The phone is often the first contact most people have with a business, so making a good impression is vital. Indeed, answering the phone professionally could be the start of a long term relationship, while answering the phone badly can end a relationship before it’s even begun.

1) Create a company policy on how to pick up incoming calls

Our recent survey showed that many small companies simply answer with “Hello”, so having a simple companywide phone script ensures that a caller knows what company they got through to and who they are speaking to immediately.

I favour “Good morning/afternoon. This is Company Name. John (or whoever) speaking and leave it at that. If you must add something then “How may I help you?”

Personally I hate “What can we do for you today?” because it makes a reply difficult – my most usual reply is “You can put me through to Fred (or whoever I’m trying to speak to)” which is clumsy

2) Smile when you pick up the phone

It’s nice to hear someone cheery on the other end!

3) Check on your caller

If a caller is waiting on hold, keep checking in on them and ask whether they are okay to wait.

4) Treat your contacts well

If you have regular callers from key clients, make sure that anyone who picks up the phone is aware of your client list and important people. If you recognise someone’s voice or name, make them feel special and that you want to speak to them by asking how they are. Everyone likes the personal treatment and being regarded as special. There are companies who are a pleasure to call and some I hate. When I have a choice I will always call the nice guys.

5) Deal with callers courteously

There are some strange callers out there. This is just a fact of life. If people use offensive or intimidating language then it is appropriate to warn them that you will disconnect the line if they carry on (and to do so).

There is nothing personal in the way that these people behave – they are simply trying to get a reaction. They will ask questions which are impossible to answer “Do you always treat customers this badly or am I special?”, for example. The best you can do is to try and empathise with the problem, if possible.

Take the complaint seriously, write it down and ask for help in forming the words as you go.

Intelligent companies will have a policy allowing you to resolve the complaint if you can even if there is a cost to the company. If you cannot resolve the complaint then you can at least offer to get someone to call the complainer back, but make sure they return the call.

Unfortunately there are times when there is a problem and the situation cannot be resolved and under these circumstances the only thing to be done is to admit the fault and remain determinedly polite.

6) Spread the load

Everyone should have their own phone number (otherwise known as a direct dial-in (DDI)) so that if a client knows who to call then they can.

If this call isn’t answered then your system should be able to respond effectively as described below.

If you simply put one person on the end of the main phone – then there are a lot of times when they can’t answer the phone – for instance when they are talking to your most important customer or giving directions to some one. So when your main person  is engaged you need a system that allows you to respond most effectively.

7) Learn how to your office phone system features smoothly

A failed transfer or being hung up on can be quite frustrating. Ensure that your staff know how to:

  • Set up the phone, so that if they can’t take the call, then the system can  allow a colleague to answer – you can use call cascading or have multiple phones ring at once or you can apply different rules
  • put people in queue until answered (though most people hate this)
  • work with a live answering service so that another company answers the call on your behalf in your name.
  • set up a voicemail service which allows people to leave a message – say you will get back to people (people don’t like this either)
  • you can allow a person to answer on a mobile which is not ideal but better than missing the call.

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