Telephone Skills and Techniques: The Art of Successful Communication

A new age of communication


We live in a very different world now. Thirty years ago we wrote a letter or telephoned when we wanted to contact someone we couldn’t meet face-to-face. In this new age we tweet, instant message, Facebook, text message, email and Skype to friends, business contacts, casual acquaintances and even strangers. We use video, webcams and podcasts to instruct and relay information. We set up blogs and web sites to debate politics and religion or describe the most mundane details of our lives. There have never been so many ways to connect with others. This proliferation of communication tools has transformed both our work and free time; with the help of the Internet we are literally communicating with others 24 hours a day.

One thing has not appreciably changed, however: when we want reliable information quickly or need results fast, we turn to the telephone. We are reassured when a live voice on the phone offers to assist us with our problems. When the person is polite and helpful, all goes well and there is a sense of relief and accomplishment. If we are placed on hold for inordinate periods of time or we’re told nothing can be done to solve our problem, however, our reassurance quickly transforms into frustration and anger. Many business calls end poorly because the public contact person (the individual answering the telephone) has no training in proper telephone techniques.

Telephone etiquette is still an important ingredient in the success of any business. Anyone answering a telephone should have the skills to offer efficient service in a courteous manner. Employees lacking the ability to communicate well should be offered telephone skills training. These techniques don’t require advanced education to require—they are life skills.


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Communicating with others is different now

The telephone is still an important business tool
The telephone is still an important business tool
Phones come in a variety of sizes and styles now--they are still a fast choice for solving problems
Phones come in a variety of sizes and styles now--they are still a fast choice for solving problems
Bad telephone manners lead callers to frustration and anger
Bad telephone manners lead callers to frustration and anger
Your voice sounds different when you smile
Your voice sounds different when you smile
Telephone training is important for anyone lacking the requisite skills
Telephone training is important for anyone lacking the requisite skills
What would our grandparents have thought of communicating with emoticons?
What would our grandparents have thought of communicating with emoticons?
"LOL," "BRB." "ROFL" and others would look like hieroglyphics to our ancestors
"LOL," "BRB." "ROFL" and others would look like hieroglyphics to our ancestors

Recommended telephone answering techniques


The following is a list of telephone answering techniques. These recommendations are the basics of telephone etiquette and should help to establish a framework for successful interactions on the telephone.


The initial telephone greeting

If your phone system is automated and offers menus, limit them to one menu and one sub-menu. Your menu options should always include direct access to a customer service representative who can answer questions or transfer calls; remember, your caller wants to speak to someone as quickly as possible.

Similar to a face-to-face encounter, you have only a few seconds on the phone to set the proper tone and make a good impression. This begins with an appropriate greeting, which should incorporate most or all of the following recommendations.

1.) Answer the telephone on the first or second ring. This projects a courteous and businesslike impression and prevents irritation. 2.) Smile before speaking. When you smile, you form words higher in your throat and it affects the sound of your voice. 3.) Identify both the organization and yourself. Don’t make the caller ask, “To whom am I speaking?” 4.) Be careful to avoid verbal shorthand, internal jargon or acronyms. They may be irrelevant and confusing to your caller.

In an environment where there are several telephones used by others, you are likely expected to answer their phones when they are left unattended. To let phones ring unanswered is one of the worst business office practices imaginable, although answering someone else’s telephone can be frustrating. For example, you may not know where the other person is or will be back. To say, “Mr. Reed is not here” may be factual but offers no help. Instead say, “Mr. Reed is out of the office. May I take your name and number and have him call you—or is this something I might be able to help you with now?” The second method indicates your willingness to try to be of immediate service. 80% of calls which are requests for information can be handled by someone other than the person asked for. Ask for the caller’s name politely (“May I ask your name please?” instead of “Who’s calling?” or “What did you say your name was?”) and use their name in your conversation with them.


Transferring telephone calls

A call should only be transferred when the person who is transferring it: 1.) cannot help the caller and 2.) is reasonably certain the person to whom the call is being transferred will be able to help the caller. When it is necessary to transfer a call to another telephone, ask enough questions to transfer the caller appropriately the first time. Nothing is more irritating than to be transferred repeatedly to get the information you need. Explain why you are transferring the call. It is sufficient to say, “I’m sorry, you need to speak with Ms. Bonner in the _____ department. May I put you on hold and transfer you to her extension?” Don’t ever say, “Hang on” or “Hold on, I’ll transfer you.”


