Understand how to make and receive calls
When working in a business environment, anyone who deals with administration is most likely going to have to use office equipment, systems and procedures. These will range from telephones to photocopiers, computers to coffee making facilities for guests. Knowing how to operate these and understand what they are for is an essential skill in the business administration department. Presenting the right image therefore is important and understanding how to make and receive telephone calls appropriately is a part of this image as you will have to speak to colleagues, managers, customers and other people each day.
Telephone systems – have many different features other than the handset and dials/buttons which are used to handle calls professionally.
Call holding – features are those which are used to place a caller on hold whilst you complete another task. This could be to locate paperwork, look up the caller’s details and information before speaking to them or contact another colleague whom the caller wishes to speak to Call waiting – features let you know when there is a caller on the line who wishes to speak to you when you are already using the telephone.
These are usually lights which flash or tones which beep to let you know there is a caller waiting Re-directing calls – are available on telephone systems where you may be required to forward a call to another colleague. Usually they are features on the telephone which state ‘redirect’ or ‘transfer’ Answer phone features record messages from callers when you or other colleagues are unavailable Teleconferencing features enable others (more than two people) to hold a ‘conference’ style conversation over the telephone.
These are now often enhanced with video imaging equipment via a computer TEXT MESSAGE – features enable you to send and receive text style messages (as on a mobile phone). ON HOLD 0 – This allows you to put the caller on hold while you locate the person who the call is for or perhaps you need to ask a colleague for help/advice without the calling hearing what you are saying. CALL FORWARDING – This function allows you redirect a call to another telephone. This can also be used if you will be away from your desk and wish to divert your extension to a colleague. CALL BACK – When you are calling a number that is engaged this function will let you know when the line is free, this will save you time by attempting to call back manually. INTERRUPT – When your phone is in use it will ‘bleep’ as a signal that another caller is trying to get through.
LAST NUMBER REDIAL – This function is normally one button that you press to redial the last used number. DO NOT DISTURB – This allows you to stop calls coming through to your phone while you are unavailable, for example when a meeting is taking place. HUNT GROUP – This is when an office has a group of telephones all linked to one telephone number; so that calls can be passed around the team until someone answers it. Your organisation will have procedures that need to be followed when using the telephone. Some larger organisations will have written guidelines that they expect to be followed, whereas smaller companies may ask you to observe a more experienced member of staff to learn how to receiving/making calls.
It is important to remember that when using the telephone you are representing your workplace; your caller cannot see you so the way you communicate will give the caller an immediate impression, hopefully a good one. Rules to follow when answering calls: * Answer promptly and identify yourself to the caller following your organisations guidelines, “Good morning/good afternoon, name of company, your name if applies, how may I help you?” * Even if you are busy when you have answered the phone does not let the caller know this, as this will give a bad impression of you and the company. * Do not ignore your colleagues’ phone if it is ringing, answer it and offer to take a message. * Speak with a smile in your voice; this actually helps people to sound more helpful and pleasant. * It is good practice to have a pen and paper ready to take messages.
* Do not answer the phone while you are drinking or eating, even if the call is internal. * Answer the caller’s questions with accurate and up to date information, if you cannot answer their questions find someone who can or offer to call them back. * Remember how important confidentiality is when providing information to callers, never give out customer or staff personal details, for example information such as home address, date or birth etc. * If the caller wants to speak to a specific person/department, take these details and transfer the call, remember to introduce the caller to the next person. * Rules to follow when making calls:
* Prepare first, you need to know why you are calling in the first place so that you can explain to the person who will answer the phone. * If information is lengthy write yourself a bullet point list of the main notes. * Keep your notepad nearby in case you need to take notes. * Always tell the person who answers the phone who you are and why you are calling. * Make sure you can hear and understand the information you are being told, do not be embarrassed to ask someone to repeat themselves if it is not clear. * If the person answering your call has been helpful, thank them for their time. Taking Messages * When answering a call if the person the caller wishes to speak to is not available, offer to take a message. Rules to follow when taking messages:
* Make sure you include all the key facts; this includes the caller’s name, company name, telephone number, any other relevant information the caller wishes you to pass on. * Check all the details with the caller before ending the call. * Write the message clearly to make sure the other person will understand what you are communicating. * Write the time, date of the call on your written message and your own name so the other person can speak to you if they have any questions.
