Jim 6 Comments

Answer the Phone

Do you remember the “old days” when phones were just phones? The ability and perceived necessity to connect quickly caused phones to become a commodity. Now, phones have evolved into tiny computers or so-called “smart phones”. They suffer from “featuritis” and have apps for everything from address books, Internet access, e-mail, texting, IM, games, bookkeeping and other office applications, audio/video, camera, radio, TV, calculator to GPS! Even with all this, your smart phone lacks one special feature that only you can provide – and that is – phone etiquette!

telephone-etiquetteLet’s take a couple of minutes to review telephone etiquette. You, as a business owner, need to ensure that your staff practices excellent phone etiquette. (If you are both the “boss” and “staff”, then this especially applies to you!)

  1. When you are on a call, complete the call without interruption. Don’t interrupt to answer another incoming call unless the incoming call is truly an emergency. Let that second call go to voicemail and call back later. Interrupting the caller who currently has your attention, sends a bad message to this caller, that they are not really as important as the incoming call. Not to mention the annoyance that the second caller feels. Why answer the call if you can’t talk? Let the call go to voicemail. That’s what voicemail is really for, isn’t it? I hear business owners express the fear that they will lose out on a potential customer if they don’t take the incoming call. That might happen, but there is a greater chance that you will endanger two relationships, by interrupting the first caller and by telling the second caller that you can’t take their call at the moment. Voicemail isn’t the enemy! It is a service. I advise business owners to return the call to the second caller within minutes of hanging up from the first caller. There’s less chance that the second caller will have taken their business elsewhere in a short time frame. If you wait hours to return their call, there is a greater chance that they will have given up on reaching you.
  2. Check the way your staff answers your business phone. An appropriate greeting does not include, “Yeah” or “Hi”! Model for your staff how you want them to answer incoming calls. Their voice needs to “smile.” “Good Morning! Sunrise Systems. This is Alice. I can help you” or, “How may I help you?”
  3. Teach your staff to pace their speech. “Speed talk “ saves no time when the listener fails to understand. Call your place of business and really listen carefully. I’ve witnessed phone calls answered with “speed talk.” Granted, I could listen to only half of the verbal interchange, however, the caller’s inability to understand was obvious. The receptionist, rather than slowing the pace, elevated her impatience with faster delivery and higher volume with each repetition to the frustrated caller.
  4. Avoid “lazy speak”, i.e., enunciate clearly! It’s important. Your customers need to experience a good interaction when they call. Enunciation is critical – especially when leaving a voicemail message. Have you ever had to play a voicemail over and over to “get” the message? Either the name and/or call back number are mumbled or said so fast that you just can’t capture the information. Enunciate and slow down the pace.
  5. Eliminate the hesitation and filler words on business calls. Words such as “uh-huh”, “ok”, “yup”, “like” or “you know” must be minimized. One way to bring attention to whether or not you use or overuse jargon, is to ask someone else to listen to you and provide feedback. And, another way is to record yourself.
  6. Listen to your voicemail message and answer these questions. Is your message:
  • Stale? (not updated recently?)
  • Boring?
  • Too long?
  • Inappropriate for business callers?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any questions, then take the time to make a change to your message!

  1. When working from home, phone conversations with a background of barking dogs and crying babies fail to reflect well on your business, even if your customers state that they “understand.”
  2. If you find that most of your in-coming calls go to voicemail, consider using a telephone answering service. The personal greeting and attention will most certainly improve your customer satisfaction and retention. Your callers want to do business with a winning business.

Your callers want to do business with a winning business. So, make your business mean good business practices.

The phone is a marketing and sales tool. Good phone etiquette helps to engage and retain customers. The attention you pay to your business phone interactions will pay off with big dividends. Make sure to download that special feature of phone etiquette into your phone “connectivity.”


  1. Lorraine – How often have we been in face to face meetings with a client, prospect or co-worker on their turf – when their phone rings and they break off discussion to answer it? I’ve always thought it was proper phone etiquette to let the incoming call go to voicemail, and continue the discussion uninterrupted – but few of us seem to have the discipline to do so. Do you (and your blog readers) agree – or am I missing something? (Wouldn’t be the first time!)

    • Jed,
      I am in total agreement that the person with whom you are in conversation is more important than the incoming call. And, yes, I’ve been in many meetings when the person i am meeting with shushes me to answer the incoming call. Recently, I quietly got up and left the meeting as the conversation with the caller ran on for over ten minutes. My absence was not noticed for nearly an hour. When my client came to find me, I asked if we could agree on a ground rule about incoming calls. When I bought up the interruption of our meeting, my client was totally unconscious of his behavior. Amazing! He did keep our agreement to let incoming calls go to voicemail when we were in a meeting.

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