The hotline season has started

sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)April 12, 2005

We have been having some nice weather and the hotline is getting active. I returned 22 calls in three hours yesterday and there were about 35 others answered by the agent and another MG who came in the morning. This is still behind the average we will see in the summer but a good sampling.

For those of you who do the phone thing, how many questions do you normally field in a session? What kind of questions do you get and do they run in patterns? For the most part now they are mostly about lawns and weeds in beds but there were also questions about ponds and flooding affects. I was so glad I didn't have to do research. Our agent puts a relevant copy of the ohioline newsletter by the phone and I always scan it when I get there. Great idea. It saves me a lot of looking up. Sandy

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Well, I was answering phones yesterday and we only got 8 calls in the AM shift and 4 in the PM shift. Shifts are 3 hours. Weather has been rainy here for the past few weeks - typical Western Oregon Spring weather but a big change from the earlier unusually dry warm weather in February.

Over the past few weeks, I've answered quite a few calls about noisy woodpeckers, moles and other wildlife. European Cranefly in lawns was also of concern. Let's see what else...weeds in lawns, blight on paeonies (now that it's back to the normal damp Spring weather), mushrooms in lawns.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2005 at 11:49AM
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I worked in the hotline room the other day and had very few calls come in. I am having a problem with panic attacks every time the phone rang. It was my first time in there. I had sweats and heart palpitations. I don't know how I am going to get my 30 hours in. I am terrified to answer that phone. I am going in again on Tues and am already panicking.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2005 at 9:48PM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

Hey Flowerchild5, That is a terrible way to feel about something you should enjoy. What seems to be the problem? Is there anyone there to help you and did you get any training before they threw you to the lions? Our system is set up so we take the questions on voice mail and then call them back when we have the answer for them. It's a great system but if you don't have one like that, just act like you are taking the info and someone (you) will get back to them when the answer has been researched just for them. That way you don't have the pressure of needing an answer RIGHT THEN. I am very insecure with people and it would be easy to get flustered but if the caller doesn't know how the system works, how are they to know you are not doing it perfectly. Most of the people who call are just nice folks who have a problem and want someone to give them some info. You have access to that info in most cases but no one is going to have the perfect answer on the tip of their tongue every single time. If you feel pressured, relax and tell them you will get back to them after you have discussed their problem with a real expert. They will feel you are taking their problem very seriously.
Let us know how you are doing. Sandy

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 3:59AM
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Hi Flowerchild5, I panic too! People expect a "Master Gardener" to know it all, don't they? After all - we're "masters"!! (I think the name is misleading, myself.) I know a little about a lot, I know a lot about a little, I know how to find information to answer questions but I'm not good fielding questions on the phone.

We have to answer the phones live, and talk to the person in real time. People can be very demanding - they want the answers right then and there. I couldn't possible commit to memory all of the information we have in the office. And my profession is not horticulture or botany or anything related!

I've had people ask "is there someone else I can talk to then?" when I've told them I'll get back to them. Most people are very pleasant and reasonable, but it's my experience with the unreasonable ones that make me dread the duty.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 8:29AM
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I am a Lifetime Master Gardener and have been an active Master Gardener for 25 years. What most people don't know is, I have never done not even one minutes worth of phone duty. Back when I started we were not required to do phone duty so I fulfilled my volunteer hours doing other things. It is my understanding that a majority of calls are about lawns and I would certainly have to get back with them on that as I don't know a thing about lawns (and it shows) nor do I care to. I don't have any fear of talking on the phone, in fact, I could probably talk peoples ear off, I just never have volunteered to man the phones. I stay busy working in our Demo Garden, writing garden articles, grafting, teaching a garden class for seniors and public speaking.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 8:46AM
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Flowerchild5, the first few times I answered the phone I used the "I need to research that for you and call you back" approach because I was so unsure of myself. With experience, there are quite a few questions I'll answer right away now but I still use the same line a lot. I'm not embarrassed to let people know that I don't know the answers. Most of them are very understanding and appreciative of our help.

