In the past, people thought of a handful of industries and being ‘fast paced’ but now, with the advent of digital communications, it’s hard to think of an industry that isn’t fast moving.
Amongst all the emails and apps, it can be too easy to lose sight of a timeless skill: the art of answering the business phone calls professionally. Building a professional rapport with callers is an integral aspect of building strong customer relationships, maintaining your brand image, and, of course, ensuring effective communication.
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In this post, we will explore the importance of proper telephone etiquette, key elements of professional phone answering, and give you eight tips on how to best answer your company phone properly.
The Importance of Excellent Phone Etiquette
While the way we use our phones socially is changing all the time, professional phone etiquette is a timeless linchpin of successful business communication. Every call you receive or make is an opportunity to create a positive impression. A professional style demonstrates your brand’s commitment to customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Inconsistent or unprofessional phone answering can tarnish your company’s reputation, damage customer relationships, and even lead to missed business opportunities.
The phone remains often the first point of contact between your business and potential customers. A friendly, professional interaction can make the difference between a new customer and a lost opportunity and if you can make sure that your telephone style makes customers feel valued, they are more likely to return and recommend your services to others.
Key Elements to Answering the Phone Professionally
To ensure a professional call answering experience, several key elements need to be in place. These elements encompass not only what you say but also how you say it as well as how you listen.
A warm, friendly, and professional tone can immediately put the caller at ease. Clarity is equally important, though. Different callers respond differently to different styles depending on their age and cultural background. If in doubt, speak clearly and at a moderate pace. But perhaps the most crucial element is active listening. This means giving the caller your full attention, responding appropriately to what they ask or tell you, and asking relevant questions.
When callers feel that they are being listened to, they’re more likely to trust the information you provide and the solutions you offer. It’s an essential building block for strong customer relationships.
9 Tips on How to Best Answer Business Phone Calls
- Call Wait Time – Answer the Phone!
Answering the phone professionally by the third ring is the gold standard of professional call answering. Research shows that callers are more likely to hang up if the phone is not answered in a timely manner. However, we understand that this isn’t always feasible for busy entrepreneurs or small businesses that are already juggling multiple responsibilities. In such cases, a virtual receptionist service can be a handy solution. These services ensure that every call is answered promptly and professionally, even during unexpectedly busy period or when the decision makers in the business are otherwise occupied.
How you answer the phone could be the caller’s first experience of your company, a bit like it’s front door, so make sure you smile (yes, seriously!) and greet them politely and professionally. For example, “Good morning, thank you for calling [Your Company Name], this is [Your Name]. How may I help you?” This sets the right tone for the conversation and immediately conveys the companies professionalism.
- Identifying Yourself
Once you answer the phone, listen carefully to why they have called and then, let them know who you are and how you’re going to be able to help them. Clearly and confidently identify yourself by providing your name and your role within the company. For example, “I’m [Your Name], and I work in the customer service department.” This not only personalises the conversation but also lets the caller know that they are through to the right part of the business to help with their enquiry.
- Listening Actively
Active listening is a key interpersonal skill whether you are communicating with people over the phone or in person and is a great social skill to have. Ensure you’re focused on the caller and acknowledge their questions or issues. It is often a good idea when appropriate, to reiterate what they have said to confirm understanding. This is called ‘mirroring’. Use it sparingly though to avoid sounding like a parrot!Another active listening skill might sound obvious but it is important to remember: Avoid interrupting the other person.
- Effective Communication
Callers can come from all kinds of different backgrounds or might just be new to what your business offers so avoid using jargon, acronyms or ‘in-industry’ terminology without first explaining, then reiterating its meaning. Try talking in a friendly and straightforward manner and then, adjusting your terminology as it becomes clear how familiar or not the caller is with the subject. If a caller is clearly very knowledgeable in your field, it can be as bad not to use the correct jargon as it would be to use it with someone completely knew to the subject.Good communication also means providing precise information and setting expectations. If you need to follow up or transfer the call, be transparent about the process and timeframes. If you expect that a return call will not be made until the next day, don’t tell the caller that they will hear ‘right back’. All that will happen is that the caller will feel disappointed at not being called back and will call again….and they might not be quite as friendly this time!
