Telephone Etiquette and Customer Service at Work
Keeping Common Courtesies Alive
A lot has been written lately about email etiquette as we are all trying to find our way in this brave new world of online technology. But what about the common courtesies we should still be able to offer one another on the telephone? This is a valid area of concern for anyone working in an office and trying to create good working relationships, whether they be internal to your own organization or external, serving your company’s customers.
If you are in a capacity where you screen for others, although it's necessary and valuable, it needs to be handled with some finesse. Everyone who calls thinks they are important and that their concerns are worthy of attention. You need to act as though you believe this, too. When asking who is calling, it should never appear that the availability of the person sought is contingent on who the caller is. (If it is, at least this should not be obvious.)
To ask who is calling, then say immediately “They are not here” clearly indicates the person was “screened out” based on who they are. A more tactful approach is very easy to implement. For instance, “May I say who is calling?” implies only that when you go look for the person, you would like to have that information ready to convey. You try to locate them (or pretend to), and when you say they are not available, it does not seem to be wholly dependent on what name you gave.
When thanked for one’s efforts, a casual “No problem” is a common but ungracious response that implies, “If it were a problem for me, I probably wouldn’t be doing this.” The idea you want to convey (whether or not it’s true) is, “It’s my pleasure to help you, even if it is not so convenient for me, because your [the customer’s] happiness is my most important motivation.” Therefore, a sincere-sounding “You are very welcome” or “It’s my pleasure” leaves a much better impression.
Follow Up on Requests for Help and Information
If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t just transfer the call and dump them into someone else’s voice mail — someone who may or may not be able or willing to help. The question could stay in v/m limbo forever. Take responsibility for making sure they get the help they need by following up — either with the person you referred them to or with the caller/requester themselves — after an appropriate interval. If the problem has not been resolved, try to help them find another resource or refer them elsewhere (perhaps to a supervisor with more experience and contacts).
Actually listen to the questions being asked and understand what information is being sought. If someone calls to check on the status of a project, don’t just give a stock answer designed to make the interaction as short as possible (“Oh, that usually takes a week”), and don’t make assumptions (“If Margaret told you she would do it, I’m sure she did”).
If you actually check and have reliable information for the caller that is based in reality, the effort is almost always appreciated, even if the progress is not what they had hoped for. Make people feel that they have been heard, that they are important. This will facilitate communication, create good relationships, and impress people with the high level of customer service at your place of business.
Suzanne Ridgway is a freelance writer and regular columnist for Working World and Working Nurse magazines. She also writes grant proposals for nonprofit organizations.