Professional Telephone Skills

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By Bernell K. Lovett


The way you handle the telephone reflects on you and your company, firm, or department. These guidelines will help you project individual professionalism in your job and an overall image of professionalism for your company. The most successful approach to telephone usage is to place importance on the caller, not on ourselves. Always be courteous and helpful so the caller will feel good about calling.

You and your voice can make the difference.

Answering Your Own Telephone
State your first and last name in a friendly tone to answer your own telephone: "Stephanie Smith" Do away with wordy expressions: Avoid: "This is Stephanie Smith" "Stephanie Smith speaking" Adding this is or speaking takes more time and tells the caller no more than simply stating your first and last name. Identifying yourself properly saves time and tells the caller you are a responsible person ready to help. The key to the success of this lies in the tone of your voice. Your voice is your personality. Make sure it has a welcome, warm tone.

Answering Someone Else's Telephone
Identify the person for whom you are answering and identify yourself: "Ms. Saunders' office, John Miller"

Always give a title to the person for whom you are answering: "Ms. Saunders' office, John Miller"
Not "Laurie Saunders' office, John Miller"

And after giving the person for whom you are answering a title, use the word "office": "Ms. Saunders' office, John Miller" Not "Laurie's desk" Or "Laurie's line"

Never give yourself a title: Avoid "Ms. Saunders' office, Mr. Miller"

Answer your co-worker's telephone the same way you'd answer your supervisor's telephone.

Answering a Departmental Telephone
Answer with the department name and your name: "Bookkeeping, Leslie Henson"

Always identify yourself: Not simply "Bookkeeping"

Again, avoid wordiness: Avoid "This is Bookkeeping, Leslie Henson speaking"

Also: Identify your department when you answer your own phone if you find yourself frequently answering the same question, "Is this Bookkeeping?" or "Is this Customer Relations?"

Placing Calls
Identify yourself when you place a call. It is courteous and saves time. If you are calling internally, you may say, "This is Debbie." If you have a phone system that shows the name and number calling, the caller does not need to identify internally.

Screening Calls
To ask "May I ask who is calling" is the most awkward way to screen a telephone call. Remember, the most successful approach is to place the importance on the caller.

But sometimes calls must be screened. The person for whom you are answering does not always have time to talk to every caller, especially if the caller could be helped by you or someone else. Our objective is to successfully screen calls without putting down the caller. So when you screen calls, never ask who is calling before you tell the caller whether or not the person being called is available. The key word is available. If the person being called is in the office, but does not have time to talk, he/she is not available. If the person cannot be interrupted, he/she is not available.

And if there are certain callers he/she does not want to talk to, the person is not available to those callers.

Ask the caller for name and telephone number only after you have said whether the person being called is not available.

Example:
Receiver: "Mr. Romero's office, Alvie Marshall."
Caller: "Hello, may I speak to Mr. Romero please?" (You have no idea who is calling.)
Receiver: I'm sorry, Mr. Romero is not available. May I help you?"
Caller: "No, you can't. I have to speak to Mr. Romero."
Receiver: "I'll be glad to ask him to return your call if you will leave your name and number."


Handling the call in this manner saves Mr. Romero's time without making the caller feel unimportant.

But what if the caller is an important person who simply fails to identify himself?

Receiver: "I'm sorry, Mr. Romero is not available. May I help you?"
Caller: "No, I have to talk to Oscar, This is Felix Sanchez; tell him I called and ask him to call me back."
(You know Mr. Romero would want to talk to Mr. Sanchez.)
Receiver: "Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Romero has asked me to interrupt him if you call. I'll get him for you."


There are some people you want to talk with no matter what. It is a good idea to give a list to whoever answers your phone.

By telling a caller "I have been asked to interrupt him if you call," or "I know Mr. Romero would want to talk to you," you are placing even more importance on the caller. By asking the caller for his/her name after saying whether or not the person is available, you avoid making the caller feel unimportant; by putting a call through after you have told the caller the person is not available, you make the caller feel even more important.

Placing the Caller on Hold
Always ask the caller if he/she would like to hold. Avoid the abrupt phrase "hold please." Let the caller know how long it will take and ask whether he/she prefers to hold or be called back.

Update the caller periodically (possibly every 30 seconds). Be as specific as you can be.

Example: "Ms. O'Brien is out at the moment, but she should be back soon. Would you like to hold or may I ask her to return your call?"
Or
"Ms. O'Brien is on another line; would you like to hold?"

If the caller agrees to hold, remember to return to the line and ask him/her if he/she would like to continue to hold.

Transferring Calls
The same courtesy applies to transferring a caller as does to placing a caller on hold. Ask the caller if he/she would like to be transferred.

If the caller wants to be transferred, give him/her the number to which the call is being transferred in case the call is disconnected or in case he/she would like to dial the number later.

Whenever possible, stay on the line to make sure the connection is completed.

And in the case of a frustrated caller who has been transferred all over the company and you too need to transfer him/her, do this only when you are sure the person to whom you are transferring the call can help. Otherwise, take the caller's name and number and ask the appropriate person to return the call.

Taking Messages
A complete message includes the following:

  • Name of the caller and his/her company
  • Date and time of the call
  • Complete telephone number-even if the person being called already has the number
  • Any other information the caller gives you


Repeat the message to the caller to make sure you have taken the message correctly and to give him/her the opportunity to check what has been told you.

If someone is covering your telephone for you, be sure to pick up your messages. Do not expect the person covering your phone to bring them to you. If everyone is on voice mail, this is unnecessary; however, some company executives still prefer live coverage.

Using Good Manners
Be pleasant on the telephone. Your treatment of the caller may determine his/her impression of your department or company. Be professional. Offer to help the caller, but not when you answer the call. End calls with a pleasant "goodbye" or "thank you," not with a "bye-bye" or an "okie-dokie." And let the caller hang up first.

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Bernell K. Lovett is a member of Legal Secretaries International Inc. She is the owner of Lovett & Associates, Business Training Specialists, in Spring, Texas, a northern suburb of Houston. For information on training, call (281) 376-5917. Ms. Lovett can be reached by e-mail at bernellk@juno.com.

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