How to Answer the Phone: The Dos and Don’ts

Published on:

June 4, 2021

How to answer the phone

What was your worst experience with a company over the phone?

One of our favourite stories is the Reddit user who needed to extend their car rental. The car rental company in question kept putting them on hold, so after 45 minutes, they drove to the car rental office whilst still on hold only to ask them why no one could pick the phone up.

It’s a fun story, but it goes to show, there are clear call answering rules for how to answer the phone for businesses. In this instance, the somewhat obvious rule of don’t leave customers on hold for 45 minutes!

Some rules on how to answer the phone are less obvious though. That’s why we’ve put together our list of dos and don’ts for how to answer the phone professionally. 

How to Answer the Phone: The Dos

Do be prepared. Before you answer the phone, make sure you’re in the right headspace to do so. If you’re stressed out from the last call or still trying to follow it up, you won’t be giving your full attention. If you can’t give your full attention, don’t answer it.  You’ll also want the right equipment in front of you to help, whether that’s a pen and paper or the company’s CMS.

Do answer promptly. Don’t let the phone ring more than 3 times. The second ring is the best time to answer the phone so you don’t startle any customer’s by answering too quickly.

Do be welcoming. You should answer the phone with a positive, upbeat tone and a friendly greeting like “Good Morning”.

Do use your name. After your greeting, let the customer know your name and the name of the business you work for. For best practice on how to answer the phone, you’ll also want to offer your name up again later in the conversation as the customer will have likely forgotten it in the introduction.

Do use pronouns. Using both the pronoun ‘you’ and the customer’s name make them feel like the unique and valued customer they are. So make sure to use it where it feels natural. For example, instead of saying “I can help with that”, you could say “I can help you with that”. Make sure to use it with a friendly tone as in the wrong context it can come across as accusatory.

Do smile. A scientific study shows we can hear a smile in a tone of voice, even if we can’t see the speaker’s face. Smiling while you’re answering the phone will improve your tone and make you more welcoming and friendly.

Do speak clearly and audibly. There’s no need to shout or whisper. You need a level volume and to enunciate your words, while also speaking slowly enough to allow the customer to understand what you’re saying.

Do listen. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve heard the same query or issue a thousand times before and it can be easy to tune out. But an important part of knowing how to answer the phone is to always give your full attention to a customer and actively listen without interruption. 

Do summarise. Once you’ve heard a caller out, make sure you summarise what they’ve said to ensure you’re both on the same page. This helps reassure the caller that you understand their problem and you’re able to help.

Do ask for permission. If you’re going to put a customer on hold, it’s so important to ask them first. Better yet, for best phone etiquette, you can give them the option of a call back instead and let them pick. When they come off hold, remember to thank the customer for their patience.  The same rules apply for when you’re transferring a customer to another department.

Do take ownership. Taking ownership of a customer’s problem ensures outstanding customer service. It’s okay to not always know the answer straight away, but endeavour to resolve customer issues by making their problem your own. 

How to Answer the Phone: The Don’ts 

Don’t answer the phone while you’re eating, drinking or even chewing gum. The customer can hear and it’s poor business phone etiquette.

Don’t leave the line open. If you need a minute to find something or need to move away from the phone, don’t leave the phone line open. Always place the customer on hold (and ask permission first!). Check back frequently if you can, at least every minute.

Don’t say you don’t know. It’s okay to not know, but saying that to a customer can be alarming. You’re the expert of your service or product after all. Much better responses include, “I can find out for you” or “I’ll look that up for you.”

Don’t be rude. No matter the situation, no matter how difficult the customer is, there is no excuse to be rude to customers. If you need to, escalate and excuse yourself from the situation and let someone else answer the phone.

Don’t use slang. This is especially true if you’re a national company. Your local colloquialisms might make no sense to someone on the other end of the country. 

Don’t practice poor call handling. An important part of how to answer the phone is good call handling. If you need to transfer a customer to another department, make sure you inform them first. Once you’ve asked permission to put them on hold while you transfer them, you should contact the other department and ensure someone is available to take the call. You should also give the name of the customer and a brief explanation of the query or problem to the other call advisor before transferring the customer over.

Don’t use speaker phone. Speaker phones make things harder to hear for customers and they can also make them feel like you’re not giving the call your full attention. Avoid unless absolutely necessary. 

Don’t close the call abruptly. You shouldn’t just hang up the phone on customers. End on a positive note by saying something like, “have a great day” or “thank you for calling”. 

Call Answering Training

Knowing how to answer the phone is a vital part of good phone skills. By following these simple rules, you can ensure you’re giving your customers the best customer service experience possible when they call you.

If you need help with call training, we offer a bespoke telephone skills training course to help raise your customer service game and ultimately, increase your profitability. 

About Paul Freudenberg

Paul Freudenberg is a business productivity coach and consultant with a focus on operational excellence delivering improved profitability and business performance, and Founder of Awardaroo in 2005. Paul has set the mission of Awardaroo to help raise UK Business Productivity from one of the lowest in the G7 to one of the highest by 2030. Connect on LinkedIn

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