A Guide to Phone Etiquette

A Guide to Phone Etiquette

What Is Phone Etiquette?

Phone etiquette is how you communicate and come across during a telephone conversation. It relates to:

  • The words you use
  • How you listen
  • Your tone of voice
  • The manners you show

Businesses have many channels of communication, including instant messaging and email. Despite this, communicating over the phone is an important way for companies to communicate internally and externally with clients and colleagues alike.

Using correct phone etiquette shows professionalism and increases your clients’ and customers’ satisfaction. This creates a positive impression, resulting in customer loyalty and trust.

It is worth noting that phone etiquette runs alongside business etiquette in how you behave as a professional in the business world.

Observing the correct phone etiquette, no matter whether you are speaking to an internal stakeholder or external client, is essential to the success of your role. It also helps build the organization's brand reputation, for which you, as an employee, are jointly responsible.

Why Is Phone Etiquette Important?

When speaking to internal and external clients, phone etiquette can lead to positive outcomes. However, a lack of phone etiquette can give rise to negative situations with wider consequences.

Being aware of the way you communicate on the phone can bring many benefits:

Creates a Good Impression on Prospective Customers/First Contacts

If this will be the first contact a customer has with an organization, speaking to someone who observes phone etiquette is essential. It establishes the business as trustworthy and professional in its dealings with customers.

Improves the Clarity of Business Conversations

Demonstrating phone etiquette through active listening helps the progress of a conversation.

Phone etiquette means listening to what your contact is saying, then asking questions as appropriate. By responding appropriately, you show professionalism and foster a sense of trust between you (and, by extension, the organization) and the caller.

Handles Complaints in a More Satisfactory Way

Showing tact and willingness to understand the perspective of others without interrupting are all factors of phone etiquette.

Demonstrating phone etiquette from the start of a complaints call can defuse a volatile situation. It shows an angry customer you are willing to listen to them and respond calmly. In many cases, they will mirror your approach and calm down.

Protects You and Your Company's Reputation

Positive phone etiquette builds a brand image and reputation.

Rather than demonstrating trust and an appreciation for your customer, lack of phone etiquette does the opposite. This can have wide-reaching consequences for you and the reputation of the company you work for.

How to Observe Correct Phone Etiquette

When communicating on the phone in a business setting, it is vital to understand how to talk in a professional manner.

Here are some tips to help you put phone etiquette into practice.

Use Friendly Greetings

Just as you would use a handshake to greet someone in a face-to-face business setting, using a friendly greeting to start a call creates a good first impression.

Answer the phone in a cheery voice. This sets the tone for the conversation. It shows the person calling that you're interested in what they have to say, and that you're friendly and happy to be answering the call.

People often mirror the other person's tone, so starting your call in a warm, friendly way is the first step to having a positive, productive conversation.

Introduce Yourself/the Company When Answering

When you answer a phone call, state who you are and the company you work for (if the call is from an external client). This will let the person calling know they have reached the correct person or organization.

By introducing yourself at the start of the call, you build trust with the caller. They will be more likely to state their exact reason for calling if they know who they are speaking with.

Answer the Call Within Three Rings

Best practice suggests answering a customer's phone call within three rings. This shows them that you are alert, ready to help and that their call is important to you.

This isn't always possible, however, and customers are often kept on hold in a waiting queue system.

If customers have been kept on hold for an extended period of time, it is even more important to be friendly in your greeting, introduce yourself by name and apologize for the delay in answering the call.

Listen Actively

Active listening is a crucial part of phone etiquette. Give the caller time to outline the reason for the call. This makes them feel valued and shows that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.

It also gives you the time to formulate an appropriate, relevant response, so you can deal with their query.

Pay full attention to what the caller tells you and ask any questions to elicit further information. Once the caller has shared their information, clarify your understanding. You can do this by repeating back the key elements of the call to ensure you have understood the caller's points.

A Guide to Phone Etiquette: Definition, Tips and Rules
A Guide to Phone Etiquette: Definition, Tips and Rules

Take Extra Care With Your Tone of Voice

It is important to keep a positive tone to your voice in all phone conversations. If appropriate, find gaps in the conversation where you can place the caller on hold if you need to keep yourself calm.

Using a positive, helpful tone of voice in any phone conversation shows good manners. Phone etiquette also indicates a willingness to understand the perspective of others. It is often the first step to gaining clarity in a conversation and helps with reaching a resolution.

Use Polite Language

When taking a business call, create a positive impression by using polite language. Even if this isn't mimicked by the caller, be respectful and use appropriate language throughout the call. Doing so keeps your reputation intact and protects the image of the business.

Be honest in your communication with the caller. If you don't know the answer, politely state that you need to find the correct answer to help them with their query.

If this means putting the caller on hold, politely explain what you need to do to help them resolve their question. Being polite and honest in your dealings with the caller shows that you are here to listen and help them.

Try Not to Be Distracted by Your Surroundings

Just as you would give someone your full attention if you were speaking to them face to face, make sure you extend the same courtesy on the phone.

