With so many technological ways to connect with business associates, colleagues, and clients, some people have forgotten the finer points of phone etiquette. Having a phone meeting is still an essential part of doing business. Knowing how to comport yourself when someone important is on the other end will help you make a good impression on that person, as well as the people you work with. For professionals such as virtual receptionists, phone etiquette knowledge is essential.
Prepare for the Call
When you have a business phone call scheduled, go into that call prepared. Look up any points you need to present to a client, or write down a list of questions you have for a business associate or new networking contact. After all, this call has a reason behind it, so you want to be able to get to the point shortly after greeting the person. Impress whoever is on the other end with your knowledge and preparedness.
Think About the Call’s Purpose Before You Dial
Sit down with your notes for a few minutes before the call takes place. Refresh your memory, and make a map of the call in your head. You want to convey certain information and ask specific questions, without going off on too many tangents. Don’t forget any special points you need to cover during this call. Going into your call with a clear, focused head and a mental map of the task at hand will keep you from feeling scatter-brained. You’ll also have more success sounding professional if you don’t rush into the call.
Devote Your Time and Attention to the Call
Your client or business contact deserves your full attention on this call. Block off more time than you think you need in your calendar so you aren’t cutting an important call short. Close your computer screen and put your smartphone in a drawer. Have just a pad of paper, a pen, and your notes out during the call. That way you won’t get distracted by memos, games, or emails from other clients.
When you get distracted on the phone, the other person can tell. That’s when you start saying “um,” or “hmmm,” or missing something the other person said. Because you aren’t meeting face-to-face, your tone of voice and your attention conveys everything. You have less to work with, so be careful to sound engaged and direct.
Be Cognizant of Your Speech
Many people talk too quickly, too slowly, too loudly, or too softly on the phone. Some people don’t enunciate, others interrupt, and some don’t listen. Because of all this, being on the phone with another person can become a stressful experience.
If you’ve never practiced talking before, it’s time to start. This might sound strange, but learning to speak at a moderate pace and volume with good enunciation (but not too much) will help you in business meetings, networking events, and phone calls. You want to be clear and easy to understand; for many people, that means both slowing down while talking and enunciating a bit more. Recording yourself is a good way to learn where your speech failings are, so you can start to correct them.
Do Not Eat or Chew Gum
Not eating or chewing gum while on the phone should go without saying, yet people engage in these rude behaviors all the time. The phone has a way of amplifying certain sounds, such as rustling paper and chomping teeth. It’s the height of rudeness to be chewing away in someone’s ear, talking with your mouth full, and more engaged with your lunch or your Big Red than you are with the person.
Build a Relationship
Many people only have business communication via the phone and email, and never meet face-to-face. So it’s okay to take a few minutes of each phone conversation to get to know the person on the other end. During a business lunch or in the halls of an office building, people naturally deviate into personal topics, such as kids, local sports, or recent movie releases. A minute or two of small talk during your business calls will soon paint a more thorough picture of the person on the other end, and that person will have a better image of you, too!
If You Can’t Answer a Question, Find a Solution
You’ve prepared for this phone call and have the correct information on hand. However, a client or business associate might ask you a question you can’t answer. When this happens, you have two options. If someone in your office already knows the answer and doesn’t look busy, you can quickly hand the phone off so that person can answer the question. For new clients or contacts, however, that might feel a little awkward, so it may be better for you to get and convey the information yourself.
Your second option is to tell them that you will look the answer up and get it to them by a certain time or day. Don’t just tell them you don’t know. Instead, say “I’ll look that up and have an answer for you tomorrow morning!” If the person on the other end is a client, they’re paying your company for services. Make sure they know the request isn’t an inconvenience. If it’s a business associate, you want to convey an informed and proactive manner.
Follow up With Email
A common business practice after a phone call is to craft an email. Thank the other person again for their time on the call, and include a short summary of the things you spoke about. If they’re to contact you again with additional information, saying something like “I look forward to hearing from you about X,” is appropriate. If you’re looking up information for them, telling them again that you’ll find the answer for them by a certain time is also appropriate.
The email also creates a record of your conversation, including the topics that you covered and the information you need to discuss in the future.
With proper phone etiquette in your arsenal of business tools, you’ll be ready for any conference call or client chat that comes your way. Practice even when you’re on the phone with family and friends for the best results.