Phone Etiquette 101: Essential Rules, Dos, Don’ts, and Tips

Guy puts his headset on

Think of how you answer each of the calls you receive.

When it’s your mom calling, you probably start with something like “Hey mom, how are you doing?”.

If it’s your mate, most likely you answer with “Yo, dawg! What’s up?”.

And when it happens that you get a call directly from your boss, I guess you go with something like “Yes boss? What’s the issue? (hopefully, not me!)”.

In everyday situations, we don’t need to follow any specific rules or tips on how to make and take calls. Yet, when it comes to professional phone calls and answering your customers’ phone calls things are much different. For anyone who’s already working in a call center or as a customer service agent these things are obvious – at least they should be! – but for all of the new hires, it might be “brand-new-world”.

Today, we’re going to tackle the most important proper phone etiquette practices including essential rules, what to do, and what not to do. We’ll also drop some tips throughout the article so make sure you don’t miss those!

Table of contents:

  1. Why Phone Etiquette Is So Important
  2. Essential Rules of Phone Etiquette
  3. Dos of Phone Etiquette
  4. Don’ts of Phone Etiquette

Why Phone Etiquette Is So Important

As mentioned in the intro, phone etiquette is not a big deal when it comes to everyday calls we all make.

The things are different when on the other end of the call happens to be a customer or, even better, a newly acquired prospect!

In such a situation, you have to follow certain rules to make sure your call is a standard one. It’s even more important when you think about the fact that the call you are having right now with a lead, might be your last call with that particular lead. Don’t believe me?

Statistics from RightNow tell us that 73% of consumers say friendly customer service reps can make them fall in love with a brand! Also, current customer service center statistics indicate that 59% of customers have higher expectations for customer support than they had a year ago.”

Thus, you either play an A-game or sit on the bench.

While you’re working in a customer service or as an inside sales team member, your calls must be also relevant in regards to your company’s standards and principles. That’s why it’s so important to follow the rules of customer service phone etiquette.

You wouldn’t like to start a conversation with “Hi, what’s up?” when your company positions itself as a professional service. Following a certain set of dos and don’ts will help you keep every call on a proper level making sure the service you provide is accurate with what your company presents and what the customers expect.

Also, when it comes to professional calls, having a routine is a good thing.

No, no. You’re not supposed to do the same things every time you pick up a phone. What you’re supposed to do is to learn certain rules and implement them in each of the calls you make or take. This way each of your calls will be provided with an equal level of quality. When you apply phone etiquette into your business calls they’ll all become equally good!

Contrary to how it sounds, such a routine may result in establishing your own style of professional calls. After all, each of the rules we learn end up being modified to our needs, personality, and the way of doing things.

Thus, do not understate the importance of proper telephone etiquette.

Put work upfront, learn the rules, get to know what to do and what to avoid.

You’ll get better and – your calls will get better – finally – the service you provide will get better as well!

Essential Rules of Phone Etiquette

We, as people, don’t like rules.

I don’t know why is that but surely I’m not going to wait till this light turns green!

Don’t be that guy when it comes to telephone etiquette rules. Take your time while waiting for the light to switch and get to know the principles of the perfect call.

Learning about them will take you less than 5 minutes and after that, you’ll be ready to try them out!

No more than three rings

Three rings is an all-around rule but what the rule actually conveys is to answer each call as quickly as possible. Most of the customers or leads will hang up if they have to wait for you to pick up the phone for more than three rings. Thus, according to phone etiquette, three rings is the optimal wait-time.

What’s more, if you’re working as a sales rep or customer service agents you’re supposed to be available at all time (besides the breaks).

Thus, make sure that during your work time you answer each and every call.

Three rings is a universal number but you can actually stick to it. Mainly for these two reasons:

  • You answer the call fast. Three rings mean you haven’t picked up the phone immediately, but at the same time, you didn’t let the customer wait. Basically, you answered the call just right!
  • You get enough time to prepare. Three rings give you enough time to get aware of the call, take a deep breath, and recall what are the rules that you should stick to. Give yourself enough time to prepare for the call, so when you take it, you can do your best.

Stick to the rule of Three Rings and make sure your customers’ calls get answered as soon as possible.

Speak clearly

Every medium has its own rules.

TV requires you to look good, act good, and sound good.
Contrary, radio requires you to only sound good and entertaining.

Whenever you answer a professional call you have to be like a top-notch radio presenter. Your voice is the only thing that connects you to your customer. It is the only way for him to judge you, to like you, and to make his own opinion on you. Thus, at all cost, you have to brush up your speaking skills.

Keep the tone of your voice equal throughout the whole phone call. Do not shout, neither lower your voice too much. This way you’ll make sure that your recipient understands everything you say, so you won’t have to repeat yourself over and over. Phone etiquette conveys that your recipients’ experience is what you should optimize for, thus make sure your voice is one your advantages!

Once again, keep in mind that every phone call might be the last one. If the customer feels like the service he received is off-point he might go and search for another company that can keep up with his standards. That’s also the main premise for why phone etiquette plays such a crucial role.

Immediately introduce yourself

First things first.

Most people wonder what is the first thing you should say when answering a professional phone call.