Understand how to handle mail
Some large organisations have a post room that deals with all incoming and outgoing mail, some have responsible person/persons, and in small organisations everyone is responsible for the post. It is important to follow the correct procedures for receiving, checking and sorting incoming and outgoing mail or packages. If a mistake is made then someone may be waiting on the arrival of an important document and it may go to the wrong person, or even go missing completely.
Within most office environments there will be a system and set of procedures for handling incoming and outgoing mail. Staff responsible for receiving and posting mail will have to ensure that: incoming mail has been checked that it has been addressed to the correct organisation and sorted by department or person incoming mail is correctly received and given to the correct recipient outgoing mail is sorted and is correctly labelled with the right postage charge out-going mail is appropriate and relevant to the business (not personal mail). Mail will be in the forms of parcels, letters, recorded deliveries, packages and other mail (including promotional materials/junk mail etc.). Within an organisation there will be different internal and external mail systems.
Internal mail systems will involve:
Inter-departmental collection points such as pigeon holes or boxes where staff can collect mail relevant to those working within their department. There may also be outgoing postal trays for mail which comes from a department which then needs to be sent from a central office or location site transfer systems – collection and redistribution systems when mail is received into one location but needs to be taken to another (for example, this system would be used when offices are spread out over an industrial park or office block) internal envelopes used for mail which is not being externally posted but sent to staff within an organisation.
External mail systems will involve:
External mail post boxes (centrally located or collected by administrative staff from departments before being posted externally) recorded delivery postage special delivery postage courier services.
Understand how to use different types of office equipment
When working within an office environment you will use various types of equipment in order to carry out your role. It is important you know how to use this equipment in order to remain safe and keep risk to a minimum. You may be provided with training at your workplace or you may be asked to refer to the manufacturer’s guide for the equipment you use. Either way it is your responsibility to use all equipment in the correct way and to report any faulty equipment to the relevant person immediately. Manufactures’ guidelines are there for a reason. If you follow the basic guidance then you will not do anything that may harm you or others and the equipment will last longer. The main equipment you will come across in an office is as follows: FAX MACHINES – Need to be placed in an area where everyone has access to it and you are able to clearly see when a fax has arrived.
Faults could include paper jams, being offline, engaged tone, out of paper, wiring faults, some of these may require expert help so should be reported. PHOTOCOPIERS – Should be placed in an open area so there is sufficient air around them, sometimes in a separate room. Faults include paper jams, out of toner etc. Only trained staff should remove paper jams and replace toner. SHREDDERS – Used to destroy confidential documents, paper can be recycled, must be over 18 years old to use. Faults include: overloading can cause paper jams, this should be resolved by trained person to avoid harm. GUILLOTINES – Used to cut paper, must be over 18 years old to use.
BINDING MACHINES – Used to bind documents together, do not overload as these can cause the machine to break and ruin documents resulting in wasted resources. FILING CABINETS – Used to store documents, drawers must be closed after use to avoid tripping hazards, also must not be overloaded. Never attempt to move a cabinet. COMPUTERS – VDU must be at correct height for eye level, also adjust your chair to accommodate posture requirements. Any computer faults should be reported to a Computer Technician. PRINTERS/ SCANNERS – It is good practice to proofread all documents before printing to keep waste to a minimum. To be kept where all users can access. Any faults should be reported to a trained Technician.
AUDIO MACHINES – Used to listen and play back tapes that need to be typed up into the relevant format e.g. letter, memo, report. Each user normally has their own set of earphones for hygiene reasons. Once you have completed a document you can erase the tape and use it again. When using equipment in the workplace it is important to keep it clean and well maintained, especially if you are sharing equipment or desks. You can do this by working in an organised tidy manner, storing equipment safely and cleaning it with the appropriate products. For example using screen wipes for your computer monitor (VDU).
