In my previous article, I outlined that although the telephone is probably one of the most important customer touch points, it is one of the most poorly managed. Every company should train its staff on telephone etiquette. There should be a clear and standard way of how employees use phones at your company. People are tarnishing good, professional, brands because of how they handle phone calls.
In this article I want to outline telephone etiquette on how to make a phone call and how you manage a phone call. These are etiquette basics that at a minimum, all employees should observe, if you want to maintain a professional image of your company.
Rules around making a phone call
Whenever you make a telephone call for yourself or your boss, be sure you have the right number before you place the call. Keep a “frequently called numbers” list within your reach and follow these suggestions:
- Get ready. Visualise your caller as a friendly, positive person.
- Plan ahead of time the objectives you want to accomplish by jotting them down. You may have encountered before, a person that calls you and forgets why they have called. You can avoid this if you plan your call in advance.
- Make sure you identify yourself when you make initial contact. It is very awkward if the person on the other line does not know who you are or what you are about. If you do not identify yourself most people will come to the conclusion that you are not a person they want to talk to. In addition, never take it for granted that a person will remember your name – they may not, so introduce yourself first.
- Identify the information you need to obtain from the conversation by stating your concerns up front. Do not meander endlessly without getting to the point.
- Anticipate questions or objections you may encounter to avoid making additional calls.
- Take notes during the call. This is very important. I often observe that people overestimate their ability to remember things without writing it down and the moment the calls ends, they have forgotten and are now thinking, “What did we just discuss?”
- Before you end the call, summarise the discussion you have had. Where applicable, repeat any follow-up action to the caller (such as when you plan to get back to him/her or key tasks that must now be performed by both of you after the call).
Rules around transferring a phone call
In the event that you are about to transfer a phone call, here are important telephone etiquette rules:
- Tell the caller the reason you are transferring the call before you do so. Then ask if it is all right to transfer their call.
- Call the department or person where you are transferring a call and make sure that they can take the call. If they are able to take the call, give them the person’s name, their request, and any other relevant information.
- Then, return to your caller and give them the person’s name and the department they are being transferred to.
- When you are not sure to whom a call should be transferred, take their name and number and find out where the call needs to be directed. Also give them your name and number as a reference in case the appropriate party does not contact them. Sometimes I am kept holding with no idea what is happening – meanwhile the person is not even there to take my call.
It is important to transfer calls in the right way. You must be professional about it so that you maintain the right image of your company/ department.
Rules around returning a phone call
Most people find it frustrating when they return phone calls only to learn the other person is not in. To avoid playing telephone tag, try the following:
- When calling someone, establish specific call-back times. Ask, “When is the best time for me to call again?” or “When is the best time for them to call me back?”
- When taking calls for another individual, schedule return calls during specific blocks of time (i.e., “I expect him to return by 2:00 p.m. You can reach him between 2 and 5”).
If you are the person who has been called in absentia, make it a habit to return peoples calls. Some people are notorious for never being available to take calls and never returning calls. That is very unprofessional.
Rules around ending a phone call
Many times people find it difficult to end a telephone conversation. There are some specific things that you can say to close you conversation professionally:
- Talk in the past tense and use “closing” phrases (i.e., “I am really glad you called” or “I am glad we resolved this concern”).
- State the action you will take
- Spell out follow-up action, including time frames/deadlines.
- Thank them for calling and say “Good-bye” not “bye-bye,” “Ndikoko,” “Bho!,” or any other slang phrase.
Proper telephone language
Although we tell our callers a lot through our voice tone, the words and phrases we use convey a message. Unfortunately, sometimes we send a negative message to our caller. Be aware of the language you are using.
- Instead of saying “You have to…You need to…Why didn’t you?” try “Will you please…Would you please?”
- “Your problem” or “Your complaint,” would sound better phrased as “Your question,” “Your concern,” or “this situation.”
- Many people use phrases like “I can’t do that” or “it’s not my job.” Instead, tell the caller what you can do (i.e., “While I’m not able to establish policy on this matter, I will speak to my manager about your concern.”)
If you have not read the first part of this article, send me an email and I will gladly send it.
Feel free to contact me if you need assistance with telephone etiquette training or develop a Telephone Etiquette Manual/ Policy for your business.
Collin Bhiza is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or cell number 077 3033 748 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com