Let me give you a helping hand and clear things up.

Every time you answer the call, your first words should be your introduction. It might be a bit counterintuitive especially when we think of personal calls during which we often say “Hello” and then wait for the caller to introduce himself.

Yet, when it comes to professional calls, you should always introduce yourself first so the caller gets ensured that he or she is talking to the right person.

Remember to introduce yourself sticking to the previous rule. Take your time to say your name and role as well as the name of your company. Then, finish with warm “How can I help you?”. You’ve probably heard sales reps and customer service agents going faster than the Formula 1 car when introducing themselves. Don’t cultivate such behavior and make sure your introduction is clear and can be understood properly.

Dos of Phone Etiquette

Just as rules are to be learned, dos are to be done.

There are certain things and aspects of the professional phone call that will be well-received by a recipient if you do and implement them into your call routine.

With our essential dos, you’ll get to know how to sound professional so the recipient is happy with the service he gets. Keep that in mind that phone etiquette is all about optimizing for what you should do and what you should omit to provide the best-quality calls.

Follow me!

Be sensitive to the tone of your voice

Remember the radio presenter analogy?

Voice is everything that connects you with a caller and the tone of your voice tells him about your approach and intention.

First of all, you should keep the same tone throughout the call, just as with the volume of your voice. Practicing this premise will help you provide equal-quality-calls amongst all of your customers and will make it easier for you to get into the “on-the-phone mode”.

It is important to avoid sounding salesy, pushy, aggressive or anxious. This – unfortunately – happens a lot and people are likely to become less eager to talk to you.

Make sure you sound confident. The customer wants to feel like he’s talking to the appropriate person who’s knowledgeable and who can answer all of his questions.

A good practice is to sit up in the chair or stand up if you’re more comfortable talking on a phone this way. At all costs do not lean back in your chair as it will automatically change the way you talk. You’ll get too relaxed and instead of sounding like a professional you’ll sound like a random person, friend or worse, someone who doesn’t care.

Use proper language

The language you use portrays the person you are.

Using casual language, swear words, and slang will make you sound like you are not really into the call. On the other hand, if you keep your language professional you’ll sound like a professional, and you’ll be viewed as a professional (repeat: professional).

Remember to always be respectful and act accordingly to the situation.

Even if the customer gets angry at something don’t try to keep up with his anger. Rather stay calm, use peaceful language, and try to calm him down. The situation like this is more than likely to happen and you have to be ready for it.

Oftentimes, you’ll have to immediately switch your language between the one you use when speaking to your colleagues and another that you should use while taking a professional phone call. In such a case, the rule of three rings will help you get in a proper mood right before you pick up the phone.

Stay positive and remain cheerful

Being optimistic is the #1 rule of every salesman. Why?

Because the relationship is all that sales are about. The same goes for every professional phone call you make and take.

BTW. Want to know the other 5 qualities of top-notch salespeople? Check them out here!

Take into account that your customer is another human being, just like you.
And just like you, he has both bad and good days. That’s why phone etiquette is such an important thing – your calls will be optimized for every situation.

In case you happen to receive the call from the prime, you have to influence such a customer with your positivity. How to do that?

Again, your voice and how you use it, play the key role.

The first thing that you can do is to try to understand why they’re feeling the way they do. This will help you relate to their problems, get to know the issue more deeply and adjust to the actual scenario.

The second thing to remember is to always remain cheerful and friendly. Positivity just as negativity spreads from one person to another. Don’t allow a negative customer to influence you with his negativity. Instead, do what you can to make him happy! You won’t believe how grateful a customer can be if the call with you made him smile or laugh.

Staying positive while taking calls from your customers can yield great results and is a perfect way of turning regular customers into loyal and lifetime customers friends.

Actively listen and take notes

Both of the above are crucial.

First, being proactive during the call ensures that you miss no important information. It will help you understand customers’ objections and problems, and that will help you to provide a better service.

Second, staying active during the call helps you not drift away, which – sadly – happens. If you get distracted for even a few seconds you might not hear a customer’s question or comment. I bet you know how unprofessional it would sound if you ask a customer to repeat his question. Keep yourself into the call and actively listen and answer to what the customer says.

Taking notes is another key do that you should implement into your calling game.

It will help you and other agents understand customers’ needs, problems, and issues. If you show the customer that you know him, remember his calls, and what he had to deal with, he’ll surely find it quite impressive and will appreciate that fact.

Nowadays you don’t have to take notes using a pen and paper (unless you like it). Instead, you can use the software that lets you make and take calls to take notes and attach them to an adequate caller.

Notes you take will help you focus on your customer’s main pain points to quickly resolve his or her issues.

Don’ts of Phone Etiquette

While dos are to be done, don’ts are to be avoided.

Sometimes we naively follow everyday-life rules while executing professional duties. This may lead to serious confusion and misunderstandings between you as a professional and your customer who expects a proper service.

Here, we’ll list four main don’ts of telephone etiquette that you should avoid at all cost.

Get to know these things, but don’t learn how to do them!

I wonder what it would be like to mistake don’ts for dos…
I bet that have never happened before when you were calling as a customer…

Let’s cut straight to what not to do.