You can minimise the number of germs on your keyboard by not eating or drinking at your desk. If you are sharing workspace with others it is good practice to leave the area in a clean and organised manner for the next person in order to give a good impression of the type of person you are. In some organisations you may be required to have a clear desk policy, which means you must leave your desk clear and tidy at the end of the day or when you are away from your desk.
Understand how to keep waste to a minimum in a business environment
Waste has a huge impact on our carbon footprint and to the cost of running a business.
There are many causes of waste in a business environment and many things you can do to prevent it:
Paper – Proof read before printing, ask yourself do you need to print, email instead of printing, double side when printing or photocopying and use any scrap paper to make note pads.
Envelopes, plastic wallets & folders – Re use them if you can.
Electricity – Turn off computers, monitors and other electrical equipment, do not leave equipment charging over night or for longer periods than necessary and turn lights and heating off when not needed.
Many businesses have recycling policies and have put into place measures to make it easy to recycle. You may have an external company that takes away the shredding, toner cartridges or even batteries. There are sometimes allocated bins for paper, cardboard, tins, plastic and glass.
Know how to make arrangements for meetings
As an administrator you may be called upon to organise and support business meetings.
Meetings form a major part of communications within the modern business world.
The clear advantage of calling a meeting is that they enable face-to face contact with a number of people at one time, whereas if the communication were done by written communication, it would be difficult to gain a full overview of decisions, involvement etc. It is an opportunity for gaining a wide cross section of opinion where two-way dialogue is encouraged via the asking/answering of questions.
What is important for an effective meeting to take place is that the right people are invited and that they are sufficiently briefed in advance so that they can make a worthwhile contribution. The disadvantage of a meeting is that they can become too numerous, resulting in a great deal of frustration and boredom, owing to a lot of lengthy and often irrelevant discussion, and achieving little or nothing. Also it can be difficult to arrange dates and times convenient for all those who ought to attend, especially when sufficient notice is not given and the people attending have prior commitments.
Most people do not like attending meetings – especially if they are not sure what the purpose of the meeting is, or if it goes on too long and achieves too little. Meetings must not be too frequent or held just for the sake of it. There must be a need for a meeting. There should be decisions about the different types of meetings needed. For example, some meetings could be to discuss policy and others to discuss organisation (practical work). Wherever possible the members must know what type of meeting they are going to and what the meeting is for – in other words, the PURPOSE of the meeting. Sometimes an organisation might call a special or extraordinary meeting. There are different types of meetings and planning and it should take account of this.
Different types of meetings – Most organisations will hold the following types of meetings: The general members meeting – This is the most common meeting, which usually happens once a month or once every two weeks. The general members meeting should be the place where members are informed of developments, involved in decisions and given education and information that will help them to become more active in the organisation. General meetings are usually the places where decisions are made and where the executive reports on work they and other sub-committees have done.
Special meetings – These can be called to discuss specific issues, for example preparing for a national conference or work on planning activities for the year. Any members who are interested should be invited to attend special meetings. They should not be run like general members meetings (with minutes, reports etc) but should only focus on the issues they’ve been called to discuss. Executive meetings – The executive should meet more regularly than the general members, and executive meetings should have a more business-like focus. The executive has to plan implementation for the organisation, monitor the work that has been done, deal with problems, and often (if you’re part of a larger organisation) relate to other levels of the organisation. They should discuss correspondence in detail and address problems as they come up.
The executive should also keep an eye on the finances of the organisation and monitor income and expenditure. Every executive meeting should have an item on the agenda that plans for the next general members meeting. They should provide both leadership and administration to the organisation. Annual General Meeting – Most organisations have an Annual General Meeting laid down in their constitution. The AGM is the place where the executive accounts to all members about the activities of the year as well as the finances of the organisation. The AGM is also the place where new leaders are elected and are given a mandate to run the organisation for another year.
Most AGM’s need at least the following two detailed reports to the members: The secretary’s report that lists plans of the organisation, the actual activities that took place that year, the achievements of the year, and the problems experienced. The treasurer’s report: a detailed financial report that lists all income from subscriptions, grants, donations, fundraising; and all expenditure. This report should also clearly state what the balance is and where that balance is held. It is important to have a written financial report at your AGM but very often members find financial reports difficult to understand and you should try and make it simpler by putting the main headings on news-prints and explaining it to people in less financial language.
