Cure for Fawlty phone style

Marketing: a new video shows how not to do business on the blower
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ON 16 APRIL, telephone codes will grow longer as a result of the battle to provide enough numbers to go around. As the training company Video Arts says, just about everybody will have to stop and think about every number they dial. It could be the perfect time to stop and think about how we behave when using a machine that has come to be taken for granted.

The subject is explored by John Cleese, the founder of Video Arts, in the film Telephone Behaviour: The Power and the Perils. With the help of a cast including such stars as Miranda Richardson and Art Malik, he shows the right way and the wrong way of using the telephone in a variety of work situations.

"Because we use the telephone regularly in our private lives," says a spokesman for the company, "we take it for granted and assume that we are equally adept at using it at work. For business users it is the most cost-effective means of keeping in touch. But many forget that behaviour that is perfectly acceptable face-to-face is unacceptable on the telephone."

For example, many people probably do not realise that the attitude of the person answering the telephone is often interpreted by the caller as the attitude of the whole organisation. Equally, there is a tendency, when conversations become fraught and antagonistic, to blame the other person. And it is true that people often call at inconvenient times and can be unclear about what they want.

The video, fronted by Mr Cleese, aims to help business people avoid these pitfalls by presenting a rogues' gallery with one common problem - the inability to behave well on the telephone. It provides solutions to the most common difficulties via what it calls "professional telephone behaviour".

This concept divides a call into three parts - "the verbal handshake", "getting the message" and "offering help". The first is designed to help establish a rapport without the clues in a face-to-face situation. The second aims to find out what the caller wants by controlling the call through obtaining information swiftly and efficiently. The third comes down to offering help. "Even if the caller has not requested it, volunteer useful information. End the call by recapping what you are going to do as a result of the conversation and do it," says Video Arts.

Appropriately, this latest video dedicated to using a familiar tool comes as the company, founded in 1972, is brushing with the technology of the future by putting some films on CDi.

The tapes of such favourites as Meetings, Bloody Meetings, now being introduced in the new format, are, as the company acknowledges, not strictly interactive. Such an approach would entail each sketch having several different endings and would be much more expensive.

Instead, by allowing trainers to skip between various parts of the video, they enable themto use the material as they think best. They can concentrate on the teaching rather than having to worry about finding the right place in the film.

According to Video Arts, the CDi versions, which retail at nearly £l,000 each, are particularly popular in "training resource centres". Essentially, these are lending libraries on company sites that groups or individuals can visit.