In today’s digital era, the art of phone etiquette might seem old-school to some. Yet, for businesses, mastering phone etiquette is more crucial than ever.
Despite the rise of digital communication methods, the phone remains the most preferred method of business communication. In fact, up to 41% of customer issues are resolved via voice call.
A well-handled call can strengthen customer trust and loyalty, while a poorly managed one can drive potential clients away. The nuances of tone, pacing, and active listening play pivotal roles in these interactions.
So, what exactly is telephone etiquette, and how can businesses perfect it? Let’s dive in.
What Is Telephone Etiquette?
Generally speaking, phone etiquette refers to how you communicate or come across over the phone.
You wouldn’t talk to a customer or business associate the same way you’d chat with a friend. Similarly, business calls are handled very differently from personal calls.
Business telephone etiquette revolves around being polite, helpful, mindful of the caller, and professional. Phone etiquette comes down to these nine factors:
- Your readiness and eagerness to answer incoming calls
- How you start and end the conversation
- The choice of words
- Your tone of voice
- How you listen
- Your body language (yes, your posture and facial expressions strongly impact the way you speak on the phone too)
- How the message comes across
- Upholding the brand’s image throughout the phone call
- The caller’s satisfaction at the end of the conversation
Bad phone etiquette does not necessarily mean being rude. It’s often more nuanced than that. Subtle details such as poor phrasing, speaking out of tune, or using the wrong salutation can ruin a phone conversation.
Take a look at these two opening lines in a customer call and see if you can spot any differences in etiquette:
- “Hello, this is ACME Limited. How can I help you?”
- “Hello! Thank you for calling ACME Limited. My name is Jane. How may I assist you today?”
The first line goes straight to the point. It’s so concise and punchy, in fact, that it might make the caller feel rushed to get to their reason for calling. It lacks that human touch and feels a bit bland. And although it’s well-meaning, some callers might find the opening rude and too generic.
Let’s compare that to the wordier second example. First, the “thank you” makes the call feel valuable — extra points for customer/caller appreciation. Second, stating your name humanizes the conversation, establishing ground for good rapport. When said in a friendly and inviting way, that line alone is enough to set a cordial tone for the rest of the call.
Why Phone Etiquette Matters
Why is phone etiquette so important in a business setting?
First and foremost, proper phone etiquette shows that you appreciate the caller for taking the time to contact your business. The same is true for outgoing calls. Good etiquette persuades the recipient to hear you out without getting frustrated that you’re wasting their time.
More specifically, good phone etiquette matters for the following reasons:
Creates a Good First Impression
Your business has only 7 seconds to make a lasting first impression. About a tenth of a minute — that’s how long it takes for new prospects to determine whether they like or trust your brand.
Remember, first impressions really stick, and customers are highly impressionable. Changing someone’s first impression of a person, company, or brand is nearly impossible.
If you’re going to make the first impression over a phone call, you better make those seconds count. And the best way to do that is through proper phone etiquette. Give it all you’ve got.
With good phone manners, the first few seconds of a phone conversation are enough to earn you a loyal customer or strategic business partner.
Shows High-Level Professionalism
Professionalism in phone etiquette refers to how you represent your company in terms of brand image, knowledge, conduct, and attitude.
Each industry has a more or less unique definition of professionalism. In voice communications, that definition determines the conversational rules, language, and tone.
For instance, a conversation between a law firm’s representative and a client should be fairly formal. But a phone call to a takeout joint can be more casual, cheerful, and relaxed.
In this case, professionalism means upholding your company’s standards to what the customers expect and what the brand represents. It’s essentially about keeping the tone, voice, and other conversational cues on-brand. Professionalism puts you and your caller on the same page and helps you make a meaningful connection.
Builds and Protects Your Company’s Reputation
Voice calls are a crucial customer contact point. In some businesses, telephony is the only way to get in touch with customers and prospects. As such, it’s a prime touchpoint for building a reputation for good customer service.
Maintaining positive interactions with customers over the phone can have far-reaching benefits. For one, a pleasant conversation can easily influence a new prospect to pursue further interactions with your business.
Plus, word gets around about good and bad customer service. Proper phone etiquette is a must if you want to be known as a courteous, listening, and caring brand.
Ensures Customer Satisfaction
Clarity and courtesy in business conversations ensure the message gets across and is received as intended.
Proper phone etiquette is particularly helpful when handling customer queries and complaints.