Planning a meeting
Planning should improve participation by ensuring that discussion is on a single topic and that the members are well prepared for the meeting. This is the responsibility of the Chairperson, Secretary and Executive, depending on the type of organisation. Planning does not mean controlling and directing the meeting in such a way that it restricts participation
Planning should include the following:
Notification- It is the executive’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has been notified of the date, time and venue of the meeting, as well as the main issues to be discussed. For many organisations it is a useful practice to always have their meetings on the same day at the same time in the same place – for example on the first Saturday of every month at the local church hall. If you do not money to always inform your members of meetings then over time this will help you to cut costs, and to make sure that everyone knows where they can find the meeting.
Preparing the agenda – The agenda is a list of the most important issues for the members to discuss, it is drawn from the Matters Arising from the previous meeting and from the discussions of the Executive or Secretariat. The agenda is the responsibility of the Chairperson and the Secretary. The chairperson should read the minutes of the previous meeting to familiarise him/herself with the issues. This will form the basis of a list of matter arising from these minutes.
Matters arising include:
Tasks a report back must be given
Matters for which further information was required for discussion Matters that were deferred to this meeting
There are standard items for any agenda. These items should be arranged in order of priority and time should be allocated for each discussion. Where possible, try to familiarise yourself with each area of discussion. An agenda should include a last item known as General or Any Other Business to allow individuals to raise short items not included on the agenda.
Understand procedures for organising travel and accommodation arrangements. If you are involved in arranging events for your company then this may involve many different aspects of planning. Before doing any of the planning you will need to establish what your budget is, it would not be sensible to book guests into a five star hotel at £100 per night when only £40 has been budgeted for, or booking first class flights when you should have booked economy. Consideration needs to be taken whether the event is local, national or international, as this will have an effect on the type of transport used to get to the venue.
Will you need to book flights, car hire, taxis, trains or perhaps a coach? If people are travelling by car then is there parking close by, does the accommodation have parking? There are different types of overnight accommodation available from bed and breakfasts to hotels. How many nights will people need to stay? Will an evening meal be required? You must check that there are no disabilities that need special preparation for. Someone may need access to a wheelchair, lift, ramp or hearing loop. An interpreter may be needed if English is a second language. You must know you own limits of authority, when to seek guidance and the budget you have to work within. Resources may be needed, for example:
• Stationery – Pens, paper • Equipment – Flip charts, laptops (possible Internet access), overhead projectors, chairs • Refreshments – Tea, coffee, water, main meals – taking into consideration any dietary needs that people may have If arranging this type of event it is usual practice for your company then you may already have regular suppliers, if not then you may need to shop around to find a suitable supplier within your given budget. There are many different sources of information available to help you to make your arrangements.
You can look on the Internet, use regular suppliers, use internal information from colleagues, or paper based information from previous events, or you could use an agent but be aware that an agent will charge a fee for doing a job that you can do. When you have finalised all the details your end the next thing to do is to give this information to all persons attending the event. Information such as: Time and date of event, travel and accommodation details, map of area, places to park and prices, who to contact for further details or if they have any special needs, agenda and list of anything that needs to be brought
Understand diary management procedures.
Diaries are an essential planning aid that all organisations will use at some point; some use them more than others depending on the nature of the business. It is important to use a diary to help teams and individuals to plan tasks/activities, some of which will involve very strict deadlines. You can log information such as date, timings and locations of the people who are involved. Diaries can also help staff to know the whereabouts of their colleagues and when they are available to speak to. For example if you answer a call for a colleague but are not sure where they are, you could refer to the staff diary to locate this information (as long as this is accurate and up to date). There are various types of manual diaries that are available; these vary from a large, page-a day type to a smaller version with up to a week on view on each two pages.
You need the size that will enable you to write clear information on the tasks you need to do and/or the appointments under each date. Manual diaries are often used for personal appointments and are individual to each person. Other people that may use these are secretaries or PAs. Nowadays electronic or computerised diaries are used much more in companies, especially those that book a large amount of appointments, e.g. hospitals, dentists, garages, electrical and gas companies etc. One of the most frequently used electronic diary programs in business is Microsoft Outlook, because it is compatible with other Microsoft Office software, such as Word. Outlook can be used to maintain your diary, organise and manage lists of tasks you have to do, and keep an address book of your contacts.
