Phone Answering Etiquette: Following Your Caller's Cues

Monday, February 13, 2012
If there's one skill every employee should know, it's proper telephone etiquette. Receptionists - and those working for small business answering services especially - speak with a wide range of people day in and day out, and how they respond to callers sets how the business is perceived. One simple way to make a great impression is to mimic their communication style.

Five questions to ask yourself when chatting with someone over the phone that will cue you to the right way to respond:

Do they sound serious? If your caller sounds a bit stern or has a serious issue, it's best to ramp up the professionalism. When you work for a small business answering service, your next call could be for an attorney who focuses her practice on probate, in which case many callers will be more on the somber end. On the other hand, you could answer a call for a less formal plumbing company. Either way, take your cue from each individual caller; if your caller is cracking jokes, chat and have fun with them!

Did they address themselves with a title? "Hi, this is Susan! Is Bob available?" Stick with how your caller addresses him or herself. In this case, your caller will probably be most comfortable with a reply like, "Let me check! May I place you on hold for a moment, Susan?" If they introduce themselves as "Mr. Smith," it's probably because he's most comfortable being addressed with a title.

If your caller offers their first and last name, their first name is still your best bet. They'll feel like you're old friends and they're being taken care of! Plus, it can be difficult to distinguish gender with a voice alone, and calling your male caller "Mrs. Jones" may create some ill will.

The only exception is if you work for a lawyer or a virtual receptionist service for attorneys, when a caller gives you a title that's a profession like "Judge Bruce Stevens," address them formally as "Judge Stevens" as a sign of respect. Same goes for doctors; as the villain in Austin Powers says, "It's Doctor Evil; I didn't spend six years in evil medical school to be called 'mister,' thank you very much."

Are they a fast-talker or slow-talker? Short, rushed sentences indicate your caller is in a hurry; giving long explanations or asking a lot of questions will likely make them frustrated. So, when a caller asks brief, to-the-point questions, keep your replies concise. Those who sound eager to chat or ask a lot of questions themselves will likely enjoy a little friendly banter. When asked a question about yourself, always thank your caller and reciprocate: "I'm doing very well; thank you for asking! How is your day going so far?"

What kind of mood are they in? You can tell by their overall tone of voice - you can just as easily hear a smile over the phone as discontent. If you sense an urgency in your caller's voice, use it as a cue to reassure your caller, and take care of business. "I certainly understand! Let me put you in touch with our support team, and we'll make sure this issue gets resolved right away." If they mention any news - good or bad - make sure to acknowledge it ("Congrats! That's wonderful!" or "I'm sorry to hear that. I'll do everything I can to help!").

So the next time you answer your phone, look to your caller for cues on the best way to respond! Your callers will be happier, and you'll become a better listener in the process!


  • Ruby

    A skill that every receptionist should master is to recognize every caller's emotions (and possibly, age) so that she may respond properly to any inquiry. For example, if a kid calls to talk to his executive father, the receptionist should reply in a light manner like a kindergarten teacher to her pupils.

    Ruby Chelmsford

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