Interrupt customers

“Politeness is a desire to be treated politely, and to be esteemed polite oneself.”Francois de La Rochefoucauld

You should never ever interrupt a customer while he or she is talking.

Sometimes it might be really hard to resist saying “But Sir…”, yet it is almost always the worst thing you could possibly do. No matter how angry, annoying or even provoking a customer is you should stay calm and let him finish talking.

Of course, it is not that a customer has freedom of saying whatever he wants. What I mean by that, there is a thin line between a complaint and throwing punches over the phone. What phone etiquette rules convey is that you put the customer on the foreground during the call.

Listening to complaints might be annoyingly painful, but it can also come in useful in a later process. On the other hand, if the customer is simply cursing at a customer service agent for no particular reason (as often it’s not the fault of the agent himself), such an agent should be allowed to interrupt the customer or even hang up if things go too far.

Lastly, listening to the whole customer’s story is also beneficial from a psychological point of view as the customer feels taken care of when you let him speak and listen to him carefully.

Allow interruptions to occur during conversations

Just as interrupting the customer himself, allowing interruptions to happen to you during the call is a really big no-no.

It is crucial not to carry side conversations while talking to a customer on the phone.

It will make him feel like you don’t really care nor listen to him, and will most likely end up in a lost or – at best – an annoyed customer.

One of the solutions to staying fully focused on the call is to use duo call center headsets which offer an outside noise canceling. You simply won’t hear all the hustle and bustle going on around you and even if someone tries to directly talk to you, you won’t hear them. Such headphones also come equipped with a noise-canceling microphone so your recipient won’t hear any of the outside noise as well.

You can also inform all of your colleagues not to interrupt you whenever you’re on the phone. This way, you’ll avoid unnecessary and awkward situations with your fellows and you’ll make sure that the quality of calls you provide is on-point. Stress it to them that according to phone etiquette you have to make sure the call is flawless and distractio-less for both you and your recipient.

Another good practice is to find a quiet and peaceful place where you can make and take calls with no interruptions at all. Sometimes it might be hard to find such a place in your workplace but often there is a room nobody uses or a rarely-used meeting space upstairs.

Whatever you chose as your solution to free yourself from distractions, make sure nothing lowers the quality of calls you make or take!

Use speakerphone when not necessary

Using speakerphone may seem like a handy solution but often than not it can result in a backlash when using this feature while taking a professional call.

While your hands are free and you’re capable of talking and – for example – typing on a keyboard simultaneously, your customers have to filter through the noise of everything that’s going on around you, plus, there is a big chance they’ll hear themselves back in the speaker.

All of that combined will make you seem like you don’t really pay attention to what customer says as well as to the call itself. You wouldn’t like either of that to happen, would you?

So, while using speakerphone can be beneficial to use in certain cases only, plus, make sure you don’t overuse it and avoid it whenever you’re in a loud space. Generally speaking, phone etiquette states that speakerphone shouldn’t be used when making business calls.

To make sure using speakerphone won’t lower the quality of the call in any way, obey the speakerphone etiquette. Find a quiet space with no echo and background noises. This way you’ll lower the inconveniences (from the customer’s point of view) to the bare minimum.

Prevaricate when you don’t know the answer

customer calls
question asked
no answer

I know that this beautiful haiku I wrote sounds like a horror story to any customer service agent.

When a customer calls you’re supposed to know the answer to any question he asks, but in reality, it might happen that you’re simply not sure or you just don’t know the answer. In such a case don’t try to get away with half of an answer or by trying to change the topic of the call.

None of these practices is a good choice.

Instead of prevaricating, you should admit that you’re not sure about the answer. The best solution, in that case, is to put the customer on hold (if you’re able to get to know the answer relatively quick). In such case always inform that you’re going to put the customer on hold and ensure that it won’t take too long. After coming back to the call thank the customer for the time spent waiting.

Another solution might be to transfer the call. If there is another agent or an employee who you know is capable of providing the answer let him take the call and give a proper answer. You should also inform the customer that you’re going to transfer the call. A good practice is to say that you’re going to let him talk to a higher-tier employee. It will make him sure that he is properly taken care of.

Remember that after all, we’re all humans, and we all make mistakes, and forget about various things. The same can happen to you and unless it is the matter of lack of preparation, it is totally excusable.

Let me hang up

Equipped with the brand new set of rules, tips, dos, and don’ts you are one step ahead of the rest of customer service agents. Now it’s your turn to teach them what to do and what to avoid.

With knowledge of proper phone etiquette, you’ll be able to make and take top-quality professional calls.

Take your time to rehearse what you know, revise what you’ve learned, apply dos, and eschew don’ts.

Lastly, that’s a lot of words written, but as always there is no way I’m able to tackle all of the aspects of professional phone etiquette. I bet you have your own rules that help you make the best calls ever. If that’s the case, make sure to share them in the comments. And keep in mind, once you’ve got your phone etiquette covered it’s also worth looking into ways at improving your emailing etiquette. There will be no stopping you then!

If I find particularly helpful advice in there I might even update the article to include it in the article itself!