Telephone techniques


It takes another person just seven seconds to form an opinion of you over the telephone – your mannerisms and personality are expressed in the tone of your voice. The following tips can enable you to become a more effective communicator.

Good telephone etiquette is important because we cannot see the other person to read their body language or facial expressions and vice versa. Therefore, it is extremely important to choose your words carefully and use more tone inflection to convey your message.

Answering The Phone

1. Before you answer the telephone, ensure your handset, notepad and pen are ergonomically and conveniently positioned. For example, if you are right handed the ohone should be on your left (close enough that you don’t have to reach too far) and your pad and ped should be in the right, so you are ready to write any notes or messages. If you have a headset or headphones for your phone, this is even better. I highly recommend one, as it can prevent head and neck aches, and referred pain. It is also a more efficient way of working.
2. Your handwritten or typed notes are always a good back up if they are needed at a later date, so be an active listener when someone calls. Always write down the person’s name, so you can use it during your conversation with them. People like to hear their name – it shows them that you are listening and respectful. You should never assume you know how to spell their name. Ask them them to spell it out for you, as people can have unusual and unique spellings. If your boss wishes to write to them, it needs to be correct.

3. Be prepared to be a convincing liar on occasion. At some point we’ve all fielded calls on the request of our boss, even though they are sat their desk. I look at it as being kind to the caller and a conduit to good client relations.

4. If you’re away from your desk, remember to divert your calls to either your mobile phone, voicemail or someone who has agreed to answer your phone in your absence.
5. Make it a habit to answer all incoming phone calls within three rings, no matter where you are in the office – even if another phone is ringing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a department store or at the dentist and desperately wanted to pick up the phone before it rang four times. See just how quickly you can answer the phone – I love it when callers say ‘How did you answer that so quickly? I didn’t hear a single ring’. Your phone should switch through to voicemail on the fourth ring. Even though many of us hate speaking to answering machines, we prefer that to having no option to leave a message.
6. If you are walking past an empty desk and the phone is ringing, be proactive and make it your business to answer it and take a message, or help in any way you can. You should never think that it’s not your job or has nothing to do with you.
7. If you are really busy and feel that the phone is a distraction or interruption to your more important work, you must take a deep breath before answering the phone so that don’t convey that feeling to the caller. Of course, on occasion you should put your phone through to others (with their agreement) if the matter you are working on is urgent. However, remember the ‘law of reciprocation’ and offer to take other people’s calls when they need help too.
8. Always smile when answering the phone – it will be evident in your voice. Answer with a warm and enthusiastic tone. It may be the first contact that person has with your company and it could be the first impression they have of you. Remember, first impressions not only happen face to face or over email.
9. You may have a company greeting or welcoming phrase and you should always answer calls professionally and courteously, while also identifying yourself and your organisation. For example, you could say ‘Good morning, Sue France Training & Development, Sue France speaking – how can I help you?’. The caller needs to know which company and individual they have reach immediately – without having to check. If your organisation does not have a standardised greeting then you should suggest one, as it helps with branding.
10. If you are active on the phone as soon as you get into work and tend to have a frog in the throat or rusty voice first thing in the morning, open up your vocal chords and warm up your voice, by singing in the shower or in the car on the way to work.
11. You should concentrate 100 per cent on the caller. Let them know if you are taking notes, so they don’t speak too fast or assume that your tapping away on the keyboard means that you’re listening to them.
12. Make sure the caller knows you are still there throughout the conversation. Remember, they cannot see you so there is no point in nodding or using facial expressions – you have to agree and interject from time to time. Don’t remain silent.
13. Remember it only takes seven seconds for the caller to form perceptions of your mood and attitude. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind and sound as though you are happy, proactive and helpful, before you pick up the phone.
14. Use positive vocabulary, even when you are not feeling this way. For example, rather than saying that you don’t know something, inform the caller that you will find out and call them back.
15. Enunciate clearly and slowly, maintaing a moderate volume, so your caller can understand you. This is especially important if you are leaving a voice message with a number to call back. Say the phone number slowly and clearly, and then repeat it. The numbers five and nine tend to sound the same on the phone, so pronounce five as ‘fife’ to differentiate it.
16. Try not to use slang or jargon. The term ‘Hang on’ should never be used. ‘Please stay on the line while I…’ is more appropriate. Use terms such as ‘Very well’ or ‘Certainly’ (which is a power word) rather than saying ‘Okay’ OR ‘No problem’. If you tend to use fillers, such as ‘Um’ or ‘You know’ when you speak, train yoursewlf to refrain from this when speaking on the telephone.
17. Keep your cool if the caller is angry. They may be they have been passed from person to person before reaching you, or it may be the nature of your job to receive calls from dissatisfied people – for example, a customer complaint service. Whatever the reason for their anger, you remain calm and in control and try to placate the caller.
18. If you have to refer to someone else in the office, tell the caller that you are putting them on hold while you get the answers for them (and make sure you press the correct button, so they cannot hear you talking). If they are waiting to speak to your boss, who is on another line, ask them if they would prefer to be called back or wish to hold. If they choose to hold, remember to keep going back to them frequently to let them know that your boss is still on the phone, and to ask them if they still wish to hold or would prefer to leave a message. If you have the option (technology), ask if they would prefer to listen to music or have silence while they are holding.
19. When taking a message, take as much information as you can and ask questions where appropriate. Then repeat the caller’s message, name and telephone number back to them to make sure you have written it down correctly. Try and get their first and last names, to ensure you can reach them easily.
Callers are not always willing to tell you what they are calling about, so it’s up to you to use your influencing and persuasive skills to find out. You may even find that the caller’s responses to your questions enable you to resolve their query without having to disturb your boss. It is amazing how many people I have been able to help just by understanding their reason for the call. Working in this way will save the time of you boss and the caller, and may exceed their expectations.
If you can’t help immediately once you’ve gained information about the reason for the call, you will at least be fully prepared with the appropriate documentation when you pass the call to your boss. You will also be sure that the caller has reached the right person and, if your manager is unable to assist, you will be able to put them in touch with the right person.
If you are finding it difficult to get the information you require, it might be worth getting your boss’ permission to inform the caller that you are unable to transfer them, or get your boss to return the call, without advising them of the reason for the call.
If all else fails, you could put the call through to your boss or leave a message if your boss is absent (explaining that the caller did not want to give you information about why they were calling under any circumstances, so your boss knows you tried our best to get the details they requested).
Beware: I have had many people say that it is a personal call, when in fact they were salespeople or headhunters. Always remember that it is part of your role to screen calls – the infamous gatekeeper.
20. Complete a telephone message sheet or email, whichever way your boss or intended recipient prefers to receive it. Clearly write or type the time and date on the message sheet, as well as the caller’s full name, organisation, message (and anything that you have done to help the caller). Remember to include your name, in case they need to come back to you to clarify what was said, or if your handwriting isn’t clear – especially if you have picked up the phone while walked past someone else’s desk.

