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What a New Survey Tells Us about Business Phone Etiquette

What makes people do things on the phone that they would never do in front of someone in real life? From yawning loudly to sounding bored, these practices and others add up to seriously poor phone etiquette. And, if a recent survey about the phone habits of British professionals is anything to go by, certain sectors are failing to make the business phone call a pleasant experience.

According to the survey, the sectors with the worst performers are:

  • HR and Recruitment Agencies
  • Media, PR and Marketing Agencies
  • Lawyers
  • Doctor, Nurse and Dental Receptionists
  • Accounts Departments

Would you have guessed those industries would make the list? It’s somewhat surprising that sectors which depend on a positive public image like recruitment and PR are the ones that seem to be failing most in the phone etiquette stakes.

Whichever type of company it is, there’s no doubt poor phone manners can cause problems. Every time a person chooses to work with your business, they’ve usually made a considered choice. Because they are taking everything in about your business, from the very first email or phone call, phone manners matter. So, what are the biggest phone etiquette fails highlighted in the survey?

The conversation challenge

The Conversational Challenge Imagine someone conducting a conversation with someone else when they’re meant to be talking to you. Not good, is it? It’s no wonder most people aren’t going to be happy when they hear you chatting with someone in the office when they’re on the phone to you!

According to the survey, this is one of the biggest phone call bugbears for people. It’s a fast way to make people feel as if you think their call is unimportant and they aren’t valued. You want to make your callers feel the opposite of that!
The Conversational Challenge


The distraction factor

Related to the phone call fail outlined above, most people feel somewhat offended when the person on the other end of the phone sounds distracted or as if they are thinking about something else. The caller is trying to share their issue with you or gain some valuable advice and they can tell you are drifting off into your own lovely daydream… Or perhaps you’re having a quick check of Facebook on the computer while they are talking to you.

With phone technology becoming ever higher quality, the risk is the other person will hear those sounds and work out you’re checking your social media when you’re supposed to be helping them. Again, this is another great way to make people feel as if they aren’t valued. No wonder it scores so highly on the list of phone activities people love to hate in the survey.

Not that daydreaming is something you shouldn’t do. As we’ve said before, relaxing is important for staying at your best as a business owner. Plus, daydreaming is thought to be great for business success. Which is fortunate, because the average human apparently spends three hours a week daydreaming! It’s just better for business to save it for when you’re not on the phone to your customers!

Hold that thought

“You’re on hold”. Is this or is this not one of the most dreaded phrases anyone can hear over the phone? The survey suggests it is. We can’t get away from the fact that being put on hold is a fact of life. But there are ways to do this properly - like warning the customer when it’s going to happen and not using it as a default way of responding to high volumes of calls. To keep your customers from experiencing the frustration of being placed on hold, look for more efficient ways to manage phone calls to your business.

The dreaded interruption

We all want to be heard. The customer has made the effort to call you. This is their time to have their say. It’s not surprising then that 42% of people taking part in the survey said being interrupted really got their blood boiling.

The intention behind the interruption may be a positive one. You may want to ask some quick questions rather than having to listen to every detail of the caller’s issue. You may be in a hurry and under pressure to answer another call or to deal with something else. But there are ways to do this positively and politely.

Interrupting someone suggests you believe you’re more important than them. That’s a message the other person won’t miss and it’s not likely to make the best impression!

Don't make phone time your snack time

Those companies where staff think nothing of nibbling on a cheese pasty or a sandwich over the phone? The survey shows that it doesn’t score them any points with customers! After all, who wants to hear someone chewing down the phone? It’s not the most pleasant sound and there’s no way it can ever seem professional – unless you’re a food taster or groceries buyer, perhaps. So, keep the Scotch eggs or the sushi for when the phone call is safely over. And be prepared to put the egg sarnie down as soon as you hear the phone ring. Again, unless you have planned a lunch meeting with your clients, you wouldn’t be eating with them anyway, so why attempt to do so over the phone?

Aside from those highlighted in the survey, let’s not overlook other poor phone practices like letting the phone ring for too long, having an unfriendly or aggressive tone of voice or telling someone you’ll call them back and failing to do so. Every single one of these and other poor phone habits can make your caller less likely to trust you and your business.

Great phone manners equal good business sense

So, how do you prevent these types of etiquette faux pas damaging your business before your potential customers are even signed up? Well, as with many good things in life, a lot of it is common sense. The golden rule is to act as if the person you’re speaking to is right there in front of you in person. Then behave accordingly.

Stay focused throughout the call, listen, engage appropriately with their emotional state, and never, ever nibble on your lunch while they are talking to you. Of course, it may be a lack of time or capacity means you’re not able to give customer calls the attention and focus they deserve.

Because of this, it may be worth considering asking for support from an external organisation with expertise in making answering business calls as smooth and productive as possible.

For more tips on great phone etiquette, check out this handy guide on Hubspot.
Great Phone Manners
Great Phone Manners

Never forget that while you might not be giving all your attention to a call, the person at the other end of the phone may well be. And, as the survey shows, they are making a conclusion about your business based on the experience. Remember that old saying “Manners maketh man”? Well, good phone manners maketh the business.


Need to know more about the potential
risks of business phone calls?

Why not take a look at Answer4u's brief guide


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