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Chapter 4. Telephone Etiquette > Answering Your Phone

Answering Your Phone

Here are some principles for courteous phone answering. Check those you use.

Sit up straight, breathe deeply, and smile. AT&T used to advertise as “the voice with a smile,” but such voices are rare these days. Don’t feel silly about smiling at a telephone—your voice sounds completely different when you’re smiling. After you’ve reminded yourself to do it a few times, it will come naturally.

Reach for the pad and pen before reaching for the phone— unless you’re driving or walking. This will enable you to take notes during the conversation to refer to or to pass on to the appropriate party. Start writing as soon as the caller starts talking.

Answer by the third ring. Answering promptly lets callers know tht you value their time and don’t expect them to wait while you’re doing something else. Remember that callers have no way of knowing what you’re doing—they only know you’re not answering the phone. Quick service helps build a reputation of efficiency for you and your company.

Identify yourself immediately— even on your cellular and cordless phones. In the office, give the name of your department and your name: “Book department, Ms. duPont.” Identifying yourself eliminates guesswork and saves time. It also promotes callers to identify themselves so you don’t have to ask who they are. Even if they don’t tell you their names, it becomes less formidable when you have to ask because you’ve already introduced yourself.

Be courteous, friendly, professional, enthusiastic, and softspoken. The principles for telephone etiquette are the same as for business etiquette: use good manners, project good voice quality, treat everyone with respect, and think about what you’re saying. Talk into the telephone as you would talk to someone in your office.

Pay attention. Callers shouldn’t feel that they are competing with other things for your attention. Don’t eat or drink or make remarks to people who pass by. If a visitor with an appointment arrives, try to end your conversation or put the caller on hold until you’ve taken care of the visitor. If you must divert your attention, explain to the caller and put him or her on hold. Don’t put your hand over the mouthpiece—it’s rude and callers can hear you.

Transfer calls only when necessary, explain your reasons, and ask permission first. Transferring is one of the most delicate areas of handling telephone calls. When callers are transferred from place to place, their good feelings about your company quickly dwindle. If you can help callers, do so. When necessary, say something like, “I’m sorry, Ms. duPont, I don’t have that information. May I transfer you to the accounting department? I’ll connect you with Brenda Alexander.” Don’t just say, “Hang on,” and let them go. Some callers may not want to wait because they’re too busy to hold. When that happens, say, “I’ll be happy to ask Brenda to call you back.”

When you must leave the line, explain why and return promptly with an answer: “Ms. duPont, I can’t locate that information. Where can I reach you so that once I have the information, I can call you back?”

If you must leave the line to answer another line, apologize, letting the first caller know you’ll be right back: “Will you excuse me a moment? I have another call I must answer.” Tell the second caller immediately that you’re on another line and you’ll be back as quickly as you can. Even better, offer to call the second person back. The first caller always has priority over the second unless it is an urgent call you must take.

When you return, regain the caller’s attention by thanking him or her for holding.

Don’t leave people on hold for more than a few seconds. Letitia Baldrige says, “There is only one thing worse in telephone manners than being put on hold, and that is being put on hold with music playing in the background.” It’s saying, in effect, that a person will be on hold for a long time, and the music is intended to soothe the savage beast. It doesn’t.

React to the other person’s conversation. Even if you just say, “Yes, I see,” or “I agree,” at least your caller knows that you’re alive on the other end.

Eliminate as much background noise as possible. Even though a radio may not bother you, it’s magnified on the other end and can be extremely distracting to the caller.

End the call positively: “I enjoyed speaking with you, Ms. duPont,” or “Thanks so much for your time, Kay. I look forward to meeting you.” Then let callers hang up first so you can be sure they have completed their conversation.



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