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     Telephones: Better Business Communications

It never ceases to amaze me that companies will spend vast amounts of money on leading-edge TECHNOLOGY and then fail to give their staff sufficient training so they can use it EFFECTIVELY. In addition, if these "technology" tools are not handled correctly, they can rob staff of their professionalism, thus limiting their sphere of influence.

Telephones are a case in point. Telephones have been around so long that North American business people take them for granted and seldom offer or seek TRAINING in this area. They forget the way the telephone is answered provides a one-second promo spot for themselves and their company. Here are some concerns I have with telephone handling and some action items.

Telephone experts say most people use only a fraction of their phone's features. Check to see if a MANUAL is available and then learn how to use everything your phone has to offer. Even if you add only one or two new FEATURES to your telephone "know-how" -- such as forwarding a message or transmitting a "delayed send" -- you will increase your productivity and your ability to serve others.

Although you may be on the phone with a caller for only a few minutes, the caller will be forming an IMPRESSION of you and your organization and deciding whether working with you will be a good or a painful experience. To handle a call professionally, you should work on conveying the following messages:
  • I will not waste your time.
  • I know you and your business are important.
  • I can be DEPENDED ON to get what you need.
  • I am competent and well-organized.
  • I work for a REPUTABLE organization and am proud of it.

In a recent survey 564 business people were asked what IRRITATED them most about the way a business call is answered. The responses were: 
  • 42% automated phone menus
  • 34% being put on HOLD without being asked
  • 30% uninformed employees

To improve your company's initial IMPACT with callers: 
  • opt for a LIVE voice
  • call your receptionist occasionally to “check up”

Have your ever checked your voice mail and found you had a message but you couldn't make out the name of the caller or his phone number? Frustrating, isn't it? When leaving a message state (it is important to use this order because some messages cut out after a specified time):     
  • your name slowly and clearly; SPELL it, if it is an usual one
  • your phone number, then repeat it
  • company name and department
  • DATE and time of the message
  • a message, if there is one
  • if you need a call back
  • best TIME to call you back

Voice mail is so popular now we are surprised when someone actually does pick up the phone. When you set up your voice mail message, keep it strong, upbeat and BRIEF. You have only 10 to 15 seconds to create a favorable impression. 
  • don't start with "I'm sorry" (it isn't sincere)

  • offer callers the option of talking to SOMEONE ELSE, if that person can assist them

  • say exactly what you need from them to effectively return their call -- their name and phone number? a message?

  • tell the caller if your system has a TIME LIMIT in advance so they don't get cut off

  • include information on the best time to call you back

  • careful closing -- most irritating are "have a great day" and "make it a good one”

  • remember to check and CHANGE your messages frequently

Telephones may not be an exciting new toy, but sloppy usage can cost you productivity and image and reduce your influence. Here are some suggestions for more effective telephone communications:    
  • watch your SPEED (read a 700-word article aloud -- if it took 5 minutes, your speech is average -- if it was shorter, your speech is too fast and you must slow down)

  • don't jump in with your responses -- take deep mental BREATHS before speaking to add emphasis, censor thoughts, and make the other person feel you are taking him seriously.

  • speed up calls by answering with a friendly greeting, your name, and the words, "How can I help you?"

  • ease into good byes by ending with a friendly COMMENT -- "Is there anything else I can do for you?" or "It was nice talking to you."


Jane Watson is dedicated to advancing business communications. She is a consultant, author, keynoter and trainer and can be reached at or (905) 820-9909.

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