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Perfecting a Phone Call

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The trick with voicemail messages is that you don’t know how much time someone has to listen to your message. It could be 10 minutes or 20 seconds.

So, that leaves the question: How can you convey respect, consideration and honesty—over the phone?

For Kimberly Pope, founder of The Pope Institute, those three principles are the most important when business employees work on proper phone etiquette.

Pope recalls a time when she called someone at a repair shop and they answered with, “Yes?” She was stunned. There was no greeting, and, instead, the person on the other end of the line was abrupt, with a demanding tone.

Customers can pick up on nuances, even during a short phone call or a voicemail message. Because of that, FenderBender spoke with Pope, seeking suggestions for how to properly execute phone etiquette for situations like answering a call or leaving messages.


As told to Melissa Steinken  


No. 1: State your name and business.

If you’re leaving a message for a customer, or just making an outbound call, it’s important always to state your name, the business and the reason you’re calling. I’ve often gotten calls and, because they are so informal, it isn’t until the end of the message that I realize it is a business call. That is not good.

It’s always best to not go into a first name basis. I, for instance, go by Kimberly and not Kim so customer service representatives need to keep that in mind when calling the customer. They don’t know someone’s preferences so it is better to keep the conversation formal and use their last name or “sir” or “ma’am.”


No. 2 : Do not sound rushed.

If someone calls and he or she seems hurried, that will put the customer off and not want to accept help. Do not make it seem as if you are trying to get the call out of the way.

While the customer service representative should keep the message short and simple, there are key areas of information that the employee needs to deliver.

If it is a message, leave the basics of your name, the business name, reason that you’re calling, state your number twice and provide details on when the person can reach you. Recap why you are calling and end with some type of closing. Good examples are “thank you,” and “have a great day.”


No. 3: Know how long to put someone on hold.

A customer should never wait more than 30 seconds to a minute—at the most—while on hold. Once you click over, whether that is to go find someone else or you’re getting another call, after 30 seconds, come back on the phone and explain the situation to the customer.

If you need to find another shop employee to help the customer and it is taking longer than a minute, get back on the phone and give the customer an update. The customer should never be left on the other end of the line wondering what is going on.


No. 4: Stay engaged in the conversation.

I recommend that an employee takes notes while on the phone. It is vital to be engaged, present and intentional in the conversation.

Write down facts like what issues they are having, who they are having trouble communicating with (if anyone), and what their concern is. Why are they calling?

I once had a phone conversation in which I called customer service looking for a refund and the person on the other end completely missed the mark of my request.

If taking notes does not help with being engaged, I also recommend that you repeat back what the customer is saying. Repeat to make sure you understand the customer’s issues.


No. 5: Keep smiling through the conversation.

This sounds silly, but it works. It’s hard to sound mean, angry or unpleasant while you are smiling and talking over the phone. Try smiling while talking. You might feel ridiculous but the other person can’t see it and, in the end, you will sound more upbeat and pleasant.


No. 6: Be honest.

If you come across a request that you can’t accommodate for the customer, then be as honest as you can. If you can find someone else who knows the answer, tell that to the customer. But, if you are making a promise to follow up with a customer to get them the answer, then you need to make sure you follow through on that promise.

People can tell when you are simply trying to sell them on something and can see through a broad answer or generic answer. Customers more often will appreciate the honesty that you don’t have the answer then a fake or vague answer.


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