Back to Basics - Telephone Tips and Techniques

"We got home to find the telephone ringing. It is a sound that both of us detest, and there is always a certain amount of maneuvering to see who can avoid answering it. We have an innate pessimism about telephone calls; they have a habit of coming at the wrong time, and they are too sudden, catapulting you into a conversation you weren't expecting... We were learning not to trust the telephone, and I picked it up as I would a long-dead fish."

- A Year In Provence, by Peter Mayle

Does this situation sound familiar? Are you tired of telephone tag and telemarketers phone calls? Then this column is for you. Here are some simple steps so that you can control your phone, instead of your phone controlling you.

Incoming Calls

Ringing, Remember ~ You should pick up the phone at about the third ring. Too soon and you will startle the caller, and too late causes impatience.

Selective Screening ~ Unless you are a receptionist or answering the phone is an integral part of job description, you do not have to answer the phone. That is right, just because the phone rings does not mean you need to drop everything to answer it. In fact, if you have an answering machine or voicemail, it may be more time effective to screen your calls and then return messages than to answer on the first go round.

Put a Smile In Your Voice ~ If you are going to answer the phone, be sure to sound as if you actually want to talk to the person on the other end. It may sound trite, but if there is a smile on your face, the person on the other end can hear it in your voice. So, smile!

Scripted Salutations ~ Whether at home or at work, there should be a standard script for answering the phone. This script allows the caller to verify they have dialed correctly. It also presents your image to the outside world. Businesses and homes alike should discuss how the phone should be answered. Some typical options include:

  • "Good morning, Smith household, how may I help you?"
  • "Hello, Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, Jodi speaking."
  • "Good afternoon, Jodi speaking."
Always Be Prepared ~ Near every telephone there should be a pad of paper and at least one writing instrument. This allows you to take notes or messages without having to make the caller wait while you dig up a pen. Offices, families and roommates should have an established message system to insure everyone actually receives messages once they have been taken.

Manners Matter, But ~ While being polite is a virtue, you do not need to extend every courtesy to telemarketers. These people are instructed to never hang up and will keep you on the line as long as possible in the hopes of parting you from your hard earned money. Ask to be taken off their master call list.

Your Message ~ there are a few things to keep in mind for the outgoing message on your voicemail or answering machine:

  • Brief: callers should not have to listen to more than 30 seconds of message.
  • Identify: state your name or number as part of your message so callers know they have found the right machine.
  • Remind: despite years of use, people still need to be reminded to leave their name, number and message, be sure to prompt them.
Especially for business ~
  • Update: if you leave a dated or special message, but sure to update it frequently.
  • Test Drive: do call yourself to listen to your message.
  • Human Contact: be sure that the caller can reach a live person during regular hours whenever possible.
Outgoing Calls

Before You Call ~ Know why you are calling. Whether it is to ask someone out on a date or to try to sell as new product, you should have a good idea of what you are going to say before you dial the call. You may even want to take the time to bullet out an agenda so that you are not tongue tied for the person or when leaving them a message.

Double, Double ~ Always leave both your name and number twice during your message so that the person does not need to listen to your message more than once.

Stop At Three ~ Once you have left three messages within a week's timeframe, stop leaving messages. You can continue to call, but do not leave any more messages.

Be a Detective ~ If you are having a hard time reaching someone, ask their assistant when the individual will be at their desk. Also, try calling before regular business hours, during the lunch hour, and/or after business hours. Oftentimes you can get through to "bigwigs" during nontraditional times when they are at their desks. Some even work weekends.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ When I called a client, their message stated they were on vacation, but the dates listed were from two weeks prior. Should I have mentioned that she needed to update her message?

A: In general, if a quick word from you can save someone greater embarrassment later, you should clue them in as tactfully as possible. "Shannon, I hope you enjoyed the vacation you mention in your message." However, if this is potential client, you may decide not to say anything this time.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ When I pick up the phone, say "Hello" and hear a delay, I hang up because it is almost always a telemarketer. My wife says this is very rude since it could be an international call. Do I have to stay on the line?

A: It depends, do your receive a lot of international calls? Most likely, the cause for the delay you hear is the telemarketer’s computer routing you to a human. Nowadays, most international calls do not have the delay and sound like the person is right next door. In fact, this past month I have received calls from Estonia and Australia, both were clear as a bell. The other option for your household is an answering machine you can use to screen your calls. If the person starts to leave a message, you can pick up. If there is no message, you can be sure it was those rascally telemarketers.

Q: Dear Mannersmith ~ Argh! I was just on hold for 8 minutes!! Eight whole minutes – it seemed like forever. How long should someone be on hold?

A: The rule of thumb is that you should not be placed on hold for longer than 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, you should be giving the option of continuing to hold or leaving a message. I know many of the big companies have much longer waiting times. The some of these companies have messages every 15 – 30 seconds so you know you are still connected. The better of these companies tell you what number you are in queue and times to call back when they are not as busy.