't hang up the phone. On these occasions, I pass the call on to our team leader.

Do you find your job routine? No, not at all. It is interesting that we, as phone operators, can often get in touch with the world through the calls we receive. For example, I remember a few years ago, there was a time when a lot of people called in to ask for the Singapore Embassy's number all of a sudden. Later, we learned that it was because the country was loosening requirements for immigration applications.

Have you encountered any interesting calls? I never know who the next caller is. Sometimes, people who are locked inside their rooms or have car breakdowns call up for locksmith or garage numbers. There will even be little kids phoning to seek help on their homework. I help them if I know the answers.

Do you need to equip yourself with special skills? Well, we have had to learn Putonghua in the past few years to cope with the demand. I took a beginners' course for the language. I wasn't that good at the start, but I just gave it a try when answering calls and people understood me. I think it's OK so long as you can communicate with the other person.

Is it hard work? My throat can get dry and become sensitive sometimes - but I just drink more water. Besides, it is better now we have the recorded system to help us give out phone numbers. In the past, we had to say all the numbers on our own. Our voices were even more strained then.