Putting callers on hold

Most callers get irritated when they’re placed on hold because they don’t know how long they will be left waiting. When you leave the line, tell the caller what you’re going to do and how long you expect to be away. Waiting time always seems longer than it actually is, so if you anticipate your task taking more than three minutes to accomplish, ask the caller “Would you mind waiting a few minutes while I locate the information you need, or would you prefer I call you back?” Use the hold button—do not simply put the receiver down. When you return to the caller say, “Thank you for waiting, Mr. Scanlan…” Using the caller’s name will reengage their attention.


Ending the telephone conversation

When a telephone conversation is concluded, it is important to end on a courteous note. Thank the caller for their time and let them know you appreciate them and their business. Provide assurances that any promises made will be fulfilled. Courteous closing statements could include statements such as, “Thank you for calling,” “Please call any time you have a question,” or “I’m glad we were able to help.” Always let the caller hang up the telephone first.



Basic phone skills are essential in any era


The standards for communicating effectively seem to change daily with the proliferation of message devices available to us. Acronyms, words misspelled for expediency and emoticons have transformed the art of conversation into something that would be unrecognizable to our grandparents—as alien to them as ancient hieroglyphics might look to us. Regardless of what is accepted for communication (now or in the future), a key to successful interactions will always include a pleasant and helpful demeanor. If you are willing to add these qualities to your business persona, your services will always remain in demand.

Comments 25 comments

Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago

Emails are an easy way to communicate quickly, but I rarely use them to keep up with friends. Social networking - I don't, texting- well, my kids love it........ and it's a great way to say I love you on the spur of the moment. The phone........... well, it's preferred, but I'm not one for long conversations............

I guess this all makes me a horrific communicator ~ :-D Kaie


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

If you want to sound pleasant and friendly when you answer a call, then put a small mirror beside your phone and smile before you start talking. As you pointed out, Mike, smiling affects the tone of your voice and sets the stage for a more pleasant encounter.


kimh039 profile image

kimh039 5 years ago

In today's economy, customer service can make or break a company's competitive edge! Nice hub, Mike.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Kaie, I doubt that your reluctance to embrace the "new" forms of communication make you a horrific communicator--perhaps the multiple venues for saying hello simply seem unnecessary. I find it interesting that teens find email to be slow and ponderous--texting is more to their tastes. Meanwhile, email seems quick to my parents.

I'm not opposed to the myriad forms of communication available to us nowadays, but I still balk at the idea of being available 24/7. Just because I have a cell phone doesn't mean it is okay to call it any time of the day or night. If I pop up for a minute on Facebook or Yahoo, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm available for an instant message chat. That's what I struggle to embrace--the idea that immediate means no matter what else is going on.

I actually don't like to talk on the telephone a lot, but I still want to hear a human voice when I have to solve a problem. When someone on the other end of the line treats me well, I am grateful.

Well, I'm rambling now, so I should probably end this by saying thanks. I appreciate your comments, even if my response to them was disjointed. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Drbj, thanks for your comments. I like the idea of having a mirror nearby--it would help to ensure that a positive, helpful attitude has been reached before the phone is picked up. You will certainly know if you're smiling if you can see yourself.

Tone of voice is a recent enemy for me. Lately I have fought to keep from speaking in a monotone, which of course is disastrous for conveying a positive impression. I have no difficulty speaking with emotion in a public setting--I'm a pretty good public speaker. Something about the telephone flattens my voice, however.....

Well, I am still rambling, but I thank you for stopping by. I appreciate your insights a great deal. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Kimh, you're absolutely correct. Customer service is even more important in a competitive market, where similar products and services are offered at similar prices to the same customers. What separates on company from another in this scenario? Customer service, and for many people it begins when they answer the telephone.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate it.

Mike


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Perhaps the simple Golden Rule applies: treat others the way you want to be treated. "Treated" includes communication...


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Two things I hate, being put on hold with awful music and eventually have to hang up and call again or having someone answer the phone that does not speak English and this has happened so many time with bad result I immediately ask for someone that speaks clear English now, sometimes they do that, sometimes they hang up. Some really try and are so nice I really try to understand them and they will repeat and we get through it but it makes no sense to me they put soooo many foreigners on phones to answer Americans.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 5 years ago from London, UK

Hi Mike

I'm okay if people put me on hold, but play me nice music that I can sing along to...lol.

