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How to answer the phone professionally
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How to answer the phone professionally

Despite the different ways customers can contact you – from email or instant messaging, to social media and chatbots – the telephone still plays a crucial role in customer service.

Especially when a customer seeks an immediate resolution to a problem or wants to talk about sensitive information.

How employees answer the phone sets the tone for your customer service.

Get it right, and you’ll leave customers satisfied that they’ve spoken to a real person and had their problem dealt with seriously.

But get it wrong, and you risk leaving them annoyed and feeling like a different company would better serve them.

Understanding how to answer the phone professionally isn’t something all employees like to do – especially when they’re busy and it’s not part of their main responsibilities.

It’s something you have to get right though, and while phone calls can seem daunting, there are things you can do to answer the phone professionally and get your customer calls off on the right foot.

Here are our quick rules for how to answer the phone professionally for business.

1 – Answer on the third ring

Three rings are the perfect amount of time before answering the phone.

You don’t want to leave customers waiting too long. They’re more likely to hang up than wait or leave a message.

But, you also don’t want to answer too quickly.

Answering too quickly can catch your caller off-guard and leave them flustered – which typically leads to a bad experience.

2 – Be enthusiastic

Have you ever spoken to someone whose tone and lack of enthusiasm drained the life out of you? You can’t tell if they’re bored or annoyed.

While this might be frustrating at home, in a business context, it’s devastating. Customers don’t expect to feel like they’re an inconvenience.

Instead, greet them with some enthusiasm and in a friendly (but still professional) tone.

There is one thing you can do to help with this…

3 – Smile

Smiling when you answer the phone automatically makes you sound more positive and enthusiastic.

Even if the caller can’t see your face, a smile sets your tone to be more friendly, put the customer at ease, and make them more likely to be calm.

This can make calls much easier.

4 – Be specific when greeting customers

When customers call they want to know immediately that they’ve reached the correct number.

So don’t just pick up the phone and say: “Hello”.

Hello is fine for friends and family, but it won’t work in a business setting.

Instead, be specific with your greeting.

Tell the customer the name of the company they’ve called, who they’re speaking to and ask how you can help them.

For example:

Hello, Acme consulting. Steve speaking how can I help.” 

5 – Speak clearly

Talking and listening on the phone isn’t as easy as speaking in person when you can pick up facial queues to interpret what someone is trying to say.

Over the phone, you only have their voice and you’re reliant on a crisp connection (not always guaranteed).

If you’re an international business, the caller might not be fluent in your language, which could also make the conversation difficult.

This is why you need to speak clearly.

Don’t mumble. Speak up confidently and slowly so the caller understands what you’re saying and doesn’t become annoyed asking you to repeat things constantly.

6 – Speak into the handset

Handsfree is a great tool to help you be productive while you’re on the phone, but when dealing with business calls, the caller wants to feel like they have your complete attention.

Putting a caller on speakerphone can leave them feeling like you’re not paying full attention to them and can also leave your voice sounding quiet or like it’s off in the distance – which again makes it hard for customers to understand you.

Instead, speak directly into the handset (or use a hands free headset).

7 – Be helpful

You might not know the answer to a customer enquiry, and while it can be acceptable to admit you don’t know something, it’s not helpful for a customer to just be told “I don’t know” and be expected to accept that (they’ve called to get an answer).

So, if you don’t know the answer to a query, reply with something more positive like “I can find out for you”.

Even if you have to put the caller on hold or take a message, at least they’ll be reassured you’re looking into the issue for them.

8 – Ask before you put someone on hold

Sometimes you might need to put someone on hold if you step away to ask a question or find information to help them.

But you shouldn’t just put someone on hold and walk away.

At best, they might think they’ve been disconnected and hang up and call back (at which point they’ll have to start all over again)

At worst, they might think you’ve hung up on them.

Instead, explain that you’re putting them on hold for a moment and ask if that’s ok (no one will say no if you’re trying to help them)

But be careful when putting someone on hold…

9 – Don’t keep someone on hold for a long time

If you put a customer on hold but find it’s taking longer to find an answer than you thought, don’t just leave them on hold waiting for you to return.

First, you’re going to annoy them if you leave them in limbo with no idea what’s going on.

Second, they could think they’ve been disconnected if you don’t come back for a long-time.