Demonstrating phone etiquette from the start of a conversation can calm down a distraught caller by showing that you’re willing to listen and act on their issues. During the conversation, the caller will mirror your calm, reasonable approach, and the interaction will eventually come to a satisfactory conclusion.
But if you’re impatient with angry or irritable callers, the conversation will go nowhere. Etiquette sometimes means putting up with other people’s bad manners rather than stooping to their level.
Boosts Customer Trust and Loyalty
Good communication fosters customer trust and turns one-time buyers into long-term customers. A customer will feel more comfortable doing business with your company after a positive experience over the phone.
On the other hand, bad experiences and interactions can deplete your customer base. Sixty-one percent of customers say they would switch to a competitor brand after just one bad experience. Meanwhile, more than half of business leaders say excellent customer service improves retention and creates cross-selling opportunities.
Speaking over the phone in a clear, informative, structured, and polite way shows confidence. It tells the person on the other end you know what you’re talking about.
A simple phone call can be an opportunity to showcase your brand’s authority and knowledge in its niche. And it’s sometimes not so much what you say but how you say it.
Below are two examples of snippets from a phone conversation. One portrays confidence, and the other is riddled with self-doubt. See if you can tell which is which:
“Please stay on the line as I direct your call to one of our technicians, as this is a technical problem. They will see to it that it is fixed.”
“Uh…I think I’ll direct your call to someone in the…technical team. Maybe they’ll know what to do about your issue.”
Top 12 Tips for Improving Your Phone Etiquette
Now that we’ve learned what phone etiquette is and why it is important, let’s look at 12 ways you can put proper phone etiquette into practice:
1. Prepare Well in Advance
A vast majority of inbound business calls involve customer support. However, depending on the nature of the enterprise, new prospects, suppliers, and service providers may call to enquire about the business.
Preparing for incoming calls means having a good idea of who might call and the kind of response, help, or information they’d be seeking. Whether it’s handling customer complaints, offering support services, or even directing calls, preparation is key to phone etiquette.
Crucially, have a ready script for each type of caller and keep information sources close by (manuals, extensions for the various departments, CRM system, etc.).
Call preparation also involves middle and upper management. Customer service and HR managers must ensure adequate infrastructure and trained agents to handle the expected volume of inbound calls.
2. Answer the Call Within Three Rings
Answer the phone as quickly as possible. Most callers will hang up if the phone is not answered after the fourth or fifth ring. Hence the three-ring rule.
New prospects, in particular, will not have the patience to wait for more than a few rings, especially when they can take their business elsewhere. Prompt answering also makes a good first impression and shows that the call is important to you.
And if you’re dealing with customer support requests, the longer you keep callers waiting, the more frustrated they become.
3. Introduce Yourself
Introduce yourself and the business at the beginning of every phone conversation. This lets callers know they’re contacting the right place and there’s an actual human on the other end (not a chatbot).
As we mentioned earlier, saying your name at the beginning of a call humanizes the interaction and makes for a deeper connection. It also sets the tone for a more friendly conversation. Besides, it’s always good to put a name to the voice.
4. Listen Actively
Listening is a big part of telephone etiquette. But not just “listening” — active listening.
In addition to paying full attention to the conversation, active listening involves taking notes, formulating appropriate responses, asking questions, and seeking clarification. You can even repeat back what you heard just to make sure it’s accurate.
Active listening shows the caller that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. It also makes them feel more comfortable sharing information and being candid with you.
5. Choose Appropriate Language and Tone
Pay extra attention to the tone and language you use during phone conversations. Your tone of voice, especially, can speak louder than your words.
It’s crucial to maintain a positive tone and polite language throughout the conversation, regardless of how rude the caller might be. Do not be tempted to speak back or yell at the caller. Remain respectful and professional even if the caller doesn’t mirror your tone.
There’s a trick to handling disrespectful, rude, and angry callers. Find gaps in the conversation where you can mute your end for a few seconds to catch a breath and compose yourself.
Maintaining a friendly, polite, and calm tone can defuse a volatile situation. It shows you’re willing to understand the caller and resolve their issue.
6. Speak Clearly
Speak distinctly, minding the pace and volume of your voice. Nothing is more annoying to a caller than having to strain their ears for someone speaking too fast or too softly.
The opening line or greeting is especially problematic when it comes to clarity. Many customer support reps say it too fast or rhythmically that the caller barely makes out any words. And right from the start, the conversation feels rushed.