Great Article - Many people form their first impression about a company by how Calls are dealt with. Thanks so much for sharing.

Best Wishes


robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey

thanks for the great advice on phone technique and etiquette It all comes down to good manners and courtesy in the end, doesn't it? I mean whether it is hand writing a note with a quill pen or texting on your iphone, it's all about human connection and putting the other person at ease.... nice hub. thanks:-)


vzen profile image

vzen 5 years ago

Very informative and ironically nessecary. I have found that through cyber communicaton, people find it hard to communicate properly in person or via the telephone. I smiled while I read this. Communication is an art, and art is human connection!


poetvix profile image

poetvix 5 years ago from Gone from Texas but still in the south. Surrounded by God's country.

Great Hub. I really like the part about offering to call one back as an option to holding. I despise being put on hold especially for extended periods of time... and then, inevitably, the person answering will transfer me to someone else that I will have to hold for.

This should be part of all call center training manuals.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Dallas, thanks for your comments. I agree wholeheartedly--treating people in a courteous and respectful manner should extend to the telephone, and it should reflect how we wish to be treated. This includes communication in all forms. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Polly, you are so correct. Sometimes the wrong person is assigned to telephone duties, and I've never understood why this happens. It is essential to be clearly and easily understood when answering the phones, regardless of nationality.

I also hate being left on hold, but I'm not sure I don't dislike the endless telephone menu options that greet callers even more. There are some businesses that no longer include simply speaking to a customer service rep as an option--you are forced to choose a category for your call. If your choice isn't exactly appropriate, the person "helping" often seems put out. That is probably my biggest peeve nowadays.

Thanks for stopping by and offering your insights. I hope your week is going well.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Elena, thanks for reading. I like music, so long as it is a real song, and it's gotta be performed by the original artists. I can't sing along to "Born to Run" played with maracas, now matter how hard I try (lol).

So......... have you ever been caught singing along to the music when your call has been answered????

Hope you're having a good week.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Robie, thanks for your comments. You're right, of course--in the the long run, the venue is irrelevant. It's all about connecting with people in a meaningful way, and that means with respect and kindness. When we do this, our interaction will likely be positive. Thanks again for stopping by. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Vzen, thanks for your insights. Communication is an art, and I am only slightly joking when I say that it is becoming increasingly abstract. It seems people are less capable of communicating clearly than they used to be, fueled by tweet-inspired shorthand. But in the end it is about connecting. You are absolutely correct. Thanks again for reading.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Poetvix, thanks for reading. In my younger days (lol), I was often asked to train others to answer the phone, and this article was based in part on what I used to tell new employees. Of course, it was all simpler then, but the basic ideas still apply.

I hate being left on hold, as well. If I'm placed on hold, I expect whoever I'm connected with to be able to help. When that doesn't happen, I get pretty frustrated and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one. It is easy to recognize businesses that emphasize telephone training, and every business should offer it.

Thanks again for reading. Take care.

Mike


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Ah well just a couple of battles, all my hubs are not popular but the Obama one got me close to 600 hits and I haven't even looked today.

I also hate those calls where you have to say English if that is what you are speaking and I usual have to hold the receiver eventually around to the front close to my mouth and almost scream it more than once.

Hope all's well with you.


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 5 years ago from US

Oops just saw that score going up and I forgot to punch you a couple. Good luck...like you need it :D


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hey, Polly. I understand and sympathize with telephone menu options. I hate them all, no matter what the scenario. There was a time when it was popular to speak the menu options, and I'm saying "one," "one," "two," etc. I found that a particularly annoying way to begin a business call, and it tends to break any concentration I might have. Still hate it.

All your hubs might not be popular (as you say), but you always speak from the heart and they are very powerful. I hope you are doing well.

I've been working a lot of extra hours lately, so I've been away. Thanks for always stopping by.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

BTW, Polly--I always appreciate your support and encouragement. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Vancouver Realtor, I have to agree with you. The phone is still what people turn to for results. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments.

Mike


CollB 5 years ago

It's amazing sometimes how some customer service reps at the other end sound so loud and echoey. Really hurts the ears! Nice hub.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CollB, thanks for stopping by. There is an odd quality to the sound of some customer service calls. I always assumed it was a cheap headset, but it might be more than that. For all we know, some of them might be sitting in an aluminum trailer answering their calls. If that's the case, I hope the heat is on in the winter for them.

Thanks again for stopping by.

Mike

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