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6 Rules for Professional Telephone Etiquette

We all know that millennials typically prefer to send an email over making a phone call.

There’s someone in every office who is hesitant about speaking over the phone to a client, and although it seems to be a generational issue (thanks to Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, emails, GIFs…) to avoid a verbal conversation, recent research suggests otherwise…

“The share of device owners saying they make at least one voice call a week has dropped down from 96% to 75% over the past three years, according to research carried out by Ipsos Mori for Deloitte.”

Source: The Guardian 

But, in the workplace, phone calls absolutely have to be made at one time or another. Telephone etiquette is one of the biggest skills a person can have and yet as a collective, we’re spending less time on the phone - if you’re a millennial or Gen Z-er you may have had very little experience with phone calls - we’re getting worse at it!

So if you typically avoid the shrill ringing of the office phone, or you’re naturally shy about conducting phone calls in front of your colleagues, try our advice for improving that telephone etiquette: 

1. Rehearse an opening statement

Our team always answers the phone with their version of, “Good morning. Thrive. Sarah speaking. How may I help?”, and we have laminated copies of each person’s statement on our desktop monitors. 

Knowing that when you pick up the phone there is a set phrase to get you through the start of the call is a surefire way to instil confidence in your own voice, even if you dread the thought of speaking to whoever is on the other end!

Another benefit of this opening statement is that if it is adopted company-wide it creates a sense of brand uniformity and assures the listener they’ve ‘come to the right place’, and, of course, are on the phone with another human, who is transparent enough to share their name!

2. Smile - and stand up

It’s an odd one, but if you plaster a really corny, fake smile on your face, the result is a positively natural, upbeat voice. Even if you feel like you’re a total plank!

As the phone starts to ring, plaster on that smile, and continue to smile throughout your opening statement, it really will make for a warmer perception to the listener. 

If you’re really uncomfortable and, in particular, naturally quiet, the best way to avoid it coming across - is to make yourself more uncomfortable - and stand up when taking the call. 

By standing up you are able to physically project your voice clearer, so even the ‘smile’ trick will be more effective!

3. Prepare professional transfers

If you’re a receptionist, PA, or simply more likely to answer the phone than others you should rehearse additional statements than just your introduction. A biggie is to plan how you will deal with transfer requests. Typical things to ask: 

  • Who are you calling for? 
  • What is your query in regards to?
  • If the person is unavailable - when is the best time for them to call back? 
  • Is there a direct line they can contact you on? 

Another handy tip is to double check names and spellings, as miscommunicated messages can lead to frustration for your caller and colleagues. People won’t mind repeating their name or spelling out their name if it ensures the message gets to the desired recently accurately. Simply apologise and ask politely if they'd mind repeating/spelling what they last said.

By being prepared for common issues, such as transfers to your colleagues, you can be more confident in handling your next phone call. 

4. Answer the phone quickly

Most people are naturally impressed when their call is answered within five rings, in fact, it’s expected. So the quicker you can answer and deliver a confident, upbeat greeting, the better! 

Of course, if you work in a funeral parlour, you may want to rethink the upbeat… but being warm, polite and confident, is a must for all!

5. Be firm, but friendly 

If the caller is aggressive, upset or difficult to handle in another way, ensure you speak firmly and clearly and repeat that you are unable to help, or that you’re doing your best to find a solution. By being friendly, but assertive, you can reduce the caller’s emotive response. Show them that you appreciate their frustration and assure them you’re working hard to resolve the issue. 

Whatever the call, do not get drawn into an argument or giving an emotional response yourself, always aim to diffuse the situation. If it is beyond your control, ask if they mind being put on hold whilst you find someone better-placed to deal with their issue, and pass the call to a senior member of staff. 

6. Sound knowledgeable - even when you’re not

Never say ‘I don’t know’, as that leaves a negative impression with the caller, even if it’s a salesperson with whom you have no relationship. Always aim to provide clear, honest answers, with thorough detail when required. If you don’t actually know the answer, opt for: 

  • I’m afraid I can’t answer that right now, but…
    • Can I get back to you later or via email?
    • Can I transfer you to someone who is better placed to answer that question? 

You should also consider the language you use in phone conversations, opting for clearer language, such as, “certainly”, “very well” and “all right”, instead of, “OK” and “no problem”. 

Take care to avoid filler phrases and sounds, such as, “erm”, “uh-huh”, “you know”, etc. 

Find more like this via Office Life.

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