Handling business calls the right way

I am constantly amazed at how poorly many company switchboards handle incoming telephone calls. How your phone is answered and how that call is handled says so much about your business.

Just today whilst phoning clients and prospective clients I have had company names barked at me, been put on hold without being asked, been put straight through to voicemail, and my personal pet hate, being put through without a word from the operator.

Is it so hard to say something like “I’ll just put you through”, or “Mr So-and-so is on the phone at the moment, can anyone else help, or can I take a message and ask them to call you back?”

Getting it right is so easy

This is such a simple thing to get right. And getting it right is a matter of a small amount of training and a fair amount of attitude.

Remember, that the person on the phone has taken the time to call you, over your competition. Treat that call like the magic thing it is. We all work very hard to get business, and when it comes so easily, please respect it for what it is.

Handling incoming calls is so easy to get right. Here are my top 10 tips for answering and handling business calls properly:

Top 10 Tips for answering and handling business calls

1. Answer the phone quickly

There is nothing worse that a phone that rings for ages before being answered. It is nothing short of unprofessional. A business line should really be answered on the 3rd ring.

Any less is too quickly, anything more is too much.

 2. Be warm and welcoming

A simple smile on your face when speaking will help enormously. I know it sounds corny, but it really does work.

3. Introduce yourself and your business

Never just bark the company name as you answer. I hear “XYZ Co” as a greeting all the time. Its off-putting, unwelcoming, and almost aggressive.

Say something like “Good morning, XYZ Company, Jonathan speaking. How many help you?”

For a personal mobile phone, “Hello, this is Jonathan” is fine.

This will not only confirm that the caller has phoned the right place, but sets the tone for a professional conversation.

4. Speak clearly

Nothing is more off putting to a caller than a fast talking person who sounds like that don’t care. Speak slowly and clearly, in a moderate tone, so that you can be easily understood.

The caller should never have to ask you to repeat what you said.

5. Do not use slang or buzz words

I know that I really shouldn’t have to say this, but you must use professional language at all times. Slang, jargon and words like ‘u-huh’ or ‘cheers’ are a definite no-no, and never ever ‘mate’, ‘yep’ or ‘I don’t know’.

If you genuinely don’t have the answer, simply say ‘let me find that out for you and come back to you as quickly as I can’. This shows interest and an eagerness to help.

6. Ask before you put people on hold

Be sure to ask the caller if its alright to put them on hold before you do so.

“That line is busy, would you like to hold or can I take a message and ask them to call you back?”

Then, update the caller every 30 seconds or so and offer them a choice “I’m sorry that line is still engaged, can I take a message and ask them to call you back?” is great.

7. Don’t just put calls through 

Just putting a call through without saying what you are about to do really comes across as abrupt, and breaks any rapport built immediately.

A simple “I’ll just put you through’, or ‘one moment and I’ll connect you’ is perfect.

8. Don’t use hand-free to answer calls

It sounds like you are not fully engaged and disinterested, even if you are.

9. Take messages properly

If you are taking a message, be sure to check all the details, and confirm any spellings that you are unsure of. Jonathan will not be happy when he receives an email back with his name spelt ‘Johnathan’.

I am often called Nathan on the phone, even after I say my name is James Nathan. You would think that at my age I’d be used to it, but it still gets my back up. It feels sloppy and shows a lack of care.

Furthermore, offering the caller voicemail over taking a message, is just not good enough. It is poor from a service level perspective, but equally important from a commercial perspective you may have lost that business, especially if the message left is incomplete, doesn’t include a return number, or the caller hangs up and calls a competitor!

Before taking a message, find out if anyone else can help. 9 out of 10 times, an initial enquiry can be dealt with just as well by a colleague.

10. Only use answering phones if you absolutely have to

Answering phones are so impersonal and I am sure that most first time callers who hit voicemail simply hang up. If you must use one, please make sure that you call back as soon as possible.

Remember also, that people who leave messages out of hours are just as important as those who call during the business day. If you get a lot of call out of business hours, or over the weekend it may be sensible to invest in using a professional answering service. Many are very cost effective, and extremely professional.

Make the most of those calls

Making simple changes to your businesses telephone handling really can make an enormous difference so quickly. Getting new clients and to keeping those we already have takes a huge amount of effort. When they call, treat them with the service and respect they deserve.

Contact me

For more on developing yourself, your staff and improving the profitability of your business, please do get in touch. You can email me at james@jamesnathan.com, use the contact page on my website www.jamesnathan.com or call me on 07736 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathan, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.

I look forward to speaking soon.

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