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Telephone Etiquette

Customer Service Begins Here


Our view of excellence as stated in Southern at 150: Building Excellence
through Commitment is multi-faceted. One facet of excellence, perhaps the most
important aspect is communication and the universal tool for communication is the
telephone. In today’s work world the phone dominates as a tool for selling, buying,
researching, providing services and making lasting impressions. It can also be a
source of great frustration, puzzlement and agitation.

The difference between a positive and negative experience with a phone call is
you. The human factor in all communications makes the difference. Customers
need to feel taken care of, well informed and motivated. When you answer the
phone, it’s that 'human moment' when customers can actually experience what it
would be like working with you and your people. It's the opportunity to create
relationships for the future of your department, college or the university.

We thank you for your efforts on behalf of the students, your department, your
college and the University. Without you it wouldn’t get done.


Table of Contents

Clear Your Mind 4

Prepare Your Phone Voice 5

Prepare to Offer Your Standard 5


Be Prepared Before You Respond 6

The Phone Call and the Customer 6

Treat the Caller with Respect 7

Problem Callers 8

Alternative Dialogue 9

Screening Calls 10

Placing Callers on Hold 11

Transferring Calls 11

Taking Messages 12

Voice Mail 12

What’s In It for Me 13


A phone is ringing somewhere in your office. By the third ring the call should be
answered. BUT… before you pick up that phone:

1. Clear your mind of all but the task at hand – responding to the caller.
2. Prepare your phone voice
3. Answer by the 3rd ring
4. Offer your standardized greeting.
5. Be prepared before you respond.
6. Treat the caller with respect; be efficient, effective, empathetic and

Clear Your Mind of all but the Task at Hand – Responding to the
There’s nothing worse than trying to carry on a conversation with someone who
is reading their emails, looking at documents or distracted with something other
than your conversation. You can always tell; there’s an extended pause in the
conversation while you wait for a response but, they have none because they
were looking through a magazine while chatting on the phone. It’s frustrating, it’s
rude, it makes you feel unimportant and they are likely to miss important
information for lack of focus.


Being present requires FOCUS. Your center of interest should be on the caller
and their conversation. Allowing distractions can result in important information
being overlooked or worse, the caller identifies you as a poor provider of
customer service and tells others.

Turn away from your computer and desk when you answer the phone
Put down your reading material.
Focus your attention on the caller
Take the gum out of your mouth
No drinking or eating during the conversation

Take an informal survey of the people you see talking on the phone. How
many are focusing their attention on the caller? Pay attention when you are
talking to someone on the phone, do you think they are giving you 100% of
their attention? What reaction do you have to their phone etiquette?


Prepare Your Phone Voice

How you handle yourself on the phone reflects not only on you, but also your
department and SIUC. You see it over and over. Someone talking on the phone
forms an opinion of the person with whom they are talking based on the tone of
their voice, their language skills, etc. It may not be fair, but it happens.
According to John Robertson of EZINE @rticles, within 60 seconds people will
make assumptions about your education, background, ability and personality
based on your voice alone. What reputation do you want to build? What
impression do you want to make?

Do you sound like this on the phone?

Pay attention to:

• What you want to say.
• How you want to say it.

Your voice is very important to your career and

your personal life. When you are talking 87% of the listener’s opinion of you is
based on how you say it according to Robertson. That means that only 13%
remains to make a positive impression about what we are saying. Project a tone
that conveys enthusiasm, confidence, friendliness and attentiveness.

Did you know, when you smile while you are talking it comes across in your
voice? Let your personality shine through on the phone.
Take a deep breath before you pick up the phone
Smile before you speak
Assume your speaking voice, controlling speed, tone and volume
Speak clearly,
Call someone and tell them you are conducting an experiment. Ask them to
give their attention to your call and begin speaking with a grimace on your
face and then change to a smile. Ask if they noticed a difference and have
them explain what they heard.

Prepare to Offer Your Standard Greeting

YO, Hey, Whazzzzup may be the normal greetings you would expect to hear in
the academic setting if you are calling the dorms but they are not generally
accepted telephone etiquette for University offices. Remember the 87% rule?
Make a good first impression with an effective, efficient greeting. Identify your
department, then, identify yourself. Name your department (Music Department),
your name (Glenn Campbell); that’s it, 4 words! It’s crisp, clean and gives all the
information the caller can handle at this point in the call. Adding phrases such as
“good morning”, “how may I help you” are ok so long as you sound like you mean


it. Elaborate, drawn out greetings are distracting and time consuming. You can
lose your caller before the conversation begins.

1. Practice answering the phone using the suggested
format of department name, then your name.
2. Change your voice mail message to be more efficient
and effective.