You can use it as an e-mail software program and also use it to check the schedules of other people in your team; this is useful to book team meetings. Some companies also purchase PDAs for their staff, these offer many usable features including functions such as a “to do” list, address book, a calculator, a reminder option and a memo pad. They are compatible with the PC so that information can be downloaded easily. Understand the purpose of delivering effective customer service and how to do so.
Customers expect good customer service. They expect the service provider to have: * A thorough knowledge of what the organisation has to offer in regards to services and products. * The ability to project a positive image to all customers and meet their needs within the organisations’ limitations. * Good communications skills regardless of form or mode. * Staff that can help customers with any questions or queries they may have promptly. * An excellent understanding of the organisation’s procedures that specify how customers can be dealt with. * The product/service that is being advertised readily available and to be sold at the stated price.
It is important to be efficient as you may be first point of contact for the whole organisation and this can create a lasting impression. You do not want to seem unprofessional, as this will not give customers any confidence in their dealings with your organisation. It is essential that you gain your customers’ trust. It is also important to meet or exceed your customers’ expectations to lead to repeat and new business. We all hear, but how many of us actually listen? Actively listening to your customers will enable you to identify exactly what it is they want and give you the opportunity to recognise if there are any additional products or services that may be of interest to them.
There are many different types of customers and it is important to identify them so that you evaluate the type of requirement they may have and what you have to do to meet them. You may have to deal with a regular customer who you are familiar with, don’t forget to treat everyone with the same respect, just because you know this person it does not mean you can stop portraying a professional image.
You may also have to deal with service suppliers or maintenance persons who need directing to different parts of the building, or need you to stay with them whilst they are in parts of the building where they should not have access unless accompanied.
You may have to deal with internal or external customers, just remember whoever they are to be polite, as you are portraying the professional image of your company.
Understand the purpose of reception services and how to follow reception producer. Many administrators undertake receptionist duties. Some companies may have a specialist reception desk and some smaller firms are likely to expect a receptionist to undertake a variety of administration or telephone duties at the same time. There are many skills required to work on a reception:
• A thorough knowledge of your organisation, its structure and the names and job roles of people who work there
• The ability to project a positive image to all visitors and help them with their needs and problems
• An excellent understanding of your company’s procedures that specify how visitors must be dealt with
All visitors should be greeted with a smile and a welcome, no matter whether they are expected or not, or important or not. Don’t assume that the best-dressed visitors are the most important – many receptionists have made this mistake and, in some cases, annoyed very key people. Treat everyone with the same courtesy, and make them feel that you have time for them. It is important to be efficient as in some cases the receptionist is the first point of contact with the whole organisation and this can create a lasting impression.
You do not want to seem unprofessional, as this will not give visitors any confidence in their dealings with your organisation. The receptionist has many roles to perform. As they are seen as the first point of contact then they are often required to give directions or escort visitors to different parts of the building, they are often asked for general information or to solve problems.
Communication is a major role and the receptionist should know how to use their communication skills to get the most out of the way they communicate with visitors. An appropriate tone and level of voice are required.
Some organisations have a signing in procedure for visitors, in which case it is the role of the receptionist to ensure that this is done and that any identification badges are given out. In large organisations when a visitor goes into the building they are issued with basic health and safety details, for example, what to do in the event of a fire.
Security procedures must be complied with; therefore it is essential that the receptionist is familiar with what these are. If these procedures are not complied with then there will be a breach of the security regulations. If you see someone who you think should not be in particular part of the building then err on the side of caution and report them to your line manager.
Security in an organisation may:
• Allow for unrestricted visitor access
• Restrict visitor access to certain areas
• Allow restricted access to certain areas only if accompanied, and then only after visitors have complied with certain screening procedures
Dealing with hostile visitors can be difficult, stay calm, listen, look sympathetic, apologise if necessary, and if any of this does not work then make sure you know what to do. You may have a security guard you can call or an alarm you can press for assistance.
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