Last year I resolved to send less emails and pick up the phone more often to save time and communicate better with others. It worked — I’m spending more time on the phone. But sometimes I feel like I’ve gotten a bit rusty on phone etiquette, which is important because it can be the only shot you have of ‘meeting’ someone.
I also have an axe to grind. Have you ever been on a work phone call and before you know it you’re on speaker phone talking to a group of strangers that you have never met, can’t see and know nothing about? It’s like talking to a large void of black space. I asked Taylor Aldredge of Grasshopper, a company offering a virtual phone system for entrepreneurs and small businesses, about the do’s and don’ts of speaker phone etiquette and learned the following tips. He also offered some excellent communication tips for speaking with potential customers (even if you think you have these nailed, have a look below for a quick refresher).
Speaker Phone Etiquette
1. Never put someone on speaker without telling them. Nobody wants to get caught putting their foot in their mouth if they don’t know other people are listening in to the call.
2. Don’t abuse the mute button. When you start speaking and someone throws the mute button on to talk about what you’re saying with others, it makes it impossible to have a good conversation. You end up feeling like you’re talking to a wall because you can’t hear anyone on the other line while you speak.
3. Speaker phone is best when two groups of people are talking to each other. However, if it’s one person talking to a whole group, then a conference call makes for a much better option because it doesn’t give either a group an edge in communication. You’re all calling into the same line and having a group discussion together, which is what it should be.
4. Phone etiquette, like most etiquette tips, is just about being sane, considerate, and thinking ahead of time If you just think about how you would want to be treated on the phone, then you should pay that forward to the people you are speaking with.
Entrepreneurs Speaking to Customers
1. Train your voice. In order to get your point across, you are going to have to speak clearly and articulately. It is easy for the pitch of your voice to get a little too high and sound irritated when you actually want to be friendly and engaging. This can lead to tension and misunderstandings, so make a conscious effort to control your vocal cords.
2. Always identify yourself. It is professional courtesy to start a conversation with some variation of “Hello Mr. Smith, this is John Adams from ABC Enterprises. How are you today?” You want to establish a personal connection and make sure the person isn’t left hanging wondering who you are.
3. Know who you are speaking to in advance. One of the most frustrating things for anyone is answering the phone and hearing someone ask to speak with the vice president or head of R&D. This is a clear sign that you are cold-calling them, because if they did their research they would address them by name. Know the name of the person you are speaking to and know the number you are calling. When they answer the phone, introduce yourself and make it clear you know who you need to speak with.
4. Avoid confrontation with customers and go the extra mile. Bad employees are used to responding to requests outside of their job description with “that’s not my job.” This is unprofessional and shows an unwillingness to follow through. Instead, assure them that you will personally look into whatever they need and pass the information along to the responsible party.
5. Check to make sure now is a good time. If you’re calling someone without having an established meeting time, check to make sure they’re in a position to talk before continuing the conversation. If you catch them at a bad time, you may not have their full attention and they’ll probably find you a little irritating.
6. Ask for permission before placing someone on speaker phone. Some callers feel that being placed on speaker is annoying or invasive to their privacy. Don’t announce that you are going to place them on speaker without getting their permission first.
7. Keep your personal life a mile from your professional life. Everyone has rough patches in their personal life, but allowing those problems to color your professional conversations is a sure recipe for failure. The client still needs their work completed and they don’t give a dead rat about your problems. Be transparent, apologetic and assure them you are taking care of everything that needs to be done.