Don't get distracted by what is going around you, such as email notifications or an instant message that has popped up on your screen.

Not actively listening to the caller can lead to more frustration, an incorrect resolution or no resolution at all. It also indicates a lack of respect on your part, which can lead to a loss of trust and, in some cases, the loss of a customer.

Explain if You Need to Put Them on Hold or Step Away

Many callers understand that you may not have all the answers. If you need to put a person on hold to contact another department or recompose yourself, let the caller know. You could ask their permission and be confident in your approach, explaining why you need to put them on hold.

Being calm and confident in your approach to resolving their situation is an indication that you have listened to what they have told you. It shows that you are willing to help them find the answer to their query.

Take time to learn how your company's phone system works. Be aware of what you need to do to place a caller on hold, to avoid cutting them off by mistake. Doing so means the phone etiquette you’ve shown on the call isn’t ruined by a technical error on your part.

Only Use Speakerphone if Absolutely Necessary

Give your caller your full attention. While it can be tempting to put a caller on speakerphone so you can multitask, this can create a negative impression.

The caller can hear you typing or background noise, so won't feel like you're listening to them.

Give your caller the courtesy of your full attention and recognize that if they have taken the time to call you, you can take the time to listen to their queries.

There may be certain occasions where you need to place a caller on speakerphone. For example, you may need to look up the name of someone who can better answer their query.

Give the Person a Way to Reach You if They Need To

In some situations, a customer may need to contact you to follow up on their query. If this is the case, provide a way for the caller to get back to you.

To help foster phone etiquette, make sure you regularly check your voicemail. Get into the habit of checking it first thing in the morning and towards the end of your working day.

This will help you to respond promptly to customers, who will be grateful for your help and support in getting back to them.

Speak Clearly

When answering calls, make sure you speak in a clear, professional manner, being mindful of the pace of your voice.

Nothing is more frustrating for a caller than not understanding the opening greeting when a call is answered. This creates a negative impression, making the caller feel rushed and unclear about whom they are speaking with.

Speak slowly, clearly and with warmth in your voice. Creating a positive first impression can set the tone for an effective call. It also creates a good image for the business and a positive conclusion, whether complaint resolution or a product sale.

Thank the Person for Calling

As you would thank someone for coming to meet you in person, do so when you and the customer are ready to end the call.

Recognizing that a caller has taken the time to contact you shows that you appreciate their time. No matter whether the call is to resolve a query or ask a question, thanking them also shows that you appreciate being given the opportunity to help them.

Frequently Asked Questions

When using a cell/mobile phone, let the other person know you are on a cell phone. If you are worried that your phone signal may cut out, let them know in advance and provide them with a way to contact you should the phone call get cut off.

It may be more appropriate to arrange a time when you can resume the call, to reduce frustration if the cell signal isn't strong.

Being honest, friendly and genuine in your communication indicates that you are willing to help them even if technical difficulties get in the way.

The five Ps of phone handling outline how you approach a telephone call. They shape the content of the call and the impression the caller is left with when they put down the phone.

Being prepared before answering the call, polite and patient in your responses, present and actively listening to the call, and proactive when on the call are key factors to consider when speaking to a customer on the phone.

There may be instances when the caller isn't satisfied with your response and requests to speak to a team leader or manager. Some callers believe they will reach a favorable solution more quickly if a manager is involved.

In this situation, the best approach is to confidently speak to the caller and do your best to resolve the problem yourself. Outline the steps you will take to help them with their query. Showing them that you have the knowledge and skills indicates you are the best person to help them.

If they demand to speak to your manager, ask permission to put them on hold to seek support from your manager.

Improving your phone etiquette starts with understanding the factors that make up phone etiquette and those that demonstrate a lack of manners on the phone.

Recognizing how you communicate, the tone of your voice, pace and being mindful of professional business language can help you improve your phone etiquette. If appropriate, ask for feedback on the way you handle phone calls, so you know the areas you need to improve on and how you can develop.

Customers will contact you with the intention of reaching an acceptable solution. In some instances, an acceptable solution to the customer is nothing short of them getting their way.

In reality, this may not be possible, resulting in them refusing to end the call unless their desired resolution is reached.

In this situation, the best approach is to actively listen to the customer's query and reiterate the road map to how an issue can be resolved.

If this isn't working, let the customer know that you will investigate further and follow up with them using their desired method of contact.

If this is the course of action, you must stick to the agreed timelines and follow up with the customer as agreed. Explain to them that their best course of action is to end the call, leaving them with a positive impression and a follow-up plan that you act upon as agreed.

Final Thoughts

Phone etiquette is essential in maintaining the reputation of the company and to engage in a positive, productive conversation. Treat a phone conversation with the same respect and attention as you would a face-to-face encounter.

If you need to take a few seconds to remain calm, or you need to find someone else who is better placed to take the call, ask the caller if you may put them on hold before you do so. Keep a positive, confident tone to your voice throughout the call and you are more likely to arrive at a resolution that you and the customer are happy with.


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