Answering the phone is often the first interaction you or your staff will have with a potential new customer, so it’s critical that you make a good impression with your first “hello.”


“If that initial experience doesn’t get kicked off correctly, it can be hard to recover,” says Kate Zabriskie, founder and CEO of Business Training Works, Inc., a customer service consulting firm in Maryland.


Executed properly, though, that call can be the first step in building a profitable, long-term relationship. To make that happen, everyone fielding incoming calls for your business needs to understand these basics of good phone etiquette:


Be consistent


Zabriskie cautions against using a scripted greeting to answer the phone because, over time, it can end up sounding robotic to callers. But you do need to set a consistent tone for everyone answering the phone that reflects the brand you’re trying to convey. For example, a marketing agency might use a greeting that sounds upbeat and cheery, while an accounting firm may want a more serious, professional tone.




The expression on your face comes through loud and clear on the other end of the line, so before you pick up the receiver, sit up straight and paint on a big smile—even if you’re the only one in the office and the phone is ringing off the hook. “If you’re stressed and don’t have a receptionist, it’s easy to look at the phone as an interruption,” Zabriskie says. “If you don’t mentally reset yourself before answering, the caller will hear that in your voice.”


Make it personal


Introduce yourself at the beginning of a call, and use the caller’s name throughout, says Jonathan Bass, marketing manager for RevenueWell, an Illinois-based company that provides a marketing and communications platform for dentist offices. “This builds immediate rapport and carries it through the call,” he says. “Then use ‘tell-me’ statements to encourage a meaningful conversation, such as, ‘Tell me how I can help you today.’”


Leverage technology


Most phone systems provide caller ID with the name and the number of the person calling, so use that information to personalize your greeting. Say you’re on the East Coast, and it’s early afternoon. If a call is coming in from Los Angeles, say “Good morning.” If the caller is a regular customer, greet them with a personal aside. If you use a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, anyone answering the phone can quickly access the caller’s profile and get up to speed immediately on his or her customer history.


For larger businesses with multiple departments, an auto-attendant gets callers through to the correct person more quickly, Zabriskie says. “But make sure you have a quick escape hatch for callers who would prefer to speak with a live person,” she adds.


The business phone service feature call hunting, or line hunting, ensures that callers never get a busy signal. Different from simply forwarding callers, this feature quickly and unnoticeably routes them through several numbers based on a preset priority list, until the call is answered by someone or picked up by voicemail. That way, if you’re traveling or it’s after business hours, your customers can still find you.


Use voicemail effectively


If it’s after hours or no one is available to pick up the phone, don’t worry about a call going to voicemail. In your outgoing message, ask callers to speak slowly and clearly, and remind them to leave a phone number. Let them know when they can expect a return call (such as in the morning or within 24 hours), and then call them back within that time frame.


Still need some extra inspiration for how to manage incoming calls? Zabriskie recommends calling up other businesses and paying attention to how they answer, and how you respond as a caller. “Figure out what you like about how they answer calls and what’s really off-putting,” adds Zabriskie. “Then adjust your phone answering practices accordingly.”

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