Ideally, you shouldn’t leave someone on hold for too long and if a problem is proving hard to resolve, you should come back onto the call regularly to update the caller about what’s happening.

10 – Take accurate messages and repeat important information

If you can’t help a customer on the first call, it’s OK to take a message – and most people will understand as long as they know someone is looking into their problem.

But taking accurate messages is a key part of knowing how to answer the phone professionally every time.

Find out exactly what the problem is (including what the customer has tried to fix it already so you avoid giving them information that isn’t useful), plus their name and contact information.

Plus, be sure to repeat important information back to the caller so they can confirm you’ve recorded the message accurately (and get them to spell their name and repeat any phone numbers or emails back to them)

11 – Respond as quickly as possible

If you’ve had to take a message from a caller, ensure there’s a workflow to deal with calls.

You should respond to any calls as quickly as possible and ideally within the time agreed by yourself and the caller or whoever takes the message (definitely within 24 hours) and let the customer know how long it’ll be before they can expect to hear something back.

12 – Record professional answering machine messages

If you can’t physically answer the phone, you should record professional answering machine messages as a last resort.

Let the customer know who they’ve called, ask them to leave a detailed message including the time they’ve called, and provide a timeframe for when they can expect a response.

Just keep in mind that customers are less likely to leave a message than they are to try a competitor when looking for a service, so this should be a last resort.

13 – Learn how the phone works

Imagine you’ve been through the process of explaining an issue to a customer service rep, you’ve gone through all the details, repeated the essential information, and you need to be transferred to someone else to help you.

Then in the process of being transferred, you get cut off or sent to the wrong person.

This is common in business because employees are often not trained to use their work phones properly, including basic functions like call transfers.

If you’re going to be transferring callers, ensure you know how call transfers work so you don’t cut callers off or leave them in a loop with no one picking up.

14 – Tell the caller you’re transferring them, tell them who you’re transferring them to, and ask permission

One last rule on call transfers.

Be sure to tell the caller you’re going to transfer them. If the caller suddenly finds themselves talking to someone new, they’re going to get flustered or annoyed that they’ve been passed on for no apparent reason (especially if they now need to repeat information).

We’ve written more about warm transfers and why they’re better for customer service.

If you’re going to transfer a caller, tell them what you’re doing, explain why, tell them who they’ll be talking to, and ask if it’s ok to transfer them.

Here’s one last (vital thing) to consider when it comes to call transfers…

15 – Make sure the other person is available before trying to transfer the call

This one is often overlooked, but if you transfer a caller to someone else, make sure the other person is available.

Imagine how annoyed you’d be as a customer if you were transferred and met with a voicemail asking you to repeat the information you’ve just given or had the call cut off because you can’t get through.

It’s not going to leave things on a positive note.

16 – Thank the caller

Finally, at the end of a call, don’t just hang up and move on.

Be sure to thank the customer for calling (it does make them feel valued)

Also, very importantly, confirm that you’ve answered their query or solved their problem satisfactorily, and ask if there’s anything else you can help them with.

This is the best way to end a call and leave the customer feeling like they’ve been listened to.

What you need to do to ensure professional call answering

Understanding how to answer the phone professionally as a business makes the difference between providing excellent customer service (and reaping the rewards) and leaving customers angry and unsatisfied.

If you expect employees to deal with phone calls, provide adequate training, so they know how to answer the phone properly and use their phone’s functions.

Providing ongoing training won’t just prevent mistakes in call transfers, it can make your staff more confident in dealing with calls and – as a result – make them more confident in providing better services.

If your team doesn’t have the time to answer calls consistently, or you want to add professionalism to your call answering instantly, you could hire a telephone answering service.

Improve your telephone answering and customer service with Face For Business

We’ve integrated our professional telephone answering service into hundreds of businesses.

Our dedicated team of receptionists ensure you never miss a call and that every call is dealt with professionally and consistently.

Working as an extension of your team, we’ll help handle customer enquiries, take accurate messages, or forward urgent calls to the right members of your team to deal with.

And we do all this at a fraction of the cost it would take to hire a full-time or part-time receptionist.

There are lots of advantages to hiring a telephone answering service.

If you want to find out what they are without making the initial investment, sign up for a no-obligation free trial and find out how Face For Business can improve your call answering and customer service.

Sign up for a free trial now

13th October, 2022

Posted by Face For Business

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