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Proper Business Telephone Etiquette Tips

Learn how to be professional on the telephone.

Learn how to be professional on the telephone.

Have you ever called a business or organization and had to deal with an unprofessional employee? Maybe they spoke to you as if you were a friend instead of a valued customer, or they put you on hold and never came back to finish the call. No matter what the circumstances, it is a frustrating experience having to deal with someone in a professional setting who does not have good phone manners.

On the flip side, you may be a new employee, and you are not sure how you should answer the phone at your new job. Maybe the thought of someone calling you at your desk is giving you ulcers, and you just want some idea of how you should approach the call.

The following tips should give a basic guideline on how to answer a phone in a professional manner. Whether you keep them as a reminder for yourself or send them as a subtle hint to someone else, it never hurts to have a game plan beyond saying "Hello."

1. Clear Your Mouth

The first thing you should do before answering a call at work is to make sure that your mouth is clear of any food or drink. We have all had those nightmare calls where the person trying to help us sounds as if they have just taken a bite out of a sub sandwich. Try not to put someone else through that experience.

If possible, save your snack or lunch for a designated break time so you will not have to choke down your food before answering a call. If you are unable to take a break, make sure that you have completely swallowed your food before answering the phone.

2. Be Prepared for the Call

Have you ever called someone and immediately been put on hold because they were not ready to help you? It is a frustrating experience because we always expect a person to be ready when they answer the phone.

The best way to be prepared to help someone is to have your work-space in order. Make sure that you have any necessary papers in order and within reach. Also, make sure that your computer screen is within sight range with necessary computer applications up and running.

Having your materials in order beforehand will save you valuable time, and allow you to jump right into helping your customer when they call.

3. Limit Distractions and Side Conversations

If you are answering the phone at work, your entire focus should be on the person you have on the phone. If you deflect your attention to people and conversations around you, you stand a chance of missing out on important details that you may need to assist your customer.

If something is going on around you that you must take part in, politely ask the person on the line if they could hold or if you can call them right back. Avoid starting a side conversation while the person on the phone is still able to hear you on the phone. Not only is it confusing, but it is also rude.

4. Don't Make Noises While Thinking

This is a habit that many of us have without being completely aware of it. One moment someone asks a question, and the next moment we are making a "Hmmmm" noise or clicking our tongue while thinking of an answer. The problem is that noise is way more audible than we think it is. The person on the other end of the line is forced to "listen" to us think.

Another thing to avoid is chewing gum while on the phone. While it may seem quiet, it is not hard to hear someone vigorously chewing and popping gum through a phone.

5. Use a Proper Introduction

The minute you pick up the phone, you should eliminate any confusion about who you are and what you can do for the customer. Your opening often sets the tone for how the call will proceed. If you have a friendly, helpful tone, people will usually be more willing to work with you than if you answer sounding grumpy.

When you answer the phone, try to include the following elements in your introduction:

  • Your company's name
  • Your name
  • The department you work in
  • Ask how you can help

By doing this, people will have a general idea of who they are talking to and whether or not they may need to be transferred. It also extends the idea that you are ready and willing to help them out.

6. Listen to Your Caller

A huge part of taking a call at work is actually listening to what the caller has to say to you. Take a moment at the beginning of the call to ask for the caller's name, and use it from time to time in your conversation. Not only does it show that you paid attention when they told you, but it also builds a bond between you and your customer.

On top of getting your caller's name, you should also identify what issue they are calling about. After getting the problem, be sure to ask how you can help them resolve it. Make sure that you do not cut off the customer while they are describing the issue, even if you think you know what they are going to say. Give them a chance to speak and then work on a resolution.

7. Ask for Permission Before Using the Hold Button

It is inevitable that there are going to be phone calls where you will have to put people on hold to try getting a resolution. There is nothing wrong with using hold as long as it is done in a responsible manner.

The first thing you should do is ask the caller if it is OK for you to put them on hold. Usually, this is also a good time to explain exactly why you need the extra time. In many cases, people do not mind waiting as long as they know why they are waiting.

Another thing to monitor is your hold times. There are going to be cases where an extended hold is necessary to get a correct answer. In these cases, be sure to check in with the customer to let them know that you are still working on their issue and you have not forgotten them. You may also want to see if they want to continue holding or if they would prefer a call back.

8. Be Careful When Transferring a Call

There are going to be times when people reach your desk in error. If you end up needing to transfer a call, advise the caller exactly why you are going to have to transfer them to another person. If you are able to help the person without transferring them, by all means, accept responsibility for the call and get things taken care of.

If you need to transfer the call, be sure that you give the caller the extension you are transferring to in case the call is accidentally disconnected. Also make sure that you warm transfer the call, meaning you introduce the caller to the person taking over the call. This will assure that everyone is on the same page when the new call begins.

9. Provide a Suitable Resolution

At the end of your phone call, make sure that the caller has been given a reasonable solution for the issue they called about. While it is not always possible to please every caller, do your best to explain the resolution given and any alternatives that may be available.

Rather than just giving someone a negative answer, think of ways that you may actually be able to help the person on the other end of the phone. Often, a person will lose the anger of being denied something when they realize that you are still trying your hardest to figure out an alternative for them.

10. Set a Reasonable Time Frame

For those cases when you need extra time to research the issue, make sure that you let the caller know what you are going to be researching and how much time it will take you to call back. Make sure that you are giving a reasonable time frame for when you will be calling back. If the customer has to call back first, it usually does not go very well.

The important thing to remember is that the time-frame should be reasonable. If you tell someone you will call back in 24 hours when you know that your schedule is full, you are just setting yourself up for a difficult situation later.

11. Wrap It Up With a Smile

After everything else is done, close the call by thanking the caller for calling you. This might also be another good time to drop their name in conversation. This will show that you not only value their business, but you also value the whole customer.

Once you hang up the phone, be ready for the next ring, and keep learning from one call to the next.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Kieron Walker (author) from Saratoga Springs, NY on June 05, 2017:

I've had some pretty frustrating experiences myself. It makes you realize that not everyone is prepared to answer the phone in the workplace.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 05, 2017:

Most customer service reps I've talked with lately, can use these reminders to help their professionalism. Quite good. Thanks!