Also note down if the matter requires an urgent response and make sure that the recipient is aware of this by either handing the message directly to them, or sending a flagged email and following up with a quick phone call. It is also a good idea to write down the best time to return the call. You may also need to use any reference included on documentation they have received.
21. Follow through with any action that you said you will do and make sure that your boss answers the calls on a timely basis. It might mean that sometimes you need to call the caller back just to let them know the situation with their message.
22. Don’t use a speaker phone unless it’s absolutely necessary. They give the impression that you’re not fully concentrating on their call, or that it isn’t private. The only time to use a speaker phone is when you need more than one person to be in on the conversation and you should always inform the caller that they are on speaker – and let them know who else is present.
23. If you use voicemail, make sure that you have a professional message recorded with the correct date, clearly stating your name and giving callers any other pertinent information – for example, who they can call for urgent matters – before it records their message. Update your answering machine message as needed and always remember to take the voice message off when you are back in the office, especially when you have returned from holiday.
24. Remember to check your voicemails regularly throughout the day – it might be your boss, or an urgent client call that you might have missed when you went to make a coffee or visit another department.

How To Make Phone Calls

1. Check you have the right name and phone number and carefully dial so you don’t waste your own time or anybody else’s. If you do dial the wrong number then make sure you apologise – don’t just hang up.
2. Allow it to ring long enough to give the person you’re calling enough to answer the phone – ideally we would prefer them to answer within three rings, but sometimes this may be impossible.
3. When they answer the phone, speak clearly and slowly and state who you are and which company you are calling from. Ask if it is a convenient time for them to speak or if they would prefer you to call them back. Be honest about the urgency and expected length of your call so they can prioritise their time.
4. Have all details on hand that you wish to discuss with a clear outcome of why you are calling.
5. If the call is confidential then ensure you book a private conference room where you can make the call without being overheard.
6. Speak clearly, without shouting, and use an appropriate tone of voice.
7. If you are placed on hold for any reason and it is longer than acceptable, put the phone down, call back and ask to leave a message instead of holding.
8. Remember your manners throughout the conversation – thank the other person for their help and say ‘Goodbye’ before gently putting the phone down.
9. Be prepared to set up speed dial numbers on your phone to enable quick access to numbers you call frequently, and to quickly transfer incoming calls. If you do not have this facility on your phone then suggest it the next time you have your system updated.

Mobile Phone Etiquette

1. Consider those around you – the mobile phone is not always appreciated in public areas. Remember not to annoy others, especially on public transport such as the train, by talking too loudly.
2. Observe the rules in places where mobile phones need to be turned off – for example, in hospitals or on board air planes.
3. If you are somewhere where you are expecting an urgent call then tell the people you are with that you have your phone on silent and may have to leave the room to answer it. Remember it is rude to take calls when with other people unless it is urgent and you have explained the situation.
4. When answering a mobile phone for business you should still use the standardised greeting for your organisation.
5. Be extremely careful with confidential information. You may be lulled into a false sense of security but be aware that others may over hear you.
6. Never talk on a mobile phone while driving, unless you have hands free equipment set up in the car. Even them it should only be to make an urgent call. As well as being unsafe to yourself and others, taking a call while driving doesn’t enable you concentrate 100 per cent on the conversation you’re having, or take notes. If you receive a call then let them know that you are driving and ask them to send you an email (giving them an approximate response time if the matter is urgent) or let them know that you will call back once you’re back in the office.
7. Using texting to get a message to the boss can be very useful, as long as they have agreed that this is appropriate.
8. Receiving and sending texts in the company of others is also rude unless you explain the situation.
9. Never waste other people’s time by taking a call while dealing with another person, such as while being served at a bank or shop.

Telephone answering skills are critical for your reputation and that of your organisation so take note of these suggestions and be the most efficient and effective telephone communicator that you can be. The telephone is one of the most important communication tools for businesses and the way you answer your organisation’s phone calls, and how you deal with them, will form a lasting first impression of you and your company for your client.

Sue France FCIPD/INLPTA is passionate about the development of all Assistants, having been one for over 30 years. She has owned her own training company since 2009 working in over 36 countries with thousands of assistants, both face-to-face and virtually ... (Read More)

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