Speak slowly and audibly while pronouncing each syllable clearly. Also, avoid using slang or heavy jargon. Keep in mind that some of your callers may be hard of hearing or not entirely conversant with the language.
Sometimes, there’s a problem with the connection or the hardware. Ensure your headset is fitted properly and is not clipping or muffling your voice and the line is clear of distortion. Plus, you want a quiet environment where you don’t have to speak above any noise.
7. Avoid Interrupting the Caller
It’s rude to cut someone off while they’re speaking. Wait patiently for the caller to finish what they’re saying before jumping in with a question, answer, or suggestion. Consistent interruptions can make the caller feel insignificant — like what they’re saying isn’t worth listening to.
8. Exercise Patience
“Patience is a virtue.” This couldn’t be truer in phone etiquette.
Allow your callers enough time to express themselves and speak their mind. Do not jump to conclusions or make assumptions about why they are calling. And never rush to offer a solution or response without fully understanding the caller’s request.
Patience is also handy when conversing with elderly callers and those with a bit of an attitude.
Remember, a business call lasts as long as it has to. A phone conversation can take anywhere between a few seconds to several minutes. So, be prepared for that every time you pick up the phone.
9. Focus on the Call
Focus entirely on the conversation when on a business call. Avoid getting distracted by your surroundings. Otherwise, you might miss important details and derail the conversation. Here are a few examples of what distraction looks like during a phone call:
- Signaling coworkers
- Checking emails
- Getting absorbed in other desk work
- Laughing or chuckling
Keen callers may notice when you get distracted and become understandably annoyed. Signs of distraction are sometimes pretty obvious, as the responses reduce to a plain “mm-hmm,” and there’s a lot of “Sorry, can you say that again?”
10. Be Positive, Empathetic, and Honest
Always stay positive. A positive attitude is invariably well-received. But be truthful in your responses, even when delivering bad news.
For instance, this is how you’d go about telling a customer that a certain item is out of stock in a positive and honest way:
“I’m very sorry, John. That particular phone is currently not in stock. However, we have many other phone models in that price range that might interest you…”
It’s also important to be empathetic toward your callers. Show that you care about their feelings, challenges, concerns, and issues by using phrases such as:
“I can see how that would be difficult.”
“You’re making total sense.”
“I know how that must feel.”
11. Avoid Putting the Caller On Hold or Speakerphone
Nobody likes to be put on hold (unless they enjoy hold music). If you have to put a caller on hold, explain why and ask them if it’s okay to do so first. Should the caller agree to hold, try not to keep them waiting too long. In some cases, it’s better to take the caller’s number and ask to call them back.
The same rules apply to speakerphone. Avoid putting calls on speakerphone as much as possible since it lowers the voice quality and makes it harder to understand each other. Moreover, it breaches the caller’s right to privacy and exclusivity.
If it’s absolutely necessary, always ask the caller for consent to put them on speakerphone, and state your reasons for wanting to do so.
12. Check That the Caller Is Satisfied Before Hanging Up
Before closing a phone conversation, remember to check that the caller’s needs have been met. Go over the issue and resolution once more and ask the caller if they are totally satisfied. They may have forgotten one or two issues during the conversation or may be unhappy with the outcome. Take a few seconds just to double-check and provide further clarification.
You may say something like:
“It’s great that we have answered your questions today. Do you have any more questions about…?”
“Glad I could help. Please let me know if you need further assistance.”
“Thank you for calling ACME Limited. Your order will be shipped within three working days. But before you go, let’s double-check the cart to make sure we got everything…”
And finally, close with a big thank-you to the caller and invite them to leave feedback and call again whenever they need assistance.
Conclusion: The Power of Phone Etiquette in Business
Phone etiquette is more than just a set of rules; it’s a cornerstone of effective customer service. Proper phone interactions shape how customers view your business, directly influencing trust and loyalty. As businesses evolve and compete, the quality of each phone call remains a clear indicator of commitment to customer care.
Elevate Your Phone Communication with CMS
Achieving flawless phone interactions every time can be a tall order, but missteps can cost dearly. That’s where Continental Message Solution (CMS) comes in.
Ensure every call to your business upholds the highest standard of phone etiquette. With our professional answering services, you’ll receive around-the-clock assistance from trained agents dedicated to enhancing your brand’s reputation. Ready to elevate your customer interactions? Get pricing and learn more about our services today.