Be Prepared Before You Respond

Be prepared to answer the phone. It’s not an interruption, it’s your job. Have
pencil and paper ready; prepare mentally to be present with the caller. Write
down the caller’s name immediately. If the caller doesn’t identify him or herself –
ask for a name… “May I say whose calling?” “Could I have your name please?”
“With whom am I speaking?” All are polite, appropriate ways to get the caller’s
name. Use their name frequently throughout the conversation.

Use all of your listening skills, focus your attention on the caller, speak calmly
and choose your words. Be careful to avoid jargon or acronyms not universally
Listen not only to what the speaker is saying but to their unspoken
thoughts as well. What is it this person isn’t saying that is important to the
Be sure to get clarification. “If I understand you correctly…”, “So you are
saying that…” “This is what I understand you are telling me…”

The phone call and Customer Service

Let’s pause here for a minute to talk about the effect your kindness, courtesy and
relationship building has on your department and ultimately the University’s
relationships with our customers. Ah! Customers! And just who are our
customers? A short, informal Webster definition is “a person with whom one
must deal”. A phone caller is certainly someone to be dealt with: thus, a

There are many dealings occurring during the workday outside of your sphere of
influence. However, how people react to you, perceive you and thus the
organization you represent are all within your control. If you are a cheerful,
responsive problem solver, people will react positively to you. You can
confidently influence your effectiveness with a caller and ultimately the reputation
of your department, with a strong customer service orientation.

A famous restaurant trains their greeters to ask when you leave about your
experience at their restaurant. They ask because they know if you had a bad
experience you are likely to tell 7-9 people. Those people will tell others and


quickly the customer base erodes because of one bad experience. Without
customers, the business fails and employees are out of work.

If you treat your caller with disrespect, disdain and curtness, you will unwittingly
send a message to 7-9 people you never had direct contact with that employees
at SIUC, and you in particular, have no sense of customer service. On the other
hand, if you treat the caller with respect, focus on their situation and resolve their
problem, 5 people will hear about the positive experience the caller had with
SIUC and you. We build our reputation with the community we live in and serve,
one phone call, one customer service experience at a time. Each one counts
and each one reflects on you.
Activity: Smile at people as you meet them. Pay attention, most will smile back;
and those who didn’t, what was your reaction to them?

Treat the Caller with Respect; Be Efficient, Effective,

Empathetic and Responsive

5 Forbidden Phrases
1. “I Don’t Know”
2. “I/We Can’t Do That”
3. “You Have To”
4. “Just a Second”
5. “No”
Be positive, a problem solver, honest and helpful.

Instead of: Try:

“I Don’t know” “That’s a good question, let me find out for you”
Callers don’t want to be passed from person to
person. If it is absolutely necessary, transfer the
caller to the appropriate department but do not
leave the line until they have been connected to an
individual to whom you can explain who is calling
and why you are transferring them. Never, transfer
a call and hang-up before the transfer is complete.
If the call requires research, assure the person you
will call back and give them a specific time to
expect your call. There is no excuse for not
returning calls. If you haven’t found out the info by
the established deadline, call and say so. Make
yourself a cheat sheet on your department and
other departments. Talk to people outside your
immediate office and use the information to provide
good customer service.
“I/we can’t do that” “Here’s what we can do.” Everyone expects that
something can be done about any situation. By


offering hope, you will be seen as a problem solver.

“Here’s how we can help” or “Here’s what needs to
be done” or “I need to” When someone is calling
you for help, avoid putting the responsibility back
on them by using the “you” word. Give options
using the words “we” or “I”.
“Just a second” Give an honest answer about how long it will take
you to complete whatever you are doing AND tell
them what you are doing. Use the hold button.
“No” Try to find a way to state the situation positively.
The customer is not always right but s/he is
always the customer. They hate to hear no, as
they expect their situation will be resolved to their
advantage. If you can’t do what they are asking,
be sure to tell them what you can do.
Problem Callers
Problem callers don’t usually start out that way. Something
happens to make them go ballistic. Customers have an
expectation of how they ought to be treated and if you fail to
meet that expectation, they become agitated.

When you get a caller on the phone who is getting agitated:

Listen. Allow them to vent. Stay calm and be sincere. Remember the 87% rule
– if you aren’t sincere the caller will know immediately. Don’t jump in, even if you
have heard the same thing 10 times. The caller will be offended. A sincere voice
will have a calming effect on the caller. If you become upset or defensive you will
make a bad situation worse.

Don’t over-react to trigger words. Callers will often try to push your
Listen completely to the complaint, allow the caller to vent. Only when
they are finished should you comment.
If the call is long-distance you might offer to call them back to avoid phone
charges. This can have an immediate positive impact.
Empathize. Acknowledge their feelings. “I can hear that you are upset by this”
or “I can tell this situation is upsetting you”.

