June 16, 2015

The 5 Most Important Rules of Proper Telephone Etiquette


With so much attention being placed on online communication, whether it’s via email and social media, it seems that conversing with your actual voice is a lost art. However, answering the telephone and phone etiquette are still a big part of the experience for many businesses.

An efficient conversation over the phone truly is an art form. It’s so much different from both talking to people online and in person.

Online, you have the time to really devise a great answer and think about what you are going to speak about before you press  “enter.” When you are talking to someone in the flesh, you can use facial expressions and body language to convey your message. But when you are talking on the phone, it’s all about your voice and the way you speak to them directly. That’s why being aware of the basic rules of phone etiquette is so important.

Whether you work in retail, a restaurant, or any other type of service industry, phone calls are still immensely important. Customers will call you on the telephone and the conversation they have with you will shape their perception of your company. In order to leave a positive impression, here’s how you can step up the way you help customers on the telephone.

phone etiquette

Answer the telephone as quickly as possible

Most people who call you will hang up if the phone doesn’t get answered after five or six rings. The patient customers will wait as long as they need to, but if you answer after the 20th ring, you can be sure that they won’t be in a good mood.

Just like you have time tracking needs as a manager, the customer also wants to save as much time as possible.

If it takes you forever to answer the phone, the customer’s first impression is that you’re either lazy, have no manners, or that you simply don’t care. And that’s a huge no-no when it comes to phone etiquette. They might also think that your business is understaffed or disorganized.

It should not take you more than three or four rings to answer the phone. It’s a fast-paced world, and people simply don’t want to wait for any type of service these days —especially not on the telephone.

A common phone etiquette question is what to do if you are dealing with a customer live and the phone begins to ring. In this case, it is recommended to ask the customer politely if they would mind if you took a second to answer the phone. Most will appreciate the fact that you asked first, and tell you that it’s fine.

If your staff really is too busy to answer the phone, make sure that your voicemail options enable the user to get to the menu easily and get transferred to a live person as soon as possible. There should always be someone who has a desk job in your company who is able to field calls when no one else can.

It can’t hurt to rehearse

If you’re going into the act of answering the phone with the mentality that you are simply going to wing it, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. There’s nothing wrong with practicing or at least knowing what you are going to say when someone calls. After all, your company probably has guidelines for email communication. You should be approaching phone calls in a very similar way.

You should start with a standardized greeting that is polite and informative. Let the customer know immediately who they are speaking with.

Also, have in mind that what you’re saying isn’t the only thing that you should be thinking about. You should also practice how you are going to talk. A friendly tone of voice is one of the most important things when it comes to communicating successfully on the phone and practicing good phone etiquette.

Practicing this tone of voice will help you when you need it most. If you’ve had a hard day at work and politeness is the last thing on your mind, the fact that you have practiced your delivery should enable the polite voice to kick in naturally, no matter how you are really feeling at that moment.

Know who to connect to

There will be times when you are unable to help the customer and you will need to connect them to the right person. Notice that we said “connect” and not “transfer.” Customers who are “transferred” frequently feel like they are being passed off. They also complain that having to tell their story to more than one person is just a waste of time. And the word “connect” just sounds a whole lot friendlier than the word “transfer.”

Say you need to connect the caller with the shipping department. In this case, you would say, “To get the information that will answer your question, I will need to connect you with the shipping department. Would that be all right?”

Then make sure that someone is there in the shipping department to take the call and field the help request. When the shipping department answers, be sure to introduce the caller and explain the reason for the telephone call. You should also stay on the line for a moment to be sure that the caller is being helped.

phone etiquette

Putting the caller on hold

There is absolutely nothing that is more maddening than being put on hold as soon as your call has been picked up. That’s one of the cardinal rules of phone etiquette. And the worst thing about this is that it is a common occurrence. The person who answers the phone puts you on hold even before they get to hear your voice. Sound familiar? It is easily one of the worst things people fret about when calling customer service.

If it is truly necessary to put the customer on hold, be sure to do it properly. Answer the phone, thank the person for calling and then ask them politely whether it is alright if you put them on hold for a few seconds.

Another important thing—asking is not enough. Wait for the person to respond. It’s important to make sure you have initiated the conversion and confirmed that you are there for them. If you ask politely if you can put them on hold for a few moments, most customers will say “sure.” Be sure to use that approach if it’s indeed necessary.

So then the next question is, how long is too long when putting people on hold? The general rule of thumb is that you should not leave anyone on hold for more than a minute.

If you really do have a pressing matter that demands your immediate attention for more than a minute, get back to the customer, explain to them that you are really busy, and transfer them to someone who can speak with them immediately.

Being on hold can be really frustrating, and if you don’t handle it correctly, there’s a good chance that they’ll never call back.

Make time for a proper ending

Whether you’ve helped solve the customer’s inquiry or not, ending the call needs to be done the right way. Once again, it’s all about being as polite and warm as possible to the caller.

Don’t make it feel as if you are in a rush to get off the phone with the caller. First and foremost, you need to ask them if there is anything else that you can help them with.

If there is nothing else, then thank them for calling and wish them a pleasant rest of the day. Use their names when addressing them too, it makes the entire experience more personalized.

Finally, it’s also proper phone etiquette to make sure that the customer hangs up the phone first!

Phone etiquette: lessons learned

Even in the digital world, phone calls should not be taken lightly. When a customer calls you, there is a good chance that this is their first contact with your company. You need to make a good first impression and create a positive and lasting relationship with the caller.

Having good phone etiquette is a great starting point for providing a great customer experience. This initial contact could mean a lot when it comes to getting a picture of your business and what it stands for. Make them feel at home. Great phone manners make people feel better about doing business with you.