Handy tools assist callers with questions

It’s our job at Michigan State University Extension to educate the public. Part of that education involves answering questions on the fly. We might be the person answering the phone when that question comes through but we’re not the expert on the subject. What’s the best way to help people get expert answers to their questions?

 First, connect them to the person that does know the answer. How best to do that? You can search the MSU Extension “Ask an Expert” athttp://msue.anr.msu.edu/experts/search. This helpful tool will help you locate an Extension expert in their county. Give them the contact information for the expert and also tell them about Ask an Expert so they can use it themselves.

 To aid our colleagues who often have the opportunity to answer the phones and emails that come in from Michigan residents, there’s a helpful tool to send to people who have made inquiries. You can easily email this list of resources to clients when they call.

 MSU Extension executive staff assistant Terri Badgley helped put together the document and has seen firsthand how helpful it can be. She’s sent the document as an email attachment to callers after doing the expert search and providing the caller with the expert’s contact information.

 Terri said, “I’ll provide the caller with the phone or email information they’re asking for, but then I also mention, ‘We have some awesome online resources you’ll also want to have. What’s your email address so I can send those to you?’ Nine times out of ten, the caller is delighted to provide their email.

 “We think constituents will appreciate having these resources for future use and may cut down on phone calls … with that said, we are very purposeful in including our individual contact information for that ‘personal’ touch and possibly follow up. We also like the idea of the consistency across the state in how we each respond to callers,” she said.

 I encourage you to take Terri’s advice and make use of the document. Have it handy to send to that next caller. You can find it in SharePoint under MSUE ALL STAFF. It’s called “MSUE Resources to Callers.”

 It’s not just a resource that support and clerical staff can use. Educators, specialists and others might have occasion to use it as well.

 Senior Extension specialist Lela Vandenberg and Extension human resources coordinator Gina Flores are offering online sessions on this very topic – helping clients with questions. Sign up by June 17 for the June 26 session here: http://events.anr.msu.edu/event.cfm?folder=HowToHelpMayJune14

 Here’s also another helpful tool that Lela brought to my attention. It’s called “Finding Answers in MSUE and eXtension: A Guide for Support Staff.” It offers eXtension tools and gives links to helpful research-based websites recommended by institute directors and program leaders. Find it on the Organization Development website at http://od.msue.msu.edu/uploads/files/PD/Finding_Info_in_eXt-_Staff_2013.docx

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