From the very beginning, the telephone has been used as an instrument of direct communication between business associates. The first message transmitted by telephone was sent by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. Bell called his assistant Thomas Watson to say, “Mr. Watson—come here—I want to see you.” Though brief, Bell’s message quickly identifies the purpose of the call and clearly states what he wants, anticipating some of the basic telephone etiquette that still applies in business communication today.
Today’s business leaders, entrepreneurs and skilled customer service professions who assist clients in an inbound call centre all know that much of the most important work of business is conducted over the telephone. Even in the age of email and mobile communication, telephone communication remains the preferred means for getting business done. Mastering business communication involves following basic telephone etiquette.
This list of thirteen helpful telephone etiquette do’s and don’ts provides a useful guide for basic business telephone communication:
Telephone Etiquette Do’s
1. Begin with a polite greeting.
Hello is just about the friendliest way to start a conversation. So, whether you are answering the phone or making the call, begin by saying “Hello.” It sets a friendly tone by building a connection with the person that you are talking to. “Good morning” or “good afternoon” are also acceptable, but these greetings carry a more formal tone.
2. Briefly introduce yourself.
Let the person you are speaking with know your name, and the name of your company at the outset.
State the purpose of the call up front. The next thing you say on the phone should remove any mystery about the purpose of your call. Useful phrases like “I’m calling about X on behalf of Y corporation,” “I’m calling concerning…,” or “I’m following up about X…” can help you get right to the point. Getting to the point quickly shows that you value a person’s time. The same applies for calls you are answering.
3. Apologize before you put someone on hold.
No one likes to wait, and being put on hold is often an imposition. If you have to put someone on hold or you are receiving a caller that has been put on hold prior to being connected with you, apologize directly before moving on to the matter at hand.
4. Leave clear succinct voicemail messages.
Very often, we will be unable to reach the person we are trying to reach and get directed to voicemail or answering services. As above, a good voicemail message clearly introduces yourself, the company you are calling from and the purpose of your call. To get the best results, add a request for what you want the other person to do, like calling you back, responding to an email or letter, or arranging a meeting.
5. Follow the rules.
Your company may have a template for how they wish you to answer or make telephone calls. Know and observe your company’s guidelines or specific rules for conduct on the telephone. Review any instructions and feedback you are given and follow them.
6. Be professional.
When dealing with professionals, strangers or making cold calls, aspire to set a respectful and professional tone. Think of yourself and your conduct on the telephone as a reflection of the company that you represent.
7. Be clear.
Clarity is a critical part of any kind of communication. Clarity applies to the getting to the point as well as the way that you speak. Speak in a normal tone of voice and loud enough to be heard clearly. A good rule of thumb is to position the phone receiver or headset near your mouth, keep it steady and do not to mumble or move while speaking.
8. Be polite and pleasant.
Show the people you are speaking with respect and consideration. People are naturally much more likely to respond to a pleasant tone of voice that an unpleasant one. Being courteous makes the experience as pleasant as possible. Politeness can also be a weapon when faced with challenges. Set a pleasant, polite and respectful tone and stick to it no matter what happens. If someone becomes rude or abusive on the phone, remain cheerful and calm. Your conduct might defuse heated situations.
This may go without saying, but pay attention to what the other person is saying. Make notes of any important details and practice active listening.
Telephone Etiquette Don’ts
1. Don’t keep people waiting.
Answer all calls within three rings. There’s a reason ringing phones turn up in suspense movies–they make people anxious, impatient, and even angry.
2. Don’t be stuffy,
At the same time, don’t be too informal. Avoid using informal greetings like “hi,” “hiya” or “hey there!” These informal greetings presume an intimacy that is inappropriate for business. It might even be perceived as off-putting or disrespectful by some people.
3. Avoid inappropriate or unpleasant subject matter and slang.
Maintain a professional and pleasant tone. Avoid controversial, off-color subjects and language.
4. Don’t eat, drink or chew gum on the phone.
The telephone receiver will pick up all the sounds on your end of the line. This will include the sounds of eating, drinking, sneezing, coughing, or talking to someone in the room with you. Mute the call or put down the receiver if you need to cough or sneeze, and politely excuse yourself.