- Handling Difficult Callers
Demanding or irate callers can be stressful, but by sticking to a professional mindset and style, you can both defuse stress and keep the conversation on track. Maintain a calm and patient tone and use positive language. Remember that the caller is not necessarily angry with the person answering their call (you); they are angry about a situation that has developed. If you can step back and handle the conversation professionally, you are much more likely to end the call with a positive resolution.
- Transferring Phone Calls
Transferring a call can be tricky as different phone systems and devices use different procedures. The important thing is to make sure that you are really well practiced at the practical side of how to place a call on hold; transfer a call and retrieve a call from hold. If you are well practiced enough to not have to think about the practical process of transferring a call, then you can give all your attention to engaging with the caller in the most friendly and professional way. It is really important to make sure that all the parties involved understand what is happening. Always confirm the caller’s needs with the receiving party and inform the caller about the transfer.
- Taking Messages
Taking messages accurately is an absolutely essential skill to ensure that callers expectations are met. You might not be able to answer the caller’s query or act on their request yourself so passing information to the right person about the caller and what they said is all-important if the caller is going to look back on the call with a positive feeling. Try creating a message template that includes the caller’s name, contact information, the reason for the call, and a brief summary of the conversation. These templates make it easier to relay information to the appropriate team members.
- Ending the Call
Conclude the call professionally by thanking the caller for their time and asking if there is anything else that they might need you to help them with. For example, “Thank you for your time today. Is there anything else I can help you with at the moment?” If there is, then the conversation with go in that direction, if not, wish them a good day and say goodbye by saying something like “In that case, thank you for calling and enjoy the rest of your day.”
Common Mistakes to Avoid
In the world of professional phone answering, there are several common mistakes that must be avoided at all costs. These include:
- Taking too long to answer a call:
Failing to answer the phone promptly can lead to missed opportunities and frustrated callers. According to a study, about 26% of callers hang up and never call back if their call is not answered quickly, even if it goes to a voicemail system. Always aim to pick up within three rings.
- Speak slowly:
Sometimes it might be a poor line, conflicting accents or a language barrier. More often than not though, by simply speaking that little bit slower and more deliberately, you can greatly enhance clarity and understanding. This allows the caller to process your words more effectively, ensuring your message is communicated accurately and clearly.
- Impersonal greetings:
A robotic or impersonal greeting can put off callers. Why should a caller engage with a company that fails properly to engage with them? If a caller feels undervalued, you can expect them to take their business elsewhere.
- Failing to be clear with the caller about your position:
If you don’t clearly state who you are and what your role is, it can lead to confusion and frustration. Manage the caller’s expectations by always being clear about your position and what you can do for them.
- Not listening actively:
Failing to actively listen can lead to misunderstandings and customers feeling ignored. There are both serious triggers for frustration and sometimes if you simply repeat information then it’s clear you are listening.
- Poor communication:
Ineffective communication, such as using jargon or vague language, can confuse and frustrate. Make sure you choose the right level from everyday speak to in-industry jargon, depending on the terminology that the caller shows they are familiar with. Try to avoid slang.
- Mishandling difficult calls:
Losing your cool or not adequately addressing difficult or irate callers can escalate the situation and damage your company’s reputation. A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience, while a happy customer will tell about 4-6 people
- Transferring calls incorrectly:
Whether a caller is lost on hold for too long or, in the worst case scenario, had their call cut off, failing to handle a call transfer correctly can leave the caller questioning the competence of the whole business.
- Taking inaccurate messages:
Miscommunication in message taking can lead to delays in resolving issues or missed opportunities. Worse still, if the caller becomes aware that their details or their request have been taken down incorrectly, they might reconsider their decision to call the company in the first place.
- Rushing to end the call:
Failing to provide a proper conclusion can make callers feel dismissed and undervalued. It’s just good manners.
Tools and Technology for Professional Calls
Fortunately, there are a wide range of tools and technologies available that are designed to enhance professional phone interactions:
- Call management software:
There are a wide range of call management software products that can help you track and manage inbound and outbound calls more efficiently. These tools can provide data on call volumes, durations, and customer interactions, allowing for better resource allocation and staff planning.