It's great that you're giving the hotline another chance, but most MG programs have lots of volunteer opportunities besides the phones. If you find this part of the "fun" just isn't for you, don't be afraid to tell your agent and ask to help in other areas. We have a few people who do mostly office type work, helping the agent and secretary directly. One even has taken a serious interest in plant pathology and has become very proficient in diagnosing diseases. She spends quite a bit of time doing that in our lab. So our hours do not have to be one-to-one with the clients to count towards our required time.

This is supposed to be a fun and interesting experience, not something to dread. See what ways you can help that don't give you panic attacks!

Sandy G.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 4:56PM
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Thanks for all the advice! I really appreciate it. I work in a garden center and have no problem answering questions to people then. My boss is helping me by throwing questions at me through out the day. although he is very anti Master Gardeners. We can answer the questions if we can right then or call them back after we've researched. we have a great computer program with lots of answers. Maybe I will get practice at our plant sale this weekend. My boss gave me about 100 lavander for the sale and a few rosemary. anyway, Again thanks for all the advice.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 9:34PM
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We gave up going into the office in our little county. There just weren't enough calls at one time to warrant hanging out there for hours. The extension office secretary takes the calls and refers them to us. We call the clients back, answer right away if we can, or promise a call back as soon as we have found the answer.
I really enjoy being able to sit down in front of my home computer to do the required research (beats cleaning, etc.,on days when I can't garden).
I agree with Eddy that there are other, sometimes more pleasant, ways to fulfill required hours. Our little group has always enjoyed doing classes for the public. We have a local nurseryman who welcomes us to set up on a Sunday afternoon and do whatever class we have in mind. We serve cookies and something to drink and we all have a good time. This brings new people to the business and we take advantage several times a year if we can.
Happy Gardening, everyone!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 1:36PM
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back_yard_guy(z6 KS)

There is a much better way to dispense information than the traditional hotlines. Dr. Ron Smith, at the University of North Dokata, has this awesome on-line question & answer forum. I've sent him several questions myself. He is AWESOME with his replys.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hortiscope

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 12:15PM
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Yesterday was my second day, and I was a bit nervous, but after I realized that the callers were the ones in need, and I was the 'expert', I felt a lot more confident. Put the ball back in their court by asking lots of questions to clarify the problem.

I only handled about 5 calls, but there were 4 of us there. You were alone!? That's a lot of work for one person.

A man was annoyed when I said that we really needed a sample from his lawn to really determine what the brown spots were that he was seeing. I wondered how he thought we could properly diagnose the problem with all of the different fungi out there over the phone, so I was amused when he said 'have someone find out' because he didn't want to bring in a sample.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 9:09AM
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sleeplessinftwayne(z4-5 IND)

Hey Minibite, I've been doing this for quite a while so I have heard most of the local problems enough I don't have to do a lot of research. Some of the more unusual problems require searching though such as the one about English Walnut production and setting up a hydroponics greenhouse with all the necessary cleaning materials and nutrient solutions. Even then, I sometimes have to get some search directions from the hort agent. Often the calls are duplicates with 5 or 6 concerning the same problem. I do need to look up the publication numbers. I have no memory retention for numbers at all. I can't even remember my own cell phone #. Sometimes there will be a newby paired with me who wants to hear how someone else handles the calls. It gives them more confidence when they have to do it by themselves. When there is really heavy traffic, we can have 40 or more calls waiting and somehow we manage to get to them all even if it is the next morning. I haven't looked to see how many volunteers are working this season, but there are usually at least 10 or 15 every week. Sandy

    Bookmark   April 22, 2005 at 4:40PM
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jazzmom516(Zone 7 LI, NY)

I think the hardest part about the phones is that the homeowner wants immediate answers to what may be a complicated problem.Some want approval for what they are doing and some lonely folks want some validation by talking with another human.Still others want confirmation that their lawn service, termite company or gardener are doing the right thing. We cannot make endorsements or recommendations of landscape or termite companies or sprinkler services.We can only suggest certified arborists to them. We cannot diagnose by phone or tell people the names of various chemicals. Some of us get around this by saying non selective herbicide vs selective herbicide. If the homeowner mentions the chemical I can then discuss it with them. All chemical recommendations need to be sent to the homeowner in writing. And yes, I love answering the phones because you never know what question will stump you and then you have to figure out how to solve the problem.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 2:36PM
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