Professional Phone Practices
A phone is a very useful tool for communication but it’s also a very powerful tool in terms of conveying your professional image. How you use it can impact either positively or negatively on the impression you create with people, especially when it comes to creating those all important first impressions.
To ensure you’re conveying the right type of image with your phone practices, take a few moments now to do a quick audit. Use the below as a guide to review some of the key areas (even if they seem fairly straightforward) and if you have staff reporting to you consider doing this exercise with them too.
How easy are you to reach?
As you’re probably already aware, being easy to contact will ensure you’re able to deal quickly with enquiries, take advantage of new opportunities and present an image of efficiency. If you’re able to answer most calls quickly then you also won’t need to spend time chasing people to return calls (which will save you valuable time). A small item which can prevent you picking up most calls is having a phone setup that switches too quickly to messagebank. If this is an issue investigate how to extend the ring time on your phone/s.
Are you ready for the call?
Even when you’re available to take a call you may not be ready to answer it. For example, when you’re in a very public place and need to have a confidential discussion with the caller, when you need to deal with something else first or have certain information in front of you to refer to. In which case answer it, explain the reason why you can’t talk now and confirm when to call them back later. If you’re unable to take any calls then it’s a good idea to switch it to messagebank so that you don’t get interrupted or distracted (personally I find the easiest way to do this quickly is to switch it to airplane mode). When it goes through to messagebank straight away callers will understand immediately that you’re unavailable. In contrast when it rings out to messagebank it can sometimes create the impression that you’re ignoring their call (especially if they have been trying to get hold of you previously without success).
How do you answer your phone?
A good answering message is friendly and confirms whose phone it is so that callers know they have reached the right person (or business). If you’re aware who the caller is (from the caller id) and have spoken to them previously then answering with their name instead (i.e.: Good morning Tina, how are you?) is a more personal response (especially as they already know who they’re calling).
Are you having technical difficulties?
Calls which drop in and out of range, have interference on the line or a lot of background noise (making it hard to hear clearly) can impact negatively on the experience of the caller. Switch lines, move location or apologise for the inconvenience and confirm when to call back later when things improve.
Is your message clear?
For those times when you’re unavailable a good phone message will include why you’re not available, roughly when you will get back to them (e.g.: I’m currently in a meeting but I will get back to you ASAP) and what information you need to return the call (i.e.: best phone number and/or best time to return their call). You may also like to take this a step further and be more specific with a timeframe (e.g.: be assured I will return your call in the next two hours). However if you do make this promise make sure you can deliver on it otherwise it will create a negative impression of your reliability and trustworthiness. For businesses with support staff there may be an option to provide an alternative number to contact in your absence (if the caller wishes to schedule an appointment or speak to someone in person). And lastly if you’re likely to receive calls outside of normal working hours consider adding your contact hours to your message (i.e.: please note our office hours are…) so that you set the right expectations with the caller about your availability and when you are likely to return their call.
Is your message welcoming?
In addition to being clear your phone message should also create the right impression about how easy and friendly you are to deal with. As your message is a valuable promotional tool put some thought into what you say and the tone of your voice. And be careful of using name only, standard greetings, voice to text message services or extremely short recording time for messages which can convey a less welcoming impression with callers.
How quickly do you return calls?
When you check your messages and start returning calls it makes good business sense to organise the callbacks by priority. However, even low priority calls should still receive a quick as possible turnaround. When people call it’s generally more urgent than when they email or text and they will expect you to respond accordingly. How quickly you return calls will influence their perceptions about how much you value the relationship (even if the item they are calling about doesn’t seem urgent or important to you). It’s always good phone practice to return every call in a timely manner as it conveys a professional, efficient image of you and the business you represent. If you do get delayed returning a call (and understandably this does sometimes happen) then an apology (e.g.: sorry I’ve taken a little while to get back to you) will help address any concerns your caller may be feeling over the delay.
Are you checking everything is working?
Even with a fantastic message and phone protocols in place if your message service isn’t switching on or diverting properly then it’s going to create the wrong impression. Periodically check your system to ensure everything is working, especially when you go away on leave or on a business trip. And don’t forget to change your message when you come back too. It’s an easy thing to miss (when you’re busy catching up on everything) but it doesn’t look good if you still have the same message days after you’ve returned.
How are support staff/colleagues handling your calls?
If you have staff or colleagues who share the responsibility of answering your calls then there should be set processes for how this is done to ensure a consistent professional image. In larger businesses this is often listed in the operations manual and/or staff job descriptions. It should include items such as how many rings before the phone is picked up, what the messagebank should include, turnaround times on returning calls, what happens when staff are on leave and how messages should be delivered to others (e.g.: should it be written, text or email and what information should be collected from the caller). It should also cover how your phone is to be answered in your absence so that it’s clear to callers why they have reached someone other than yourself and avoids any possible confusion (e.g.: Maria Ramsay’s phone, this is Dean or just keep it general as a standard business greeting). For longer absences an email to existing clients and colleagues can confirm who is managing your role in your absence and this information should also be included in your phone message. In addition, staff or colleagues managing calls for others should be kept informed so they can set the right expectations with callers (e.g.: when they are likely to receive a call back or action on the item they have called about).
Depending on the phone technology you use and the business you work in there are likely other items that could be set up or improved to ensure a consistent professional image is created at every phone contact point. Consider carefully what it’s like to be a caller on the other end of your phone/s and pay careful attention to client feedback which may highlight any areas in need of improvement. Everything we do in business tells a story and as your phone is often one of the first ways people contact you make sure it creates a lasting, positive impression!
Photo credit: iStock.com/zozzzzo