The telephone is one of the tools used in business. However, most of us don’t think of the telephone as a tool, and consequently we misuse it. The telephone is our link to the outside world. Unfortunately, we don’t always realize what kind of message we are sending to our callers.
RULES OF ETIQUETTE
• Speak directly into the mouthpiece. If this is a problem because you use other equipment while on the telephone (i.e., computer), consider purchasing a headset, which will free your hands.
• Don’t eat or chew gum while talking on the telephone (your caller may ask what you’re having for lunch!!)
• If someone walks into your office while you’re talking on the telephone, DON’T cover it with your hands or press it against your chest (the caller may understand what you’re saying). Depress the HOLD button.
• Don’t place the handset in the cradle until you’ve depressed the HOLD button.
• Don’t lay the receiver on the desk, without placing the caller on hold (the caller will hear everything being discussed in your office).
ANSWERING THE TELEPHONE/GREETING
Answer your own telephone whenever possible and answer within 2-3 rings. There are a number of ways to identify yourself and your organization:
• LARGER ORGANIZATIONS – “Thank you for calling (dept name). How may I direct your call?”
• SMALLER ORGANIZATIONS – “Thank you for calling (dept name). May I help you?”
• DEPARTMENTS – “(dept name), Mary Smith,” OR “Mary Smith, may I help you?”
There has been a lot of discussion of using “good morning” or “good afternoon.” This is unnecessary if you use the right tone. Also, people tend to make mistakes when using these phrases (i.e., saying “good morning” when it’s really afternoon and vice versa).
PLACING CALLERS ON HOLD
• Remember to ask your caller “Do you mind holding?” or “May I put you on hold?” before doing so.
• If you take the time to ask your caller to hold, be sure to listen to the response.
• After placing your caller on hold, check back periodically (between 30-45 seconds). Give them the option to continue to hold if it will take longer to find information OR offer to call them back.
• When returning to your caller, remember to thank them for waiting.
• If your caller cannot hold, offer to take a message; transfer to another party; or arrange for them to return the call at a specific time.
• If you are not in a position to ask your caller to hold, tell the caller, “Please Hold” before depressing the hold button. NOTE: When placing multiple calls on hold, remember to return to the first caller you placed on hold first!!
• Tell the caller the REASON you are transferring the call before you do so. Then ASK if it is all right to transfer their call.
• Call the department or person where you are transferring a call and make sure that they can take the call. If they are able to take the call, give them the person’s name, their request, and any other relevant information.
• Then, return to your caller and give them the name of the person they are being transferred to, the department and the telephone number (if possible).
• When you’re not sure to whom a call should be transferred, take their name and number and find out where the call needs to be directed. Also, give them your name and number as a reference in case the appropriate party does not contact them.
There is a lot of controversy over whether or not telephone calls should be screened. It is not recommended to screen calls for good public relations!! If you must announce calls, “Yes he’s in. May I tell him who’s calling, please?” is an appropriate response.
When it’s necessary to screen calls (i.e., if someone is available ONLY to certain individuals), “She’s away from her office; may I take your name and number?” OR “May I say who’s calling? Thank you. Let me check and see if he’s in.” are suggested responses.
If you are required to ask who is calling or what the nature of the call is, be aware of your tone of voice. Screening calls is always a delicate situation, so it is critical not to offend or put your caller on the defensive with your voice tone.
“IN CONFERENCE” TRAP
Because the phrases, “He’s in conference” or “She’s in a meeting,” are greatly overused, many people don’t believe it. The most appropriate response you can give is that someone is NOT AVAILABLE or is UNAVAILABLE. However, it is imperative to indicate when the person will be available (i.e., “She’s not available, but I do expect her back in the office at 3:00 p.m.).
Other inappropriate responses include:
• He isn’t in yet (and it’s 10:00 a.m.)
• She’s out for coffee
• He’s gone for the day (and it’s 3:00 p.m.)
• She’s in, but she’s busy
NOTE: If, on occasion, you say that an individual is “in a meeting,” ALWAYS include an approximate time when he or she will be available.
TAKING PHONE MESSAGES
Whenever possible, use telephone message forms to record accurate and complete information. A good phone message includes:
• Name of person for whom the message was left
• Caller’s name (get the correct spelling), company or dept. and number
• Date and time
• Action to be taken (i.e., “Please Call,” “Will call back,” or “URGENT”)
It is important to deliver the message as soon as possible and maintain confidentiality with all messages. Either turn the message over or fold them in half, so there is no danger that they can be read by other staff or visitors.
RETURNING PHONE CALLS
Most people find it frustrating when they return phone calls only to learn the other person isn’t in. To avoid playing telephone tag, try the following:
When calling someone, establish specific call-back times. Ask, “When is the best time for me to call again?” or “When is the best time for them to call me back?”
When taking calls for another individual, schedule return calls during specific blocks of time (i.e., “I expect him to return by 2:00 p.m. You can reach him between 2 and 5”).
PLACING OUTBOUND CALLS
Whenever you make a telephone call for yourself or your boss, be sure you have the right number before you place the call. Keep a “frequently called numbers” list within your reach and follow these suggestions:
• Get ready. Visualize your caller as a friendly, positive person
• Plan ahead of time the objectives you want to accomplish by jotting them down
• Identify the information you need to obtain from the conversation by stating your concerns up front
• Anticipate questions or objections you may encounter to avoid making additional calls
• Take notes during the call
• Spell out any follow-up action to the caller (such as when you plan to get back to him)
If you reach an answering device (i.e., answering machine or voice mail), leave the following information:
• Your name, including the correct spelling, if necessary
• Your department and telephone number
• Date and time
• Message, including a good time to reach you
CLOSING THE CONVERSATION
Many times people find it difficult to end a telephone conversation. There are some specific things that you can say to close you conversation professionally:
• Talk in the past tense and use “closing” phrases (i.e., “I’m really glad you called” or “I’m glad we resolved this concern”).
• State the action you will take
• Spell out follow-up action, including time frames/deadlines.
• Thank them for calling and say “Good-bye” not “bye-bye,” “Okie-dokie,” “Alrighty,” or any other slang phrase
PROPER TELEPHONE LANGUAGE
Although we tell our callers a lot through our voice tone, the words and phrases we use convey a message. Unfortunately, sometimes we send a negative message to our caller. Be aware of the language you are using. Instead of saying “You have to…You need to…Why didn’t you?” try “Will you please…Would you please?”
“Your problem” or “Your complaint,” would sound better phrased as “Your question,” “Your concern,” or “this situation.” Many people use phrases like “I can’t do that” or “it’s not my job.” Instead, tell the caller what you can do (i.e., “While I’m not able to establish policy on this matter, I will speak to my manager about your concern.”)
At all costs, avoid sounding abrupt. The following are examples:
• “Hang on.”
• “Hold on.”
• “Who’s calling?”
• “I can’t hear you, speak up!”
• “I can’t help you. You’ll have to speak to someone else.”
The following would be more appropriate:
• “May I put you on hold?”
• “May I say who is calling please?”
• “I am having a little difficulty hearing you. Can you please speak up?”
• “I need to transfer your call to (dept.) so that they can answer your question. May I do so?”
Telephone techniques are built from a few basic rules and principles. In fact, telephone etiquette can be summarized in one word: COURTESY. Unfortunately, courtesy is not something people are used to being shown routinely in the business world.
If the caller is a potential customer and you are courteous to him, you have an excellent chance of gaining a new customer. If he is an existing customer, you’ll keep him for life!
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