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Handling enquiries

Typical questions and appropriate answers

We've identified four different types of question that you may encounter and some real examples to help you deal with whatever a caller or visitor may throw at you.

Of course, in real-life situations it's not always obvious which type of enquiry you're getting or what the most appropriate response is. The person you're dealing with may be very angry or upset, but if you stay calm and follow advice you should be able to respond confidently and professionally.

If you cannot directly help the caller, make a note of the caller's name and contact details and then pass this information and all the details they have given you to your locally-based contact.

Do something

These are the kind of calls that - whatever your job is - you must take additional action on as they express a significant level of concern.

Make a note of the caller's name and contact details and then pass this information and all the details they have given you to your locally-based contact.

During the initial call, try to remain neutral and calm in your responses. Don't confirm any personal details but do reassure the person that you are speaking to that you are going to pass the information to the person responsible for taking any appropriate action when such concerns are expressed.

You can also pass your locally-based contact's name and number on to the caller so that, if they need to, they can follow this up themselves or perhaps add any additional information.

Examples of this sort of enquiry:

"I'm really worried about my daughter. The last time I spoke to her which was two weekends ago now she sounded really low and miserable. We've been trying her mobile but she doesn't pick up and she was in hospital for some time before her A levels when she'd hurt herself then."

"My son has not contacted us for three days now.  We're calling from overseas and he is supposed to call everyday to let us know how he is. His mother and I are very worried about him."

"When we saw our son over Christmas we were very worried. He was wearing makeup and his clothes were all odd. His behaviour was strange as well and he was drinking a lot. We're worried that he's maybe taking drugs and in some kind of trouble. We tried to tell him that he needs to concentrate on his work and not going out so much and since then he hasn't returned any of our calls. We want to know whether he has been attending properly and whether his work is ok."

"I think my daughter is having some kind of break-down.  She says she's finished her dissertation but is unable to take it into the Department.  She has had a problem with facing people for some time.  I've tried to help her but now I can't even get her to talk to me. I spoke to her four days ago now and she told me then that she hadn't been eating or sleeping properly and that she hadn't left her room for more than a week. I'm really worried and I don't know what to do."

Sorry, but no

These calls are relatively easy to respond to, as the answer must always be a firm but polite 'no'.

"My daughter is taking an exam tomorrow and she can't find the information about where it is and what time, can you get this for me?  I was told that she would be able to find the information on her student portal but our computer's not working and we don't have internet access here.

You're really telling me that you won't give me the information even though she'll miss her exam and fail simply because you're too much of a jobsworth to do this simple thing for her. If she fails it'll be your fault and I'll make sure that people know that."

If the caller is asking for information on behalf of a student, politely ask them to have the student contact you themselves, explaining that you are not able to give them the information.

"I want to send a parcel to my grandson but I can't remember the house number of his address, please can you get it for me?"

"I've lost touch with an old school friend who I'm sure is one of your students, their name is Abigail Ashley and I'm sure that they're with you somewhere. I'm only over in England for two weeks and I know she would love to see me. Can you get me her details so I can get hold of her?"

"I'm calling from Sky News  and  we want to offer one of your students a work placement opportunity. Unfortunately we haven't got their details to hand so I'm sure you'd be happy to get those for me& I know that perhaps you're not meant to, but it's a fantastic opportunity for them and I'm sure you wouldn't want them to miss out on it."

The caller or visitor may be genuine and they may be disappointed or even angered by your response, but they are asking for confidential information that the University is not able to provide. If they are genuine then they should have other means of getting hold of this information.

Don't forget that you can take the caller's number and say that you will pass on a message if the student is at Manchester.

Yes, happy to help

These are the easiest, or at least the most straightforward, kinds of calls to respond to because you can answer positively by giving general information about assessment, mitigation, graduation, support services etc without confirming any personal details about the student. 

You can give a positive response - by answering the query yourself, taking a number a calling them back or asking a colleague to do so, providing general information about the University's services and procedures, or by reassuring the caller that if their son/daughter calls you themselves you will be able to help them.

"My daughter is suffering from flu and she has an exam tomorrow.  What should I do?" 

Ask yourself:  do you know what the School's procedures are for this situation.  Or can you find out and call the person back?  It's likely that the student will have to take some action herself, once she has recovered.

"My daughter has failed her exams.  She is in a dreadful state.  What will happen to her?" 

A situation which really needs the student to come in and discuss her position with her academic adviser/programme director etc.  Can you explain in general terms the procedures for resits?  Perhaps you can take the student's details so that you or a colleague can contact her directly.

"My daughter has told me that she has to make choices for next year and the deadline is tomorrow.  She does not know how to use her webpage and she tells me she has never had a meeting with her personal tutor. What is going on?"

Suggest that the daughter contacts you so that you can resolve the problem.  Take the daughter's name so that you can follow up the call with her directly - or pass it on to someone else.

"My son has been given a notice to quit his halls for non-payment of his rent.  I filled all the forms in September to pay from my account.  It's a disgrace that this has happened.  Has the University lost my bank details?"

The Accommodation Office handles payment of fees.  Give the caller the number and offer to transfer their call. 

"My daughter is devastated because her mother and I have split up. What help is available?" 

The Counselling Service would be the first choice of service.  You should also consider whether information about your School's mitigating circumstances procedures would be helpful to this caller. 

Again, you could take the student's details and ask her Personal Tutor or the School's Student Support Officer to contact her directly (in confidence).

Pass it on

Answering these kinds of enquiries doesn't involve divulging any personal information so they are also relatively straightforward.

"I have found a wallet with a student card and other stuff inside.  How do I get it back to the student?"

"I'm writing a project looking at the exam performance of students at different universities in the north west. Can you give me statistical data on how many of your students get Firsts, 2:1s etc?"

Although they may not fall within your area of expertise, a bit of common sense can lead the person to the right place to sort out their problem. For example, lost property needs to be taken to the nearest building reception and passed to them and requests for statistical data should be passed to the Records Management Office.

"I'm calling from Powys LEA. We've been asked to refund the cost of books for one of your students. If I give you his name, can you let me know whether he was enrolled on this course and whether these books were required reading?"

It would be usual for a request for information from an LEA to be dealt with by the Student Services Centre but this might be more easily managed in the student's school so it's worth trying there first.

You may need to check first with the student that they give permission for information to be passed on. Another way to approach this kind of request would be for you to prepare a letter for the student confirming the details requested and then give it to them to pass to the authority or other body.