As youngsters, many of us were taught basic telephone
etiquette. These lessons taught us the basic components of
conducting a phone conversation - politeness,
attentiveness, respect, and common courtesy.
Unfortunately, it seems these lessons have been forgotten
by many of today’s companies. For many, the philosophy
seems to say that it’s easier to forgo these practices and,
instead, choose to deal with the customer service
consequences later. It seems the true cost to the bottom line
is of not of any consequence. Why in a time of ever
increasing competition locally and abroad, along with the
knowledge of customers’ high expectations, would anyone
be willing to overlook and undervalue this most basic
customer service skill?
Common sense and logic aren’t so common. Common sense
says solid telephone skills cannot be taken for granted and
shows our customers we value them and their business.
Here are some common telephone blunders and common
sense solutions to keep your company on track. Even if you
have been guilty of practicing some or all of these blunders,
take charge now and reshape your focus to create a
1. No Call Back
I am referring to calls from a co-worker, business associate,
vendor, or someone with which you have a standing
business relationship. The reasons people choose not to
return a call may include the following:
* “I don’t have any new information to share.”
* “I’m waiting for so-and-so to return my call or answer my
* “I don’t have a need for this service right now.” (Though I
may in the future).
* “I’m not the person with whom they need to speak.”
* “I haven’t made a decision yet.”
Unfortunately, when you realize you were negligent and
overdue for a call back, panic and embarrassment set in and
you feel it’s easier to duck, dodge, and dance around rather
than make the call. This only compounds the problem and
doesn’t alleviate your uneasiness.
The solution is to pick up the phone. Begin by apologizing
for not calling back. Do not make excuses such as, “I was
busy.” Instead, be honest and forthright, which goes a long
way to building and maintaining solid business relationships
and your reputation. Next, proceed to resolve the business
at hand. In the future, begin with the positive intention of
answering calls in a timely fashion. If you don’t have any
news or there is no change in circumstances, let the caller
know. Inform him or her when you plan to call back, or
provide a future date when the caller can contact you – and
be sure to pick up the phone.
2. Untimely Voice Mail
Imagine you call a business the day after Labor Day and hear
the following message, “Thank you for calling ABC
Company. You have reached the desk of Jane Doe. I’ll be
out of the office on business from July 3 through July 15th.
Please leave a message.” What does this outdated message
really say about you to your customers? For one, it says I’m
too busy to change a voice message, so, perhaps, I’m too
busy to meet and service your business needs. Remember,
your message represents you in your absence. Be sure all
messages are timely and reflect a professional image. If the
customer needs immediate assistance, be sure to state whom
they can contact, along with a phone number.
Another voicemail blunder is allowing a mailbox to fill to
capacity so the box won’t accept any more messages. I
know people who purposefully do this just so they won’t
receive any more calls, which translates in their mind to not
having more work. This is a very unprofessional and
unacceptable practice. Check your voice mail periodically
throughout the business day. Save messages when
necessary. If you expect you will not be available for an
extended period of time, state when you expect to check
messages and return calls. If you find your mailbox often
fills up faster than you can keep up, consider having a live
operator accept your calls.
Have you ever had a caller phone and say, “I need so-and-
so’s number.” You offer the information off the top of your
head only to have the caller interrupt you and say, “Hold on
a minute. Let me get a something to write with.” Why do
people call for specific information and yet are unprepared to
take the information down? The caller has now wasted
his/her time and yours. Every telephone needs always to
have three items beside it: a pen, paper, and a mirror. (See
the next item as to why you need the mirror.)
4. No Mirror
What you see is what the customer gets. Keeping a mirror
next to your phone lets you see what your customers hear.
A warm smile can be heard over the phone. If a call has
come at a bad moment, better to allow the caller to leave a
message than risk taking out your frustrations on the caller.
5. Hanging Up Before The Customer
When you hang up the phone before the customer does,
you risk the client hearing comments that aren’t meant for
his/her ears. “That Jim is such an idiot. How dare he try to
haggle over price after three months of negotiations! Oh, hi,
Jim. I didn’t realize you were still on the line.” Oops, how
embarrassing! I have personally heard some very interesting
and embarrassing conversations begun before I hung up,
and I can assure you I took my business elsewhere because
6. The Noisy Hang Up
You has heard the crackle before –a page is sent over the
public address system and at the end of the message you
hear what sounds like a shot put thrown at the Olympic
games. When the phone is disconnected, it sounds as if the
handset was thrown halfway across the room. A better and
quieter solution is to click the release or switch hook button
first and then put the handset down into place.
7. Phone Tag
A great game of phone tag not only wastes time, it can be
downright frustrating. Cut down on the number of “tags”
and leave a message that tells callers specifically when you
can be reached or when you’ll be out of the office (so they
don’t call then). Believe it or not, some people call on
purpose when you’re out – now why would they ever want
to do that?
8. Fast Talking
I do a former New Yorker and I usually having no problem
understanding the swiftest speaker. However, I’ve had
people I have never met leave me a message with a phone
number that is spoken as fast as an auctioneer. Slow down!
Leave a message assuming the other person doesn’t know
how to spell your name or already know your number. A
proper message includes your name and number stated twice
– once in the beginning of the message and again at the very
end. This way if I can’t understand or want to confirm the
information, I can do so without replaying the message over
and over again. Be sure to speak slowly and clearly. Don’t
be shy about spelling any piece of information for clarity.
9. Choosing Not to Invest in a Headset
Juggling a pen, paper, and handset, while typing on a
keyboard with the phone cradled in the crook of your stiff
shoulder and aching neck just isn’t productive. Ease your
pain and invest in a quality headset and make life easier.
You’ll find you can locate information, write, or simply listen
with ease. While you’re at it, pick up an extra one for your
cell phone, too.
10. Misusing the Speakerphone
The use of a speakerphone is useful when dialing, waiting on
hold, and conference calls. There are times, however, when
it is misused and abused. Examples of this are when private
information is shouted into the speaker box so loudly that
everyone in a one-mile radius can hear or having a
speakerphone conversation without informing the caller that
others are in the room. Don’t ever assume the caller doesn’t
mind being on the speaker. Ask for permission first. Also,
always inform callers before they utter a word that someone
(if appropriate, who) is present in the room with you to give
Telephone blunders are overlooked and all too common.
Starting today get back to basics. Identify and correct
telephone blunders and you’ll shine as a world-class
customer service provider.