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A Guide to Effective Telephone Usage

When talking on the telephone, the spotlight is on you...

Every time you make or receive a call, YOU are the company to the person at the other end of the line. Your company is judged by the voice that speaks for it over the telephone.

You are the company...

By what you say and how you say it. When your voice is warm and friendly...when you are courteous and tactful...customers will enjoy dealing with you and your company.

Five "keys" to a good telephone voice...

BE ALERT - Show alertness and interest by your tone. Give the person you are talking with your full attention.
BE PLEASANT - Build a pleasant company image with a "smile in your voice". Pleasantness is contagious.
BE NATURAL - Use simple, straightforward language. Avoid repetition of mechanical words or phrases - particularly avoid technical terms or slang.
BE DISTINCT - Speak clearly and distinctly. Hold the transmitter approximately 2" from your mouth and talk directly into it. Never tuck the phone under your chin.
BE EXPRESSIVE - Use a normal range of tone for your voice, avoid extremes of loudness or softness. A well-modulated voice carries best over the telephone. Talk at a moderate rate, neither too fast nor too slow. Vary your tone of voice. It will add emphasis, help bring out the meaning of sentences, and add color and vitality to what you say.

When You Receive A Call…

Answer Promptly - When your telephone rings, try answering on the second ring. Answering on the first ring does not allow the caller time to collect their thoughts and will sometimes throw them off guard. Taking too long to answer may cause your caller to hang up and take their business elsewhere. Identify Yourself - Make the caller feel genuinely glad he or she called your company rather than another. The most successful telephone personalities project friendliness. How do you accomplish this?

  • Be a good listener so repeating will not be necessary.
  • Show that you are interested. Use the caller's name. If you are sincere and genuine, your attitude will come through clearly.
  • We should also remember that side comments and discussions with others while a person is waiting on the line are inconsiderate and irritating.
  • Never answer the telephone while eating or chewing gum. Even drinking and smoking can often be heard at the other end of the line and can convey the image that you are not fully focused on your caller.
If You Leave the Line, Return Promptly - When you must leave the line to get information, it's courteous to say, "Would you like to wait or shall I call you back?" Here are some other suggestions:
  • If the caller waits, use the "hold button" if your telephone has one. If your telephone does not have a hold button, lay the receiver down gently.
  • If it takes longer than you expect to obtain the information, return on the line every half-minute or so with a progress report. You might say, "Mr. Jones, I'm still checking on that for you."
  • When you return to the line, be sure to get the caller's attention. For example, say "Thank you for waiting".
Transfer a Call Only When Necessary - handle the call yourself if you can. But when it's necessary to transfer an incoming call here are the best ways to do it:
  • Explain why you want to transfer the call. Say for example: "Mr. Brown handles that. May I transfer you?"
  • Be sure the person who is calling wants to be transferred. If not, tell them that someone will call them back. For example, say "I will be happy to have someone call you with the information".
  • If the caller agrees to be transferred, check your dialing instructions and transfer them correctly to the appropriate telephone extension.
Closing a Call and Hanging Up - Try your best to say good-bye in a way that will leave the caller feeling satisfied and friendly. Say "Good-bye" in a professional manner, not "Bye-bye" or "Bye now". It is a good idea to let the calling party hang up first. And always put your receiver down gently.

When You Answer Calls for Others…

If a coworker is away from their desk and their telephone rings, answer it for them. When you are away from your desk, they should do the same for you. Here are some suggestions that the caller will appreciate:

Identify Yourself - It is helpful to have people know your name - so always identify yourself when you answer a telephone. Say, for example, "Mr. Anderson's office, this is Jim Brown".

Be Helpful - Tell the person who is calling when your coworker will be back, or whether they can be reached somewhere else. Offer what information you can. Avoid any impression that you are putting them off with an excuse.

Be Tactful - Be careful how you explain your coworker's absence from the office. Explanations such as "He's not in yet", or "She's out for coffee", may leave the wrong impression, not only of them but of your company. It is much better to say; "Mr. Anderson is away from his office just now. May I ask him to call you?"

Take Accurate Messages - When you take messages be sure to write down the date, time, name and telephone number. Don't hesitate to ask how to spell a name or repeat a number for verification. Deliver the message as soon as possible. If it is a long distance call, don't delay. Remember to ask for the area code along with the telephone number, and if it is an operator handled call, be sure to note all the details the operator gives you.

When You Place Outside Calls…

Be Sure of the Number - To be sure of the number, check the telephone directory or your personal number list before calling. You will find it saves time to keep a list of telephone numbers you call frequently.

Place Your Own Calls - You show interest and save time and money by placing your own calls. Make sure the line is not in use before you attempt to make the call.

Identify Yourself - Don't expect others to recognize you by your voice. Give your name and company name. This gives the conversation a good start.

Remember Time Differences - When calling long distance, don't forget the four time zones. A detailed map showing these zones is included in the introductory pages of most telephone directories.

