You Had me at Hello: Telephone Etiquette

With Aimee Bateman

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You Had me at Hello: Telephone Etiquette


Does the idea of using the phone at work send you into panic? Or have you've been told you could be a little more professional when speaking on the phone? Don't worry, we've got you. Watch this video to learn about Careercake's top 10 rules of telephone etiquette. We'll cover how to be confident and how to prepare as well as things like how to act if the call has been transferred to you by mistake. 

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Hi, my name is Aimee Bateman, career coach and founder of Careercake.

In this video we're going to look at the 10 rules of telephone etiquette because so much attention is placed on online communications - so emails, LinkedIn messages, tweets, social media - that the skill of actually influencing or even just talking on the phone is a bit of a lost art. But answering the phone even if you hate it, which I know a lot of people do and phone etiquette are still have really big part of the experience that you give your customers, the experience you give you clients, your suppliers, your colleagues. So here are my thoughts and my tips for keeping it sweet.

So my first tip is to take notes. So make sure that you've got a pen and some paper, maybe an iPad, a notepad. You are at your desk so it's likely that you've got one there. What you don't want to do is have to put somebody on hold or delay the call while you go and find a pen or while you go to find some paper.

Number two, introduce yourself; now this is a bit of an obvious one but it’s worth mentioning because you should really introduce yourself at the beginning of the call; the first thing that you say, and then you can start building rapport.

Number three, pick a positive tone. Now your tone of voice is so important and I said pick a positive tone because how you deliver your tone, how you feel, is your choice. You have a choice to be positive. You have a choice to be negative. And when you don't have that body language to influence the situation, you know most of what we communicate is not verbally, it's through our body language, but you're on the phone so there isn't any body language. So you'll need to make up for that feeling, the feeling that you're giving off by your tone of voice. Your tone is so important. So, make sure it's upbeat. Make sure it's really positive and even if you've been answering the phone for 10 years and work, especially if you've been answering the phone at work for 10 years because it's easy to forget. Remember that your tone of voice can affect and impact the person on the other end. So just take a moment, literally just one, two seconds, pause, smile, and then pick positive.

The fourth point - slow it down. So if you're rushed like, [speaks quickly] “Hi, Careercake, Aimee speaking”  - that was really rubbish acting! - but if you're really rushed, it may make the person feel like you can't really be bothered to talk to them or you're really busy and in fact they were interrupting you. And again, there’s no body language so they can't see your lips, they can't see the words being created. And sometimes when we're looking at somebody and they're talking quite quickly, that's how we help and understand what it is that they're saying. This is really hard for me because I'm Welsh and not all, but most Welsh people tend to talk really quickly. So this is something that I've had to constantly remember to do, especially when I'm filming. But more importantly, when I'm on the phone, I want to make everyone feel like they understand me. I don't want anybody feeling frustrated that they didn't fully catch what I was saying. And also by taking the time and not rushing, it makes that person feel like you're not rushing them. They matter to you. You've got the time to give them.

So what to do if the phone call isn't for you. So they've called and it's not your department even. Definitely not for you. You don't want to firstly make them feel like they've made a mistake and blame them and be like, “Oh well I'm sorry, but you want the highways department, you've got the wrong number.” It's not their fault that they've got the wrong number. You want to say that it's okay that they've got the wrong number. Help them. Don’t just leave them to it – “you’ve got the wrong number, off you go - you've probably had calls like that before. I have and I just think “Cheers. That's the number that was on the website. Thanks for helping me or not helping me”. Tell them it's okay. Totally fine – “I can help you.” It doesn't matter how busy you are - “I can help you. That's fine”. Transfer them, put them on hold, find the number for them. What you want to do is when they do get transferred to the next department, you want that person to say, “Oh, this really super cool person in X department just now helped me. They were really nice”. You don't want them to say, “Oh finally spoken to who I want to speak to. I spoke to a really rude colleague of yours.” You don't want to be that person ever. But I do want to say this, just before you put them on hold or just before you transfer them, ask them if it's okay. Tell them that that's what you're going to do. Don't just go quiet on them. I've been on the phone before, it's just gone dead and I'm like, “Hello, is anyone there?” and they've just transferred me. But they haven't told me that that's what they were doing and it just feels a little bit off. So, tell them “It's okay”. Help them. Ask their permission before you transfer the call and just really nice little touch. Give them the number. So even if you transfer them, give them the number just in case they get cut off, or just in case they need to have a direct number in the future, because if you transfer them, they might not still have the right number. So always do that as well.

