Bad customer service comes with a hefty price tag. In the United States, it costs businesses a whopping $41 billion per year. Here in Canada, a recent study by Accenture discovered that—in just the past year—49 percent of Canadians quietly took their business elsewhere following a negative customer service experience.
For many organizations, the phone is still the first and main point of contact for client communication. In fact, despite the growing popularity of social media, phones still handle the bulk (68 percent) of customer service. This refresher on phone etiquette in the workplace will ensure your clients’ calls are answered with a positive customer experience, every time.
Business phone-etiquette tips
With so much texting and social media communication, talking on the phone can seem like a lost art. These tips will help you get your business phone etiquette on the right track:
- Answer promptly: The majority of callers will hang up after a fifth or sixth ring goes unanswered. The most-patient callers may wait longer, but the impression they have of your business will suffer. Promptly answering the phone shows customers you’re polite, you care—and most importantly—you have time for them. Aim to answer calls on the first or second ring. If you’re on another call, ask the customer if they would hold a moment while you answer the other line. Both parties will likely appreciate your graciousness.
- Use a standard greeting: This may seem like a business phone-etiquette basic, but a standard, scripted greeting ensures a consistent customer experience. For best results, include a salutation—such as “good morning” or “good afternoon”—followed by your company name and the name of the person answering.
- Ask permission: It’s inevitable that sometimes you must put a caller on hold. If you do, be sure to ask permission The same goes for putting someone on speakerphone. If you must do so, let the caller know right away. Also inform them if anyone else is in the room.
- Say it with a smile: When talking face-to-face, your voice accounts for 33 percent of the other person’s first impression. The rest goes to posture, gestures, facial expressions and the like. Over the phone, without all the body language, that number jumps to 84 percent. Speaking with a smile makes you sound “pleasant and customer-centred.” It’s true; you really can’t sound like a grump if you smile while you talk. Smiley-face stress balls, screen cleaners and pens are great reminders of the value of a smile.
- Practice makes perfect: When it comes to making a good impression, online communication buys you time to craft a response. In-person communication provides the luxury of facial expressions and body language. Phone communication offers neither. It may help to practice business phone etiquette through role-playing. Develop customer personas and a list of issues or complaints. Divide your team into customer-and-employee pairs and practice using improv techniques. This type of exercise can enhance conflict resolution, damage control and empathy skills— all difficult areas to excel at over the phone. Reward employees with fun giveaways for participation, such as macaroon-shaped ear buds or colourful multi-ink pens.
- Mobile rules apply: Just because you can take your mobile phone anywhere doesn’t mean you should. Avoid taking calls, texting or checking your phone in front of clients. Keep your phone in your pocket or bag rather than on the conference table during a meeting. Make sure your phone is silenced when meeting with customers. And finally, forgo the obnoxious ring tone and opt instead for something less distracting.
Follow these six business phone-etiquette tips, and share them with your entire staff. You’ll soon be known as the Emily Post of phone etiquette in the workplace!