Proper phone answering is a vital task for everyone from CEOs to answering service employees. When you answer your phone, you're representing yourself, your company, and, in the case of virtual receptionist services, potentially several businesses. However, business phone etiquette can be a tricky subject to master. You want to sound approachable, but not amateur; professional, but not stuffy. Where to start?
There are a few phrases that if banished, will instantly make your phone manner a lot more appealing. Here are five sentences that you may have seen receptionists use on T.V. but are better left unsaid in the real world:
1. "I'm not sure" or "I don't know." Callers don't expect you to be omniscient; they realize you may be the receptionist, virtual receptionist, or simply need to do some research to find the answer to their question. However, saying, "I don't know" immediately puts a negative spin on your answer. So, skip to the good stuff and offer to put your caller in touch with someone who does know:
"Good question! Let me see if Kim in our support department is available to discuss that with you."
"That's a great question! The owner would be the best person to speak with about that. Let me put you in touch with him."
2. "She's on the other line at the moment." You don't need to be a remote receptionist to see how this could lead to trouble. Even if you're in the same office and can see the person on the other line, saying that they're on the phone sets up unrealistic expectations. They may expect a return call as soon as she's off the phone, but she could be stepping into a meeting, returning another call, or the call just may last for another hour. You never know! Another potential hitch: Your caller may ask to hold until the other party is available. If you're not sure when she'll be available, or if you work at a live call answering service and need to be available for other calls yourself, things can get tricky.
3. "I can't do that." This may be the most hated phrase in all of customer service-dom. Ever call your cable provider and have the rep reply with "I'm sorry, sir/ma'am, I can't do that"? It's a dead end. Spare your callers from this frustration and try to think of what you can do and offer to do it. Instead of:
Caller: I'd like to re-draft my will. Are you able to help me with that?
Receptionist: "I can't. I'll transfer you to the attorney."
Take out the "I can't" and put the friendliness back into your reply:
Receptionist: "Let me put you in touch with the attorney. He'd be happy to chat with you about making changes to your will. One moment, please."
4. "Just a sec." A tad informal and a tad misleading (what takes only a second?), "Just a sec" shouldn't be in your vocabulary. Go for the more sophisticated "One moment please" and your professionalism won't waver for an instant!
5. "Hold, please." You'll need to place callers on hold from time to time to look up information, try someone's line, or answer a (quick) call. Asking instead of telling will make your caller feel important. Try asking for permission with a "May I place you on hold for a moment?" Your caller will most likely say yes since they feel taken care of, but if they decline, either acquiesce or offer an explanation and an alternative. "I need to look that up in our database, which may take a few minutes. Would it be alright if I gave you a call back when I've found the answer?" Being respectful of your caller's time is always the right thing!
These are best practices, but even if you slip up and use one of these phrases, all is not lost! Remember that being friendly and willing to go above and beyond for your callers will always set the right image for your business and keep your clients coming back!