Telephone Professionalism

Professionalism - Part 2

Are you professional? Do you conduct yourself in a professional manner? What does that look like to you? Do you convey a sense of professionalism to others? You may well be very, very good at what you do for a profession, but that level of skill needs to be reflected in everything about you and your business, or else potential clients may not believe you are professional.

Why is it, then, that so many business owners seem to have trouble with this concept?

In Part 2 of this serieswe will examine the ins and outs of your phone system. Next to your website it is the most common way clients have of interfacing with your company, ignore it at your own peril.

Telephone Professionalism

Let’s suppose that I have made it past your website and have convinced myself that I should give you a call. At this point, one of two things happen:
A) I get a voice mail system, or; B) Someone actually answers the phone.

A) Voicemail. Have you called your phone lately? Try it now. Call as if you were a prospective client and see what happens. Better yet, ask some friends and family to make the calls; that way you can get some more honest answers then the ones you will likely give yourself. 

Here is what you should experience:

  • A quick answer time.

  • A pleasant, professionally recorded voice.

  • Audio levels that are neither too high nor too low.

  • Audio recordings that are clear and easy to understand. Music should be neutral, think Musak and not a radio. Try Classical or maybe Light Jazz. These are universally accepted as background music. Be careful with Classical to avoid symphonies as these can have huge volume swings along with brass and horn sections that blast you out of nowhere. Remember: smooth, steady, even volume.

  • Minimal hold time: auto attendants should find you or provide a message option within 30 seconds, max.

Unfortunately, all too often prospective clients are faced with a phone system that:

  • Rings for 30 seconds or more before responding. Don’t make me wait for three minutes while your phone rings unanswered.

  • Has a voice recording where the person sounds tired or agitated (yes, maybe you had to try recording it 37 times, but I don’t need to know that).

  • Has even worse a recording that sounds like it was made twenty years ago (Say, this isn’t one of those tape recorder answering boxes from 1983, is it?…Sure sounds like it.)

  • Plays music that is either: A) So broken and warbled from having been played so many times that it sounds terrible; B) Cranked up so high that I have to move the earpiece from my ear; or C) Plays your favorite punk-rap song – the one that I hate.

  • Is using a radio for the on hold music…..Are you kidding? Either: A) It is a talk show about something I couldn’t care less about; B) It is a political station, in which case you have a 75% chance of alienating the person on hold; C) Plays music I don’t like, or; D) Has a DJ who breaks in every minute or so at a high volume to yell in my ear.

  • Is clear nobody has bothered clearing off the old messages. So after waiting through your awful music, navigating your clunky extensions and being told to leave a message…you don’t let me. Nice. I won’t be calling again.

Know what my response is to these sorts of phone systems? ….”Click”

It pays to get a professional “virtual office” or a quality phone system. Plan out how the extensions and messaging should work, and then think it through again. Have a pro do your voice messaging. Select very neutral music to have as on-hold music. Think of it this way…if you wouldn’t play it in your waiting room for your best client, then don’t play it to them on the phone.

Finally, TEST your system by calling every extension and answering it from the phone that would normally answer it. I once found that my extension, when answered from my cell phone, at my desk, was barely intelligible. The reception in the four-square foot area of my desk was horrible, and the result was that the person on the other end could barely hear me as my voice broke up. Who can say how much business was lost before someone mentioned it to me? I had to move my desk, but now people can understand me when we speak on the phone. A little thing, but so very important.


Good Phone Etiquette:

  • Answer the phone pleasantly and with a bit of surprised delight in your voice. You are happy they called, right?

  • Keep your greeting to a nice, concise length. “Thank you for calling Superior Widgets. How may I help you?”

  • If the person is going to be transferred to another person let them know that, and if there is going to be dead air during the transfer tell them that, too.

  • Every 20 – 30 seconds reconnect with them and give them either a status update or the option to leave a message. Keeping a person informed while they wait is just common courtesy.
  • Speak with the person, not at the person.

BAD Phone Etiquette:

  • Thanks-for-calling-please-hold”…………Really? This is not a game of Whack-a-Mole. My call is important and you just told me how unimportant you think it is. Take ten seconds to greet me and see if my call can’t be handled quickly without placing me on hold. You can always offer to call me back; I appreciate that.  If you don’t have the ten seconds to answer the phone properly, then hire another person to help or let it go to voice mail.

  • Thank you for calling Superior Widget home of the greatest widgets in the world including the super-duper widget which we happen to be having a special on, don’t forget to ask your representative about the super-duper widget and all our other great widgets….(breathe) How can I help you?.....Hello?...Hello?

    • When you answer my call it is NOT about how much you can cram what you want down my throat; what it IS about is what my need is in calling and how quickly you can help me. REMEMBER - I am not interested in what you have to say until I know you are interested in what I have to say.

  • Sending me on a journey through your phone system without any indication as to what to expect. Is that dead air or was I disconnected? When will someone answer my call? I can’t sit on hold any longer; how do I leave a message?

  • I am going to place you on hold, good luck. No, no, no….that is like placing someone in a small, dark room with nothing but a torn, year-old magazine and telling them to “Sit, Stay.” How do you like it when it happens to you?

  • Speaking AT me, not listening, asking me to repeat what I just said, forgetting my name, acting impatient or agitated...this is a PERSON on the other end of the phone. Show some of the courtesy that your mother raised you with. In this day of impersonal social media, emails and texting it is easy to forget basic common courtesies. Now is the time to remember them.

Chris Bachman ©2013