The Practical Caregiver: On the Phone

As a caregiver, you probably spend more time than you care to admit on the telephone, talking—or trying to talk—to your loved one's doctor, insurer, and pharmacist among others. More often than not, you have to navigate a complicated series of menus and spend an inordinate amount of time on hold to reach someone who may or may not have the information you need. At the end of half an hour, you can find yourself with very little to show for your efforts.

One reason that phoning for information seems so frustrating is that you are not in control of the process. But there are a number of steps you can take to influence the outcomes of your calls and use your time productively:

  • Be prepared. Read any supporting material that is relevant to the call and write down the questions you want to ask. You also should be prepared to answer questions. For instance, if you're calling on behalf of your loved one, you may need to have their social security number or date of birth handy. A good way to prepare for your call is to role-play, imagining the conversation in your mind before you pick up the phone.
  • Assemble the necessary equipment. At the very least, you will need a pad of paper or notebook and a pen to keep track of the information you learn. It also helps to use a speakerphone or a headset so you don't have to hold the phone in place next to your ear. You'll be able to attend to other tasks more easily while on hold, and you'll find it is easier to take notes when speaking to a customer service representative.
  • Document your calls. Keep a log of each phone call, with the time and date of your call, the name and phone number of the person you've talked to, and the results of your call. Save it for future reference.
  • Be personable and polite. Receptionists and customer service representatives field hundreds of calls during the course of a day, often from people who are irate or demanding. Anything you can do to make their experience more pleasant will help you stand out from the crowd. Try to establish a relationship by beginning the conversation with a request—not a demand—for their assistance. Make a point of complimenting them for their helpfulness.

If you don't get the information you need from the first person you speak to and you feel that they have not been particularly helpful, don't hesitate to ask to speak to a supervisor. Quite often, supervisors have the additional power needed to fulfill your request.

Web Resource

The GetHuman 500 Database maintains a list of 500 major U.S. companies and government agencies with shortcuts you can take to reach a live customer service representative.