So telephone etiquette, number six, the sixth rule. What if you’re just really busy, like genuinely really busy and you don't have the time for the call? Well, if it's your boss or if it's a really pressing issue, then you probably need to find the time, but if not, it's not your boss and it's not a really pressing issue, then you can just bat it away. You can bat it away. But do it like this - So if Janet in Finance has called – “Are you really busy?” Don't just go “Janet, sorry, I'm going to stop you there. I'm really busy.” because that can be a little bit dismissive, a little bit rude. Just give her a moment to just explain herself and what's going on. Don't interrupt her, let her finish her bit and then say with that smile on your face, with that positivity, “Thank you for calling. Really, really want to help you with that. I genuinely do. I do have something that needs my attention right now.” Tell her that it's really important, but you have something that really needs to happen right now and that you'll call her back or you're looking into it or “Can I give you a ring back?” and then whatever time you say you're going to give her a ring back, make sure you give her a ring back. So always do what you say you're going to do and that's an absolutely fine way to handle that situation.

Number seven is don't allow any interruptions. Do not let yourself be distracted by any conversations or people around you. The person on the phone right now is your priority. Definitely a priority of anybody that comes into the office or any hand signals that your colleagues are doing or all of your emails coming in. You might be on the phone and reading emails, so don’t do that. I have a really busy office. I have my colleague Ellen, I've got my colleague Alison next to me. There's a lot of us in quite a small office. There's always stuff going on and I'll just turn my chair. So I’ll turn my chair and I'll just face the wall sometimes when I'm having a telephone conversation, then there's no distractions. Because what you want is that person to be, in that moment, it.

So rule number eight, check your voicemail. If you do have that voicemail functionality, check it at least once a day. It's really frustrating for colleagues if you're trying to get hold of somebody. It's happened to me before trying to get hold of a colleague because there's a project that you're working on, you really need their input but they never get back to you. The reason they don't get back to you is because they didn't know you called because they never check their voicemail. So check it. That's what it's there for. I would say that people will appreciate you getting back to them really quickly so if you could check it more than once a day, that'd be great. But if you're really, really busy - you know, head down - once a day is okay. I do want to say this though - don't be that person who permanently has their voicemail on. It's almost like the default - voicemail on; don't want to talk to anyone. The reason being is that it can be really frustrating. You're not building relationships with colleagues, it’s a big barrier to everybody in the organisation and whether you like it or not, no matter how busy you are, communicating with your colleagues, helping each other is part of the game. It's part of the processes. The reason why businesses and organisations are successful. So even if you're tempted to just put your voicemail on because you’ve got a lot to do that day. Don't. Think, “Can I just maybe put it on for an hour? Maybe just the morning.”     Don't have it on default. Don’t be that person.

So rule number nine, leaving voice messages. Just take all of the positive, all of the good stuff from this video and apply it here. So even though you're not talking to a person, they're still a person that's going to be listening back. And we've all listened to audio books or podcasts where the content's really good, but the person just sounds really miserable. So you want to smile, you want to be really positive and you want to be clear. So you might want to leave your phone number - do it twice, leave your phone number, then repeat your phone number so they've got chance to double check it. And if you're not so used to telephone conversations and you're more used to online - LinkedIn messages, emails - and you're not used to listening to the sound of your voice, it's okay to just record yourself because you might think that you'd be really clear. You might think that you’re sounding really positive, but when you listen to it again - maybe not so much. So it's always worth just practicing recording and listening back because that's what the other person's going to hear.

Finally, rule number 10 ending the call with impact. One of the sayings I love is “People forget what you said. They will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.” And this is so important and very true when it comes to phone calls. So, you want them to leave this phone call feeling really positive about that touchpoint with you. So what you want to do is just thank them for calling, ask them is there anything else I can help you with and then compliment them – “You're doing some really good stuff over in finance. I'm really glad I was able to add value in some way. If there's anything I can do in future, you just let me know.” Make them feel really good about themselves and glad that they picked up the phone and spoke to you.

One of the things that I think is important to remember is that this might just be a phone call to you. Yeah, but it's actually part of a bigger picture, part of a more exciting picture. This is a touchpoint with a colleague, a customer. It's an opportunity to build a relationship and you are only going to win in your career if you have really strong relationships. So yeah, it's just a phone call to you right now, but it's so much bigger than that. It really is. It's your opportunity to start building really wonderful relationships with your colleagues and customers. So totally be confident. Take on board what I've said today. Practice, get on the phone and don’t be frightened if you hear it ringing and pick it up. Take pride in it and own it.



  1. 5 out of 5 stars Rating

    Halyna Soltys – 09 April 2020