What’s That Ringing Sound? Ranty Phone Etiquette 101

Today I’d like to share another post about business etiquette.  As a working girl on the low end of the totem pole in most of my jobs, I have seen a lot of crap from the lofty pedestals above administrative support that makes my jaw drop.  The primary offenses have to do with phone calls.

Customer calls are high priority, no matter what you do.  Whether you’re a sales rep, a technical person or a freelance writer, these are the people who pay your bills.  They deserve your attention and courtesy.  In a previous post, I briefly addressed the matter of rude and entitled customers and I reiterate that you don’t have to take outrageous behavior from them.  You should, however, not give them any reason to legitimately complain.  It’s bad for business.

Common telephone offenses include:

  • Ignoring calls. You may be in a meeting or on another line.  You might be bogged down in a sea of paperwork and have to turn off the ringer.  You can change your message to briefly announce something like “I will be unable to answer calls for X period of time; please leave a message and I will return your call as soon as I’m available.” Then actually call people back.  That leads me to the next boo-boo.
  • Not returning calls. Dear heart, you could miss a job opportunity.  You cannot, in this economy, afford to blow off your messages.  If someone is calling about status, please talk to him anyway even if you have nothing to report.  I know some people are annoyingly persistent.  In these cases it’s okay to tell them “I will be working on your project and give you an update on Friday.”  No one likes sitting in limbo with no information.
  • Not treating everyone the same. This is a slippery one, but I’ve seen callers get poor treatment because they have an accent, at the very least jokes after they hang up.  That’s disrespectful.  The business world is global now.  I’ve heard people make remarks that they can’t understand someone’s accent.  Some are difficult if you’re not used to it.  It’s perfectly polite to ask someone to slow down or repeat something.  If you’re uncomfortable saying “I’m sorry, I’m not used to your accent,” you can blame it on the connection.   Don’t make fun, or assume that they are less intelligent than you are because they don’t talk the way you do.  Your contempt will bleed into your dealings with them.
  • Making the secretary or operator deal with your crap. Don’t make the phone lady explain to your caller why you don’t want to talk to him.  She probably has other lines ringing and has no idea what’s going on anyway.  And don’t make her fib to callers.  Tell your own lies.

On the other side of the pony, there are customer mistakes.  You might be guilty of some yourself.  So might I.

  • Bugging your account rep / agent / writer with incessant calls. I hate when people do this.  No wonder your party ignores you!  That’s no excuse, but still, it’s tempting.  If someone isn’t there, calling back fifteen times in an hour is not going to make her magically appear at her desk.  Leave a voice mail.  She can’t call back if you don’t leave a message, because she will have no idea you called.  Please take the issue up with her during your next conversation.

People who habitually don’t return calls might not deserve your business anyway.  Vote with your wallet.

  • Yelling. Do not, repeat, do NOT yell at the operator.  It’s not his fault you can’t get hold of your person or you have a problem.  Besides, he really doesn’t care; his only job is to transfer your call.  Being pissy or dismissive with him will not help you.   He can just put you on hold and tell the person you’re trying to reach that you’re being a dillhole, and that person can then decide not to take your call.  Too bad, Fred, Bob’s not in today!

Don’t tell him your life story either.  He has other calls waiting and probably six people breathing down his neck.

  • If you have a complaint, be polite, persistent and practical.

Polite:  Don’t yell or curse.

Persistent:  Continue to ask nicely for someone who can help you.

Practical:  Let that person know what the problem is and how it can be resolved.

  • Leave a clear, short message in voicemail. Don’t mumble.  State your name, your company, your phone number and then the reason you’re calling.  Give a time when you can be reached if necessary.  Repeat the number at the end.  Save the long, convoluted sob story for when you reach your party.  It probably won’t fit in the mailbox anyway and then you’ll get cut off and have to call back.

It’s not hard to practice good phone.  If you have any stories of egregious phone behavior, please share them in the comments.

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