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Answering a business call properly – the how’s and why’s


Answering the telephone is a daily routine we may take for granted, but are you doing it properly?  Very often you are the first point of contact for your business and first impressions count.  How long should the phone ring?  What should you say when you answer?  Can you put the caller on hold?  These and other questions are answered below.

How long should the phone ring?

Ideally you should answer after 2 to 3 rings.  If you answer immediately the caller may not be quite ready or may not even realise the call has been connected.  If you leave it longer than this the caller may hang up anticipating being put through to an answering machine, or get fed up and just try the next business on his/her list, potentially losing you a customer. If you use call forwarding, don’t forget the phone will often have already rung several times for the caller before it is transferred to your mobile!

What should you say?

Your caller does not want to wait while you launch in to the ‘Company name, department and how may I help you’ spiel.  Just the Company name followed by your name is enough to let them know they are through to the right number and who they are speaking to.  They do not then have to ask ‘is that so and so?’ or ‘am I through to the right department?’  Your voice and tone are very important too, you want to come across as professional, courteous and helpful, not like you have just been disturbed in the middle of something far more pressing, (even if you have).  Your caller wants to feel important so the emphasis must be on their requirements rather than your mood.  Try smiling when you answer the phone as oddly it really helps!

Screening calls

If you are taking calls for somebody else, for example your boss, who is too busy to talk to anyone at the moment, you do not want to annoy the caller by asking who they are, then telling them ‘Mr Johnson’ is not available as they may take it personally.  Instead, say something like “I’m afraid Mr Johnson is unavailable at the moment, may I help you or take a message?”  Offer them a call back from Mr Johnson when he is available, for example ‘I can ask Mr Johnson to call you when he gets back to the office, between 2pm and 3pm this afternoon if you give me your name and number’.

Taking messages

If the person the caller wants to speak to is unavailable then offer to take a message.  Listen carefully, write down the information straight away and repeat it back to confirm you have it right, checking any spelling of names/places etc.  Take the name of the caller and their company, their full telephone number and the content of the message.  Use professional language and avoid saying things like ‘yep’, ‘okay doky’, ‘cheers’ and ‘mate’, unless you are talking to your friends!  Note down the date and time of the call on the message, and if using paper instead of email don’t forget to include your name as message taker.

Placing the caller on hold

You may need to offer this if the person you want to transfer the caller to is on another call.  Always ask the caller if they are happy to be put on hold, as they may prefer to call back later instead (if they do, always try to get their name and company name).  If they are happy then go back to them frequently to check they are happy to continue holding, offering a call back if they have been holding for more than a few minutes.  If you need to transfer the caller to a different number, then be sure to give them the number first in case the call is disconnected in the process.  Above all keep the caller happy and maintain a professional, courteous manner!