Phone Etiquette Tips

As someone who has answered a great deal of business phone calls, I've had the opportunity to observe a lot of bad phone behavior. Apparently, most people didn't have the benefit of my mother teaching them how to answer and make phone calls as soon as they were old enough to talk. Bad phone etiquette can put you at a real disadvantage in the business world if you inadvertently offend your existing and potential clients. Here are some basics of making a phone call that Miss Manners would be proud of.

1. When the person on the other end says, "hello," don't say, "is this Amy?" Even if you think it is, in fact, Amy, you should not assault the person on the other end of the receiver by presuming to know her identity, especially when she has no idea who you are. You should say, "Hello, this is Carlos Mencia, may I please speak to Amy?" This way, if the person who answered the phone was, in fact, Amy, she will be mentally prepared for the call because she knows who you are. She will also immediately like you due to your good manners.

On the other hand, if you want to fluster or annoy the person on the other end of the phone, or trick them into talking to you when they might be trying to avoid you, barking their presumed name at them and hoping they confess their identity is probably a good way to accomplish your mission.

2. Respect the receptionist's need to do her job. When calling a business, always state your name and, ideally, the company you are affiliated with. The whole reason the business has a receptionist is so that everyone else at the business can choose whether to interrupt whatever they're doing to accept a phone call from a particular person. Any receptionist who tells a co-worker or boss that she doesn't know who is on the other end of the line of a phone call will get fired in short order. Also, don't assume that you have called the business enough times that the receptionist should recognize your voice. With all the calls the receptionist answers each day and no face to put with a name, she probably does not recognize your voice unless you have made a special effort to endear yourself to her.

To summarize, if Carlos Mencia were calling the President and he wanted to be polite and efficient, he would say, "hello, this is Carlos Mencia from Comedy Central. May I please speak to President Bush?"

3. Always endear yourself to the receptionist. She is the gatekeeper. You will never get anyone's private cell phone number or any other favor you need by being rude to her.

4. Do not barrage the receptionist with questions about the schedule of the person you're trying to get a hold of. It's none of your business, and her job is to keep it that way. Besides, even if President Bush is returning from lunch at 2:00, that doesn't mean he wants to talk to Carlos at 2:00. "Please ask President Bush to call me back as soon as possible," will suffice.

5. Don't make calls with your phone on speaker. Everyone can tell when you have them on speakerphone, and most people hate it. Not only is the extra background noise and the decreased ability for the caller and callee to hear each other obnoxious and frustrating, the use of speakerphone also signals to the person being called that he or she is not important enough to get the caller's undivided attention for a few minutes. Implying that your customers are not important is a poor way to handle any business transaction.

6. Compose yourself. In most cases, the person on the other end of the line probably hasn't done anything to merit being subjected to your bad mood or your panic attack. Definitely don't use profanity.

7. Please do not treat the receptionist like she is stupid. Maybe she has chosen to answer the phone despite her strong educational background because she doesn't want to deal with all the additional stress, overtime, and sleepless nights that your supposedly much more important job subjects you to.

8. When placing business calls outside the office, don't broadcast your cell phone conversations for the whole world to hear, especially when discussing information that the person on the other end of the line would consider sensitive or confidential. Not only is such behavior rude to the people in your vicinity, it is also disrespectful to the client.

I suspect that, in theory, most of us are aware of these rules, but in the day-to-day stress of the workplace, it's easy to let them fall by the wayside. Don't let yourself slip, and your manners and finesse will impress everyone you interact with by phone.

Photo by Balakov

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