To help with this process, keep family pictures in your work area. Pretend
you are talking to someone you know and like while you are working with
your caller.
Force yourself to focus on solving the problem rather than internalizing the
caller’s attacks.
Don’t blame anyone for the problem, no matter who is at fault. It’s counter
productive to resolving the issue.


Apologize. It doesn’t matter who’s at fault. Anyone who has been

inconvenienced wants an apology. You don’t have to agree with the caller, but
should express regret that there is a problem. Empathize with the person’s
feelings and apologize, sincerely… “I’m really sorry this happened”. This makes
the caller feel that you have aligned with them. It’s hard to be upset with
someone who is sympathetic and trying to help.

Use the person’s name a lot and apologize frequently.

Solve the problem. Suggest agreeable solutions. Ask how you can help and if
it’s reasonable, do it; if not, find a compromise. Make sure something is done.
Take it upon yourself to ensure the customer gets some satisfaction.

Handling difficult customers isn’t easy. Remembering the Golden Rule,
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, and putting it into
action with difficult customers, will help increase your job satisfaction.
Paraphrase the problem and repeat it to the caller – get clarification before
offering solutions.
Work with your managers to streamline office/departmental procedures so
people who answer the phone are empowered to solve the customer’s
Picture how good it feels to solve a problem and send someone away
satisfied. It makes your whole day better.
Alternative Dialogue
Instead of Say
“Hold on” “Will you hold while I…” (and wait for
the answer)
“Who is this?” “May I have your name please?” or
“Who is calling, please?” or “May I ask
who’s calling?”
“Thank you for calling the office of the “College of We Are the World, Global
Director of Education, Finance and Warming.”
Everything Else, in the College of We
Are the World. My name is Global
Warming, how may I help you.”
“We can’t do that.” “I believe we can offer (alternative)
...will that work for you?”
“I can take a message.” “I’ll be happy to take a message and be
sure it gets to (the correct person) right
“So and So is responsible for that.” “I’m sorry you’re having this problem,
what can I do to help?”
“Like I told you before…” “I’m really sorry you’re having this


problem. Let’s find a way to resolve this


“No one here would have promised you “If I understand you correctly, you were
anything like that.” promised…”
“Let’s figure out how we can resolve
“If you would just listen.” “I understand you are upset, I
apologize for the trouble you’re having
with this.”
Sentences starting with you Sentences starting with I

CONGRATULATIONS!! You’ve successfully handled a difficult situation.

Take care of yourself. If it was a particularly difficult call, take a quick break, walk
down the hall, or have a drink of water. Talk over the situation with a colleague
or your manager. Find some humor in the situation if you can. Pat yourself on
the back. Remind yourself how good you are at your job and how committed you
are to good customer service.

Screening Calls
Screening calls is often an unpleasant part of the job. But it is sometimes
necessary because the person for whom you are screening does not always
have time to talk or want to talk to the caller. Key to handling these situations is
considering the “availability” of the called party. In order to keep a caller from
being irate over not finding the person they are calling available to them, try
sequencing the questions to avoid a conflict.

Sample Conversation:
Receptionist: “Bookkeeping, James Stewart”
Caller: “Is Ms. Stell available”
Receptionist: “I’m sorry, Ms. Stell is unavailable at this
time, may I take your name and number and have her
return your call? Or may I help you?” (Note: you have
given the caller the expectation a phone call will be
returned but also offered immediate assistance if
Caller: “This is Sam Davis, would you please tell her I called, she has my
Receptionist: “Mr. Davis, she has asked me to interrupt if you should call, so
please hold while I tell her you are on the line.” (Had Mr. Davis not been
someone who should be passed through you have left no room for doubt about
the availability of Ms. Stell.)



Review the following conversation.

Receptionist: Bookkeeping, James Stewart
Caller: I need to speak with Ms. Stell, right away.
Receptionist: May I get your name and number please?
Caller: This is Sam Davis and I need to speak with Ms. Stell
Receptionist: Let me check to see if she is in, will you hold please?
Caller: Yes, thank you I’ll hold.
Receptionist: I’m sorry, Ms Stell is not available, Let me take your number and
have her return the call.
Caller: NO, I’ll hold until she can take my call.
Why do you think Mr. Bellefonte thinks Ms. Stell is in the office?

Have a list of callers for whom you should always interrupt

Placing Callers on Hold

The other line is ringing, and you are anxious to
answer…requiring you to put your current caller on
Hold – it’s a necessary evil. We all hate being on
Hold. So when it’s necessary to place a caller on
Hold, check with them first to determine if they
can/want to Hold. WAIT for an answer. Remember
back when we talked about “being present” with your caller? If you are present
with your caller it is only polite to let them decide if they will Hold, go to voice
mail, or call back. Handle your current caller before you rush off to another…first
come, first serve.

