Monday, November 5, 2007

Hang Up on Bad Telephone Habits

There are few things more annoying than being on the phone with someone who is a) eating; b)doing something else; c)mumbling or speaking too softly; d) talking to someone in the background; or e)behaving in a rude or dismissive way.

With the reliance on e-mail, more people seem to have forgotten the art of speaking on the phone. They answer the phone with anything from a curt "hello" to a mumbled "yeah?" and say "good bye" as they toss the phone at the receiver from a few feet away (clunk, clunk, slam)-- if they say "good bye" at all.

But how you interact with someone on the the phone can be critical to your success. Just one phone misstep can cost you an important client, tick off a boss or even mar the reputation of your entire company. And, based on the stories I've heard, this seems to be a problem at every level of the business world, from the interns and mid-level employees to corporate leaders.

So, let's all take a few lessons in Telephone Manners 101:

* Callers are guests. Just as you would not slam the door in the face of someone who visited your home, you should not make others feel unwelcome when they call you. Begin with a professional and cordial "Hello, this is Jane Smith."
* You have about six seconds to make a good impression. You can never burn bridges behind you in the business world because every connection may be important to your future success. That means it always pays to be friendly every time you make that initial connection on the phone -- you never know how that specific interaction may impact you down the line.
* Be helpful. Don't be dismissive of the person on the other end, because you have just become the voice representing your company. You should never let anyone hang up thinking your company is uncaring, rude, ignorant or unprofessional. That means you provide answers when you can, and try to be as helpful as possible. Try to avoid saying things like "I can't do that" or "you'll have to do that" because you've only succeeded in frustrating the caller without providing anything of value from you or your company.
* Pay attention. When you talk on the phone, don't eat, drink, check your e-mail or do anything else that shows you're not giving your best effort to the caller. This is for your benefit as well -- you may miss key information from the caller simply because you're too busy snarfing down the Big Mac or instant messaging a friend.
* Observe the basics. It's amazing how many people forget the basics, which can really make a big difference. Speak clearly into the mouthpiece. Don't talk to other people in the room when you're on the phone. If you tell someone to hold on, tell them how long you'll be. (You're not going to be "just a second," but probably at least a few minutes.)Say goodbye clearly, and make sure they have responded before you hang up.


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