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Phone booboos that deserve the firing squad.
by Roxanne Emmerich, CMC, CSP

There are some things in life you never forget. When my high school bookkeeping teacher said, "If you ever write a number between 20 and 100 without hyphenating it, people will think you're ignorant." I believed him. And, I never forgot.

People who are unaware of the basics of phone etiquette are perceived as having that same ignorance. I'm not sure which is worse. The things we do that we shouldn't do or the things we don't that we should. Let's list both.

  • Answer the phone by the third ring.
  • Use your name.
  • Say, "How may I help you?" instead of "Can I help you?" The fact that they called means they want some sort of help.
  • Transfer the call only once. Intercom the person you are transferring the call to to make sure they are the right person before transferring the call.
  • Repeat your phone number at least once when leaving a voice mail message so the person retrieving the message doesn't have to back up the message to get the number.
  • Ask permission before putting someone on hold, allowing him or her the opportunity of having a choice.
  • Exude confidence and competence.
Should nots (things that should never be said and how the customer perceives them)
  • "He went home early." "I guess he doesn't care about my business then." Instead simply mention that he is unavailable and ask how you can help.
  • "Our data entry department always screws things up." "Oh, incompetence is the norm?"
  • "He's dealing with an angry customer right now." "Now he has two."
  • "She's busy. You'll have to call back." "Silly you. I'm the customer and customers don't ever HAVE to do anything. That's why God invented competition." Ask how you can help or ask when would be a good time for her to get back.
  • "Mrs. Smith is still at lunch." "Sounds like a martini lunch." Simply say she's unavailable and offer to help.
  • "I'm sorry, that's just our policy." "Do I care about your policy? I'm the customer." Customers hate nothing more than hearing about your policies. Tell them instead how the policy will benefit them-but never say the word policy. For example, instead of "Sir, you can't smoke here. It's our policy", say "For the health of the customers, we allow smoking outside the building."
  • "You always..." "Them's fighting words. Every always or never has an exception."
  • "He should be there on Tuesday." "Will he or won't he?" Don't use wimpy words like should or try.
  • "Customer service has a lot of problems lately". "That's reassuring. I guess I can expect more mistakes IF I ever do business with you again."
  • "Why don't you call her back later." "Why, because I'm the customer. If you want the business, you call back."
  • "I don't know where she is." "Lose your employees often? I imagine you could lose my order then too." Simply state she's not available now and ask to take a message or ask if someone else can help.
Telephones are an every day necessity and the image you project on the phone will be how your customers form judgements of you. Don't let them think you're ignorant. And for heaven's sake-hyphenate!

Roxanne Emmerich is the author of Profit-Growth Banking: How to Master 7 Breakthrough Strategies of Top-Performing Banks. She is renowned for her work with helping many of the top-performing banks in the country stay miles ahead of their competitors. Roxanne Emmerich is one of the most applauded business women in the United States. She is listed by Sales and Marketing Management magazine as one of the 12 most requested speakers in the nation for her unparalleled ability to create immediate, profound, and sustainable transformations for her clients.

Copyright Roxanne Emmerich. All Rights Reserved.

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