Phone Etiquette for Answering Your Business Calls

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Last year, I needed to get information from several Nigerian universities. For most of the institutions I called, I got off the phone without getting much help. For some of the institutions, the phone numbers listed on their websites were no longer in use. When the phones worked, people on the other end of the phone routinely answered the calls like they would their personal phones. For an institution located in Abuja, the phone was picked up by someone who told me he was out of town and was therefore unable to give me any useful information. Some of the people who answered the phones sounded distracted and others were downright impolite.

The institutions I had the above experience with were establishments I expected a degree of professionalism from, yet they were lacking. I figure then that the smaller businesses probably aren’t better. So here are some ideas on how to improve your business’s phone etiquette. You can use them for your mom and pop shop or suggest them to the big organization where you are employed.

1. Have a Customer Service Staff
While it may be impractical for a small business to have an employee dedicated to answering the phones, it is important for an organization that serves a reasonable number of people and deals with high call volumes to have at least one person whose job is to answer the phone calls and take inquiries from customers and potential clients. The upside is that the phones are more likely to be answered professionally and with less distractions. Moreover, from answering the same set of questions over and over again , a customer service staff can field questions by potential customers more effectively and this gives the impression that your organization knows its onions.

2. Introduce Yourself
Even if you cannot afford dedicating an employee to customer service, knowing the basics of answering business calls and instructing every member of your staff to do same will help improve your company’s image with customers and potential customers. The first thing you should say when answering business call is your business name. Saying a ‘hello’ and leaving it to the caller to inquire if she is speaking with so-and-so company is discourteous. For example, you can answer the phone by saying: ‘Dimples and Giggles. Good morning. How may I help you today?’ Using this opener saves time that would have been used establishing identity of the business and helps channel the discussion to the purpose of the call.

3. Identify and Solve the Caller’s Problem
It is frustrating when you get a person on the other end of the phone whose response to an inquiry gives you the impression that in relation to the company, they are a fish out of water. While some of the institutions I called especially the Nigerian Law School had people who were knowledgeable about the questions I asked, some others didn’t offer any information and insisted I must come down to the school to get any meaningful information. One institution told me that they wouldn’t be able to give me any information for something as basic as how much fees was required to make a certain application.

Granted that a new employee, for example, may struggle with answering every question a caller may have, it is unprofessional to have someone who does not know answers to the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ answer the phones. In the very least, the information should be within the reach of the person answering the phones, like on the computer or posted on the wall, so they can easily refer to them to get information needed to answer questions. If a caller calls the wrong department, for a example the Registrar’s office instead of the Exams and Records for transcript-related inquires, they should either be transferred to or given a number to call the appropriate department.

When ‘My Oga at the Top Scandal Broke’ in Nigeria, people weren’t necessarily peeved at the interviewee’s ignorance as much as they were by his unpreparedness. There had been a scam where a fraudulent website posed as the Civil Defence Corps and extorted money from people who thought they were making job applications to the Civil Defence. Civil Defence granted the interview to get the word out about the scam. Yet, when the interviewee was asked the legitimate website address for the Civil Defence, he floundered for sometime and was unable to come up with the right answer. His unpreparedness threw the Defence Corp in a bad light.

4. Speak Clearly and Politely:
Fielding calls from people from diverse background can be a bit challenging. It may involve dealing with people with accents who may be unable to communicate effectively. Listening carefully, paraphrasing the caller’s questions to ensure you understand their questions, and speaking deliberately, are some ways to ensure an effective communication. While anybody can be trained to be a customer service representative, people with a background in mass communication may fare better as their education already prepared them for it.

There is also need for you to be calm and not fret when answering business calls. I learned that taking a deep breath and smiling–even though the caller cannot see you–helps you realx and put you in the right mood. Because you will occasionally get the difficult caller who may not know how to channel their grievance, and who in the heat of the moment will forget that you do not make the company’s policy (if you work for an organisation), you must always remember to maintain your cool and speak as professionally as you can. One way to not respond in like manner to a rude customer is to imagine that your boss is listening from the extension.

5. Take important notes
Answering a business call is of no use if it is not followed through. So once you pick up the call, get the caller’s name and phone number. They may be prospects who will need to be called back or they could be calling for someone who may need to return their call. Particulars like name, address, purpose of call etc should be taken down accurately. If the person they are calling for isn’t available, politely ask if the caller will like you to take a message.

Finally, before you end the call, ask the caller if they need help with any other thing and thank them for calling your organization.

You don’t have to work in a big bank or telecommunication company to have good customer service unit. With the five easy steps above, you can set your organization apart from the crowd.

So what has been your experience with Nigeria companies regarding phone etiquette? If your company doesn’t already implement the ideas above, will you consider suggesting it to them? It is a subtle way of communicating to your employer that you care about your company not just your pay check. By doing so, you add value to your company and make yourself indispensable to them.

P.S: Dimples and Giggles is a small business in Lagos that specializes in kids wares. Want to patronize them? email me and I will send you their contact. If you hate haggling, you will like them because they give you the lowest price available upfront without turning you into the Hesitant Haggler.

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