Best Practices for Telephone Etiquette
Best Practices for Telephone Etiquette can be part of any customer service or patient engagement initiative. Have you ever noticed how much attention (and money) a business or practice spends on its lobby or greeting area? There may be a nice warm reception area complete with artwork, a candy dish and perhaps even a TV screen. It’s usually well furnished and very clean. Typically there will be somebody there to welcome you. The lobby and entrance area is truly very important in that it is an entry portal or ‘touch point’ for clients and partners. But certainly, there are other ‘touch points’ to a company. These ‘touch points’ may include outside sales representatives, websites or mailing campaigns. But of course, the possibility still remains that your telecommunications system is a major ‘point of entry’ or ‘touch point’ to your company.
Your telephone system:
Years ago, the terminology for what was once known as the common ‘call center’ became known as the ‘contact center’. That’s because the number of ‘touch points’ increased from a simple voice call, to a potential fax, email or other electronic file. Certainly there are folks that enjoy communicating via electronic means, but the good ole telephone call continues to rank high as the most effective means of building relationship, rapport and trust between consumers and providers.
Consider these tips:
1) Your main phone number is the front door to your business: Put yourself in the shoes of your callers. Call your own company and role play yourself as a new potential client. Try to grasp the ‘caller experience’ and be able to qualify your initial first impression.
- Was the main phone number answered by a warm human or a cumbersome automated attendant? Or perhaps, it was answered by a very well designed automated attendant. The most effective automated attendants offer only 3-5 menu choices initially, with the most commonly desired destination being listed first.
- Brevity and voice audio quality are critical. Whether you are using a human or automated attendant to answer the calls, avoid lengthy greetings that include time consuming tag lines or long courtesy statements. Be sure your automated attendant greeting is professional and of high audio quality. If a human is answering the telephone, does the greeting sound rushed? Is the greeting succinct and understandable? Can the caller clearly hear the name of the company?
2) Call Screening techniques: This sure can be a touchy subject and be a matter of stylistic preference. But once again, we would encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of the caller. For purposes of this conversation, we’ll define ‘screening the call’ as asking the caller to share their name (either with the human or automation) in an effort to alert the called party.
- Consider NOT screening the call. While the called party would appreciate the knowledge of who is calling, and preparing properly for the call, consider that Caller ID can do some of that work for you. There is absolutely a downside of ‘screening’ that should be considered. If an important caller has been ‘screened’, but the called party can’t or won’t take the call, the caller can only be left with the impression that their call wasn’t deemed as important. This is a very hard habit to break if ‘screening’ has been in place for years. Consider a weeklong trial and determine if it works in your scenario. Your callers will appreciate it. Sure, an undesired call or two will ‘sneak through’, but that is a minor consequence to the potential that a viable and perhaps sensitive client may feel snubbed.
- If your phone system does not allow for an easy way to alert ‘off-hook’ employees of ‘holding calls’, consider using your internal IM service as a way to make your associates aware that callers are holding. If Caller ID / NAME is displayed….make your associates aware of the possible caller.
3) Voice Mail Greetings:
- Changing your voice mail greeting everyday to reflect your ‘status’ for the day is optimum, but only if you can commit to keeping it updated and timely and somewhat brief.
- Brevity is king. Be sure to speak clearly and don’t rush through your name or company name. The practice of saying “I’m sorry I’ve missed your call, and your call is important to me” is obsolete. A very simple “Hello, this is Jeff Burton with Burton Construction. Please leave a message and I look forward to returning your call shortly” is a better choice as opposed to “Hello. It’s a great day at Burton Construction. You’ve reached the voice mailbox of Jeff Burton. I’m unavailable to the phone right now but at the tone, please leave your name, your telephone number and the reason you called and I will return you call at my first opportunity. If your call is urgent, you can press zero and your call will be transferred to the operator. Thanks for calling, and here’s the tone!” Though the latter greeting may suggest a more courteous and even informative approach, the vernacular has become ‘noise’ to callers through the years. Most everything in the latter greeting can be assumed.
- Record your voice mail greeting via the handset, not the speakerphone. To the extent possible, always use your primary desk phone whether it be digital or IP to record any of your voice mail greetings. Desk phones almost always offer far superior audio quality to cell phones.
- After you have recorded your greeting, be sure to quickly press whatever button (# or *) your system requests to ‘end’ the greeting. This will help quickly produce the ‘beep’ tone callers are waiting to hear so they can leave their message.
- To the extent possible, always allow (via programming) an ‘operator revert’ in the form of a zero to operator for the caller, whether you actually state it in your greeting or not. It is often assumed. This is particularly important if the caller has reached your voice mailbox with a direct (DID) number to your desk! Without the operator revert, you have offered your customer a bench in your voice mail ‘jail’, with nowhere to go (except possibly a competitor).
- Know your phone system. Spend 15-20 minutes with your user guide to completely understand the plethora of features available. Many of these features will help you help callers.
- Know your cell phone voice mail options. Many personal greetings are often followed by the canned service greetings that offer the caller to ‘send a page, press 5. To send a fax press 6’. There are typically options in your service to turn off prompt requests that aren’t appropriate to your situation. Chances are high that today’s users are not carrying pagers or using the fax option mentioned above.
4) Caller ID Name and Number: This section is intended for the telecommunications management team of a company. What NAME do people see in their CALLER ID DISPLAY when you or somebody in your company calls them? Is it the current and proper name of your company? Are you sure that it is consistently showing the same NAME no matter what outgoing line you use to make outgoing calls? The reality is that many businesses are completely unaware of how they are ‘showing up’ to the parties they are calling. It is quite possible that you are presenting several different names to those you call. Over the years, as your company places orders for new service with various phone companies, a wide mix of NAMES can occur. Some businesses are still being identified with the name of a business they acquired several years ago, or perhaps even the name of a former employee or owner that placed original orders. To make it more complex, though you make think you have this solved, another reality is that your NAME will possibly display differently, contingent upon the phone line carrier of the person you have called. For example, though you may think your NAME shows as ABC COMPANY to everybody, it may show up as ABC COMPANY when you call a Verizon customer, but it may show up as something completely different if you call a Comcast or Paetec customer. Try it and see! Make several outgoing calls from your office to your cell, your house, and other businesses and ask them what they see. Find out who their carrier is also. There are services that companies offer to ‘fix’ all of the above issues. A phone call to your carrier will not in itself fix all of the variables. You are welcome to contact us for more information!
5) On Hold Treatment of your callers: As mentioned at the outset of this document, most businesses pay a great deal of attention and money to ‘dressing’ up the lobby or main entrance to their facility. After all, people do ‘wait’ in the lobby and we certainly would not have them wait in a silent area, void of décor and visual stimulus. In fact, most lobby areas are decorated with company awards, plaques, framed articles and other items to occupy the waiting client. Consider the benefits of doing the same for callers that are ‘waiting’ On Hold. Since the caller is in essence a ‘captured audience’, it is important to make sure they know they are still connected, as silence makes folks hang up quickly. This is also a prime opportunity to eloquently and professionally educate the caller on your services. Proper script-writing and production will provide information that is valuable to the caller with appropriate and properly licensed music in between the messages to enhance the professional image. The key to creating an effective messaging program is to educate the callers on products and services offered, of which the callers may not be aware.
Rich is the President of On Hold Marketing, a marketing focused audio studio helping businesses and practices take advantage of their telephone system’s On Hold capabilities. Prior to On Hold Marketing, Rich spent 20 years in telecommunications working for such giants as Williams Communications, NextiraOne, Bell Atlantic and Nortel Networks.