- High quality headsets and microphones:
Ensuring that you have the right audio equipment is crucial for clear and professional communication. Noise cancelling is the key technology to eliminate background noise and make your voice clearer.
- Virtual receptionist services:
By outsourcing your business phone answering, calls can be handled promptly and professionally without the need for a full-time in-house receptionist. These services are cost-effective, scalable, provide a consistent, professional voice for your business and a reliable service for your callers.
- Call recording and analytics:
Tools for recording and analysing calls can be invaluable for training purposes and quality control. They can help identify areas where improvements are needed in the call handling process and assist in training new staff to maintain the correct habits while avoiding some of the pitfalls.
- VoIP systems:
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems enable clear, reliable, and cost-effective voice communication over the internet. They offer features like call forwarding, voicemail, and more, particularly enhancing the professionalism of your call transfer process.
Outsourcing to a professional phone answering service can transform the way that a business deals with incoming calls, whether they are from new or existing customers, suppliers or other stakeholders.
Here are some examples:
Case Study 1: Conveyancing Lawyers
A medium sized law firm specialising in property conveyancing was struggling to handle client calls effectively. They tried out a virtual receptionist service after they saw that their receptionist could cope with most of their calls during the day but was overwhelmed at peak times.
The firm’s partners and associates received calls throughout they day but lines were particularly busy at the beginning of the day, and at lunchtimes.
With a professional team of virtual receptionists, the firm could ensure all calls were answered promptly, even during busy periods, improving client satisfaction without the need to recruit and employ additional staff.
Case Study 2: E-commerce Startup
An e-commerce startup made use of a phone answering service to field calls from customers who might have questions about their website.
As with many small businesses, outsourcing allowed them to scale their telephone response as demand grew, while keeping their small in-house team free to continue developing their platform.
The client was able to have first class customer service levels from day one without the distraction and cost of an trying to handle calls in-house.
Case Study 3: Physiotherapy Practice
A small physiotherapy practice used virtual receptionists to schedule appointments and manage patient enquiries.
The practice employed three therapists but would often be unable to answer calls as the therapists could not interrupt a consultation with a patient.
The practice was sure that this was costing them business and found that, with an outsourced receptionist team, not only did they receive more bookings, their existing customers were happier with being able to speak to someone immediately rather than have to leave a voicemail and wait for a call back.
Dealing professionally with business calls isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ or an option for big or slick businesses, it is a ‘must-have’ for businesses of all sizes and in any industry sector. It directly influences your company’s reputation and customer relationships.
By following the key elements of professional call answering and implementing the tips we’ve provided, you can create a lasting positive impression on your callers and drive the success of your business.
For businesses seeking an efficient and cost-effective way to handle their calls professionally, virtual receptionist services like those offered by Connect Communications can be a game-changer. Whether you’re a small startup, a growing enterprise, or an established firm, a virtual receptionist can ensure that every call is answered with the care and professionalism that your clients expect, leaving a lasting impression on customers and suppliers alike.
Connect offers the full range of call answering services from simple message taking to diary management and customer service, all specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of your business.
To find out how Connect can transform your phone interactions arrange a callback here or call us on 0330 3333 777. Why not let us show you what we can offer by trying our service out with our free 30 day trial today?
Answering Business Calls Professionally: FAQs
What is the first thing you should say when answering a business call?
A great, standard greeting is “Thank you for calling [Your Company Name], this is [Your Name]. How may I help you today?” This sets the right tone for the conversation and immediately conveys the business’ professionalism.
How do I greet an incoming caller?
Always greet callers with a friendly, professional tone. People can hear what your facial expression is when you speak so smiling as you answer is usually a good idea. After greeting the, actively listen to what they have to say and set about helping them while remaining warm and professional.
How should a receptionist answer the phone?
A receptionist should answer every call in a warm and professional manner, taking care never to sound robotic. They should demonstrate to the caller that they are fully listening to them by mirroring their language and confirming their requests.
What is telephone etiquette?
Telephone etiquette is simply the practice of good manners and communication skills during a telephone conversation. Key parts of telephone etiquette are speaking clearly, listening carefully to the caller and always remaining composed and professional, even if the caller might be irritated or even rude.