Once you have placed a caller on Hold, check back every 15-30 seconds to
update them. Thank them for holding and be as specific as you can about how
much longer you expect to keep them on Hold. Each time allow them the
opportunity to decide if they would like to continue Holding.

Next time you are on hold – track how many seconds you are on hold and how
many times someone checks back with you. Would you consider them customer
service oriented?

Transferring Calls
When the caller needs to be transferred, be polite and ask if they would like to be
transferred. Ask the caller for their number in case you lose them during the
transfer. Give the caller the name of the person to whom you are transferring
them along with their number in case the call does not go through or in case they
would like to call later. If at all possible, stay on the line until the transfer is


If you have a frustrated caller who has been transferred several times already,
do not transfer them again. Take ownership of their situation. Call the
appropriate party; ensure they have a solution to the situation, only then should
you transfer the caller. If you don’t know how to fix the situation, take the caller’s
name and number, find the appropriate person and have them return the call.
Check back to make sure the caller’s situation has been resolved. The caller will
always remember your kindness and will tell others about your terrific customer
service skills.

Treat the caller as you would want to be treated
Look at those pictures in your work area; help the caller as if they were
Make it your goal to call them back within 4 hours if you have to do
research to help them with their situation

Taking Messages
When taking a message for someone else, be sure you get the following
information recorded:
1. The caller’s name and company/department
2. The correct spelling of the caller’s name, date
and time of the call
3. Complete telephone number
4. Brief explanation for call.

Be sure to verify this information with the caller to make

sure you have taken the message correctly and give him/her the opportunity to
check what they told you.

If someone is covering the phones for you, pick up your messages when
you return. Don’t wait for them to come to you.

Voice Mail
Voice mail can be a very effective tool for communication if it is used correctly. In
general people don’t mind getting transferred to voice mail if it gives them helpful
information. Your voice mail message should be short and to the point. When
forced to leave a message, callers prefer to get right to it, not listen to a long-
winded voice mail greeting. Don’t state the obvious, (I’m away from my desk or
on the other line). State your department, your name and leave clear instruction
as to what information you need from the caller such as:
Name and phone number,
Best time for you to return the call
Brief summary of the reason for calling



Sample voice mail: “Housekeeping; Mary Maid. I will be out of the office
until Tuesday. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message as
to the nature of your call. I will respond when I return.”
Sample voice mail: “Housekeeping; Mary Maid. I will be out of the office
until Tuesday. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message as
to the nature of your call. I will respond when I return. If you need
immediate assistance please contact Jeeves Butler at x5555.
Sample voice mail if you change your voice mail daily: “School of
Agriculture; Pepper Greenjeans. Today is (date). At the tone, please
leave your name, a brief message regarding your call, along with your
phone number and the best time to call you back.”
www.infotech.siu.edu/telecom choose Administration; on this next
screen under Administration choose Voice Mail; on the next screen
choose Desktop Messaging Quick Reference Guide for learning how to
use our university voicemail system.

If you are going to be away from the office, say so and leave your date of return
so people will know when they might expect a response. If you are going to be
out for an extended period, you should consider offering information on another
source for helping the caller. In this case, you would state your department
name, your name and information about who the caller can contact for

If you plan to refer your calls to another member of your department, be sure to
make arrangements with them ahead of time. Leave them a cheat sheet on how
to handle special procedures.

WIIFM(What’s In It For Me)

Customer Focus Inc. offers the following:
“Customers and other employees like to work with people who have a zest for
life. NO matter what your knowledge or abilities, your enthusiasm and attitude
have the greatest effect on people…and on you!

Focus on being enthusiastic

At the start of each day, set a goal to be enthusiastic.
Be aware of your energy level during the day, use it wisely.
Pull yourself up when you are feeling down.


Choose and use energy words or a pick-me-up song

Select your own energy word or phrase such as zest, energy, get going,
YES or
Select a favorite energy song such as “Old Time Rock n Roll” or “Mony
Play your song or say your words to help energize you in your down time.

Accept the challenge

Know that it is a challenge to meet or exceed customer expectations.
Use your enthusiasm.
Take pride and satisfaction in creating a positive experience for someone

Tap into energy sources

Let other enthusiastic people zap you with energy.
Be aware that your energy is contagious.

Disconnect from energy drains

Avoid negative people – they can drain you.
Walk away from discussions that are negative or cynical.

Measure your accomplishments

Track your performance and seek feedback.
Set short term goals and beat them.
Set long term goals and track your progress.

Take initiative
Empower yourself by making your own decisions.
Go the extra mile at home and work.
Reward yourself for your accomplishments.