Answering the Phone at Work – Remain Courteous

“Why are phone skills so important? Because they put money in your pocket!” –

Irrespective of the job title and level in the hierarchy, each person at the office spends a good deal of time speaking over the phone – we will focus only on the calls received from customers. Answering the phone at work is a different ball game and requires being courteous and patient especially if you are in a job that will have you attending to customer calls – like customer service. Customers are the reason a company is in business, so when answering the phone at work ensure that the customer can perceive undivided attention. This would mean that the call is answered promptly, smart responses are provided and overall the customer feels important and valued. From experience you would know that if and when you call a company the first impression you form of the company is the manner in which the call is answered. Answering the phone at work should always be done with professionalism, courteousness and a smile. The smile can actually be ‘seen’ as it will reflect in your tone and voice.

In the realm of customer service, many calls from customers are issues or complaints which would mean that they are already upset with the company. When answering the phone it is not possible to know the mind-set of the customer and hence it is always best to remain courteous, polite and attentive. An upset customer can be pacified simply by the tone and words used by the customer service person and then would be more willing to listen to the apology and solutions provided by the representative. As the first point of contact for the company it is imperative that extreme care is exercised when answering the phone since this first interaction could be the difference between the customer doing business with the company or not. Consistent training and coaching is required of the customer service staff and all the employees in the art of answering the phone, since it is a very important part of any business being the first interaction and impression that the customer has of the company as a whole.

We know that first impressions are often the one’s that last – answering the phone at work professionally or shoddily will decide what the customer believes long term. Being able to delight the customer at this stage will ensure that they will call back with a possible business proposal since they would have got a reason to trust the company and be confident that they would be treated well. If your job is primarily answering the phone, there would be no excuse to be unprepared for a customer call. At all times the receiver of the call must remember to -speak clearly, politely and modulate the voice. Putting the customer / caller on hold for long, speaking with someone else while on the call, sounding irritated or rude or any other discourteous behaviour is bound to drive the customer away and they will be sure to speak about this rudeness to others. Not only will you be driving away their business but other prospective ones as well.

It is surprising how many people actually lack telephone etiquette but this incompetence has the potential to ruin a company’s reputation and business. Customers no longer accept less than the best and treating them shoddily even while answering the phone will ensure that they go over to your competitors. Telephone etiquette is not only essential for customer service staff but for each employee – as a customer can call anyone in the organization and if a company is to be known as customer focused, then each interaction must be memorable and pleasant. Customers only call back when they believe that the company functions with high values and will do their best to provide the highest quality of service and products. Answering the phone may seem insignificant in the large realm of business, but that is not true. Most interactions still happen over the phone and without the expected promptness, efficiency and courteousness via this medium you could be spelling doom for the company. Answering the phone in the ‘right’ manner is incentive enough for customers to call back and it is part of the overall work ethics and customer service standards. We have discussed in length that customers expect to be treated well and made to feel important if they are to continue their patronage and also refer your company to others.

Can you recall how you felt as a customer when you called a company and your call was answered by an irritated and sullen voice? Did you continue your patronage with the company or at least ensure that you complained about this interaction? If this call was your first interaction with the company, it would have left a lasting and negative impression and a resolve never to return. Answering the phone in a courteous manner each time increases the opportunities for companies to build positive and strong connections with their customers. As companies grow, their customer base grows too. With a larger number of customers, there is also an increase in phone calls which in turn puts more pressure on the customer service representatives, responsible for answering the phone. It is very possible that the incessant ringing, the complaints and the monotony of the job can unnerve these customer care employees and the first thing to suffer would be the way they answer the customer calls. The harsh reality is, each customer can only view their call and are not expected to view it as part of a larger whole. Being discourteous or letting the irritation show in the manner of answering the phone will be cause for upset and your company could end up losing the customer and others too.

It is a company’s responsibility to ensure that the tough job of customer service representatives is treated so. This set of employees must receive continuous training, coaching, feedback and most importantly recognition when they do their job well. There is a right way of answering the phone and it is vital that each person in the organization understands it and appreciates its value. There can be no exceptions to this rule since customers are not expected to ‘understand’ that a company they were investing their time and money with has more important issues to deal with.

There are certain standards and ‘right’ ways by which answering the phone will always be done in the manner expected by customers. When answering the phone, especially at the customer service desk, it is important to ensure that the call is answered in not more than 3 rings and the person answering the phone greets the caller pleasantly. In most companies it is mandatory to announce one’s name and department when answering the phone – this is amongst the best practices, since the customer / caller is able to instantly know where their call has landed and can immediately state their problem / query. As mentioned earlier, it is easily perceptible to the customer if their call is being given complete attention or whether the agent is distracted by something else. When answering the phone remember that multi-tasking is a complete no-no – it’s hard to concentrate on the words and tone of voice of the customer if the receiver is busy with another set of tasks simultaneously. Among the top irritants for customers who call companies, having to repeat what they said scores high. It wastes the customer’s time and also gives them the impression that the person on the receiving end is either disinterested / insolent / dumb or all. This is then the impression that the customer will carry for the entire company.  Recalling an incident where a customer called and the call went unanswered. The same thing happened a second time – the customer lashed out with the comment “no one ever answers calls in this company. Everyone is too busy with other things”. While this comment may seem unjustified given its generality, the fact is this would happen.

Answering the phone at work with the correct etiquette and respectfulness is required each time. There can never be an instance when a company representative, from any department, is rude and behaves shoddily with a customer – the consequences will be disastrous. Wouldn’t you expect respect and courtesy each time someone from a company is answering the phone?

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