For the Executive…

Answer Your Own Phone - You will find it is good public relations to be easily accessible by phone. To be asked "Who's calling" is sometimes irritating to callers. You can eliminate the necessity of the question by answering your own phone.

Place Your Own Calls - Many persons do not appreciate being called through a secretary. You may save a little time by having your secretary place your calls, but by doing so, you are imposing on the time and disposition of the person that you are calling.

For the Secretary…

A Pleasant telephone personality rates high on the executive's list of desirable qualifications for a secretary.

Answering Your Boss's Telephone - Be alert, friendly and offer to help. Here are some good examples:

  • "He stepped out for a few minutes. May I ask him to call you?"
  • "She's speaking on another line. Would you care to wait?"
  • "He's talking with someone in his office. May I help you?"
  • "She should be back shortly. May I take a message?"
  • "He's in a meeting until about two. May I ask him to call you?"
Screening Calls - This practice is not recommended for good public relations. If you are asked to screen calls, here are some guidelines that may help:
  • In answering, be sure to identify yourself. This often encourages the caller to do the same.
  • If it is necessary to find out the name of the caller, avoid "Who's calling?". Try "May I tell him who is calling?"
  • If possible, give a report before asking for the identity of the person who is calling. For example:
  • If the executive is available; "May I tell her who's calling?"
  • If the executive is not available; "He's out of the office just now. May I help you or may I tell him who called?"
Listen Carefully - Give your full attention to the person who is calling. If you do this you shouldn't have to ask them to repeat anything except to verify a number or the spelling of a name.

There is Always Time for Courtesy…

Greet the Caller Pleasantly - Be enthusiastic, yet sincere. Such treatment makes customers respond to you and they will be more apt to call again.

Use the Caller's Name - There is no sweeter music to the person than the sound of his or her own name. Speak to the person at the other end of the line, not at the telephone.

Treat Every Call as an Important Call - When the customer feels that you are giving individual rather than routine consideration, they will have more confidence in you and your company and they will feel more important.

Be Tactful - When it is necessary to refuse a request because of company Policy, give a full and sympathetic explanation. Avoid expressions such as "you have to" or "you must". A response such as "If you could come on Monday, we will be happy to check that for you", is better than "You will have to come in Monday if you want that checked".

Apologize for Errors or Delays - Maybe things won't always go right, but you can always be courteous. If you are sincere and natural, you will sound genuinely sorry.

Take Time to Be Helpful - Brighten up your days with pleasant telephone contacts. It really doesn't take much more time to be helpful. It is better to spend minutes keeping a customer happy that months regaining their confidence.

Use Basic Phrases of Courtesy - Say "Please", "Thank you" and "You're Welcome". The use of such phrases is one way to put a smile in your voice.

Keep Your Promises - If you promise to call back with more information do everything you can to follow through. A broken promise may mean a lost customer. If you are unable to meet your deadline, call your customer, explain why, and make another telephone appointment.

Suggest an Appropriate Time to Call Back - When you leave a message for someone to return a call and you expect to be out of your office for a while, it is courteous to suggest a time for calling back. For example, say "Please tell him I will be in after 1 p.m."

Treat Your Coworkers Like Customers - Handle inside calls with as much care as outside calls. Set a good example and your coworkers will do the same with your customers.

Remember that every time you talk on the telephone, you really are the company!

If your office uses Voice Mail...

Leave short, straight forward instructions to your caller, being careful not to sound too abrupt.
Leave the date and time you left your desk or office, and when you intend to return to check for calls.
Change your greeting message often. This assures callers that you do care, and it personalizes a one-way conversation.
Be especially aware of your tone of voice. A recorded message loses vitality, so you may need to "punch-up" your greeting.
Check for messages regularly. Calls that are not returned promptly may result is lost business. Consider adding a Pager so that you will know immediately when a message has been left.
When returning calls, ask for feedback. Your customers will appreciate that you value their opinion.

When leaving a message in a Voice Mail system...
Leave a complete and detailed message. Avoid telephone tag and save everyone's valuable time.
Enunciate clearly. Speak at a moderate rate and a medium pitch to be certain that you are understood.
Naturally, all rules of telephone etiquette should be followed.

When placing a call to a PCS or Cellular phone...

Remember, even though you placed the call, the PCS or Cellular phone user pays. Be considerate.
Remember these are public airwaves you are talking on and therefore may not be confidential. Ask if it is a convenient time to talk.
Keep the conversation brief. Airtime is expensive.

When placing a call from a PCS or Cellular phone...

Advise the person you are calling that you are calling from a PCS or Cellular phone. This discreetly suggests the conversation be kept short.
If you anticipate a lengthy conversation, pull over and stop. This also allows you to use the telephone receiver rather than the speaker phone, dramatically improving the audio quality of the conversation for the person you are calling.
Remember, road safety takes priority over everything else.

A tip on minimizing PCS or Cellular airtime...

Be very selective in giving out your PCS or Cellular phone number. Use a Pager and/or Voice Mailbox to receive calls. Use your PCS or Cellular only for making calls.

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