Tackling The Telephone ~ Using The Best Business Practices

One should speak clearly and concisely on the telephone. Slurred, careless speech is bad enough in face-to-face conversation; but when there is neither facial expression nor gesture to help out, clear-cut works and careful enunciation are especially important.
- Lillian Eichler

Last month, while playing with my almost one-year old nephew, he picked up a plastic banana and held it to his ear. His three-year old cousin had a toy cell phone and was running around the coffee table while having an imaginary conversation with her grandfather. Telephones are so pervasive in our world that even the youngest members of our society pick up and mimic our behavior. While telephones are so easy to use that a child can do so, there are a number of etiquette guidelines that adults should follow.

Who Goes There ~ Perhaps you have had a conversation similiar to the following one:

"Is Ms. Smith there?"
"May I ask who is calling?"
"Are you Ms. Smith?"

It is the caller's responsibility to identify himself/herself before the answerer divulges any information.

Guessing Game ~ While you may think your voice is as distinctive as Fran Dresher's, when placing a call, you should still always identify yourself to the person who answers the phone. Whether it is a bad connection or a bad memory, it is no fun to try to figure out who is calling after they have already launched into a conversation.

Waiting Game ~ When call wait first appeared on the scene, I was a huge fan. To not have callers receive a busy signal was wonderful. Now I am glad technology has moved on so that calls can be routed straight into voicemail. The call wait should only be answered when you are expecting an important call and have forewarned the first caller. Otherwise, you should allow the second call to ring into voicemail.

Vanquished to Voicemail ~ Your voicemail should never be a black hole of communications. You should be changing your message, checking your messages and responding to calls regularly. If you are trying to reach someone, three voicemails are enough. After that, speak with the secretary regarding when the individual is expected back in the office.

Forwarding Phone Calls ~ Calls should never be passed along without the proper introduction. First, you must tell the caller the name and number of the person you are going to transfer them to, just in case the connection does not go through. Then, before you hit transfer, you should tell the person who the caller is and why they are calling.

Speakerphone Strategies ~ Speakerphone is a useful tool, but must be used with caution. You must always let the caller know they have been put on speakerphone AND you must let them know who else is with you listening to the conversation. In most situations, this is simply the polite thing to do. In some situations, it is the legal thing to do. Whether it is to check voicemail or to have a conversation, speakerphones may only be used in offices and spaces with a door that is shut.

Exit Stage Right ~ It never fails. There is a direct relationship between the chattiness of one party and the workload of the other. While ringing your own doorbell may work at home to exit a conversation, it does not have the same effect at work. Luckily, there are a number of "verbal doorbells" that are just as effective. Here are a few lines to help close a conversation when you are finished. "Thank you for your time, I don't want to keep you." "I know you must be busy, thank you so much for calling." "I would love to speak about this some more, but the work is just piling up on my desk." "I am so glad we had the chance to speak today." All of these closings, spoken with the proper tone and tact, can ease the conversation to an end.

No, You First ~ Beware, until the phone is completely closed or back in its cradle, there is still the possibility of the person hearing your comments. Do not say anything until you are sure the connection has been severed. In many offices, employees are instructed not to hang up until they hear the caller hang up first. There are two reasons for this. First, the caller will not have to hear the phone being slammed down, and second, you can be sure the call is complete.

Multitasking and the Telephone ~ Remember, the phone picks up your voice as well as any other sounds in the area. Some conversations require our full attention, especially business calls. This means you should be very careful about eating and chewing, typing, and - how shall I say - well, flushing, while on the phone.

I can only imagine what technologies will be available by the time my little nephew enters the working world. No matter what the technology, the same tenets of courtesy will apply.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ When I call someone at their office and the secretary asks me "what is this regarding?" do I have to tell her?

A: Secretaries do this at their boss's request to help prioritize the workload. It is not that she is being nosey. In fact, a good secretary might be able to better help you if she knows what the call is about. (i.e. she can pull the relevant information and put it on the boss's desk so that the boss is ready for the conversation.) If the call is personal or of a private nature and you do not want the secretary to know, you can politely state that the call is private.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ I work in customer service and often receive irate calls. Should a person be allowed to swear at me and for how long?

A: The first thing you need to do is check with your employer. Call centers have strict guidelines as to how to handle irate callers. The key is to acknowledge the issue, create a collaborative tone and then work on solving the problem. If someone is swearing, you might say "Mr. Smith I can hear that you are very upset, I would like to be able to help you, but first I must ask that you not swear at me." If it happens again, give a second warning. "I understand that you are angry, but if you continue to use profanity, I will be forced to end this call." Then do so.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ An acquaintance of mine only calls once in a while. She has her number blocked so it does not come up on caller identification. She has a habit of launching right into a conversation and it takes me almost a minute to figure out with whom I am speaking. How can I politely have her tell me her name at the beginning?

A: As soon as she stops speaking, say "I am sorry, who is this?" Then when she says her name, say "I am having such a hard time recognizing your voice." After a few phone calls, she will remember to tell you who she is before launching into the conversation.