When was the last time you made or received a phone call? Smartphones do just about everything these days, from sending emails to taking pictures to playing games. It can be easy to forget that these handy devices can make actual calls, too.

And it can be easy to forget that even though you prefer texting and private messaging over traditional calling, it’s no reason to let go of old-fashioned phone etiquette. In fact, phone etiquette should be revived so you won’t get caught off-guard the next time your phone rings, or when you need to make a call.

Phone etiquette may also come in handy if you work in or run a small business that still uses landlines or PBX phones. Even as technology advances, business phone calls won’t go away anytime soon. After all, when it comes to company introductions or customer support, nothing beats an honest-to-goodness phone conversation.

Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to help you present yourself or your company well through the phone:

The Do’s

1. Answer a call after three rings.

If you work in customer support, you should always be ready to take a call. It’s a huge mistake to keep a customer waiting, or allow their call to be routed to voicemail when you were perfectly capable of picking up the phone. If it takes you forever to answer the phone, you can be sure that the person on the other end won’t be in a good mood. Their first impression of you would be that you’re lazy, you don’t care, or you have no manners. They might also get the feeling that your company is understaffed – something you wouldn’t want to convey to a customer or business partner.

The rule of thumb is to answer a call within three rings. Picking up the phone too quickly might leave you flustered. With three rings, you can give yourself enough time to get ready for the call.

2. Start with a proper introduction.

Even in today’s age of caller ID, it can be strange (and even rude) to dial a number and jump right into the conversation once the other party picks up the receiver. It’s advisable to tell the other person first who you are and why you’re calling. This rule applies even if you’re making the call internally via a PBX phone and connecting only to another department within your building or organization. Everyone will appreciate the courtesy even if they recognize your name and number on the caller ID. That is a simple way to start off any business conversation on the right foot.

3. Focus on the call.

Whether you’re the caller or the receiver of the call, be ready to talk when you pick up the phone. In the early 20th century, people needed an operator to connect a call — and this could take a while. Some people would place calls and then leave their phones to go about their other business while “waiting” to be connected. Sometimes, these people would request a family member to hold the phone for them and inform the receiver of the call (when connected) to wait for them to return to the line and commence the conversation. A more recent example of this would be making a call and putting it on hold to answer an incoming call.

This practice is still as rude today as it was back then. Even if you can multitask by receiving or making a phone call while tapping on your tablet or browsing on your computer, don’t do it. The person on the other end of the line deserves your undivided attention. If you don’t have time to make or receive a call, don’t pick up the phone. If the call is important or you’re tasked to receive every phone call, drop what you’re doing and focus on talking to the other party.

4. Speak clearly.

Without body language cues to pick up on, the person you’re talking to on the phone should hear and understand you clearly. Project your voice without shouting. With a strong, confident voice, you can make a customer or business partner trust you and listen to what else you have to say. Enunciate every word, so you do not have to repeat what you’re saying several times.

In case of bad reception or cell service, or a noise problem in the line, ask the other person to call back or hang up so you could call them back. This way, you don’t waste any minute of your or your customer’s precious time.

5. Ask before placing someone on hold.

You have been a customer — you know how infuriating it is to be placed on hold so suddenly. Putting you on hold and transferring your call to someone else, to whom you must explain your concerns all over again, is even worse. So, if you’re now in a position to put a customer on hold or transfer their call, don’t do it without asking their permission or explaining why it’s necessary. More importantly, reassure them that you or another employee will help solve their problem swiftly. By being polite and keeping customers in the loop, you’ll get fewer complaints (or none at all) about waiting time.

6. Leave short voicemails.

In the 1930s, you had to get in line if you wanted to make a call. So, if it’s your turn, you had to keep your call quick. There’s even a phonebook instruction that says, “Don’t say Hullo! Announce your identity,” to cut down on the call time. Although it’s strange not to say “hello” at the start of a phone call today, people should still follow the old-school way of keeping your calls short and concise, especially with voicemails.

With tons of voicemails to hear, people may likely skip those that are too long or ambiguous. So if you get a customer or vendor’s voicemail, leave a message that’s short, sweet and to the point. Explain briefly why you’re calling and don’t forget to mention your contact details so that they can get back to you.

7. Prepare for a proper ending.

Whether you’ve answered the customer’s inquiry or not, or you’ve secured a sales meeting or not, you should end the call properly and politely. It’s a no-no to make the other person feel you’re in a rush to get off the phone. Instead, prepare for a proper ending. If you’ve solved a customer’s issue, for instance, ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with. If there’s nothing else, thank them for calling and wish them a good day. Were you the one who made the call? Be polite to end the conversation by thanking the other party for taking the time to help you, or at least accommodate your call.

The bottom line is: make time for a pleasant ending. Also, it’s proper to let the customer put down the phone or get off the line first.

The Don’ts

shouting while in a call

1. Don’t be too casual.

Saying “Hello!” is fine but then again, following the old-school instruction “Don’t (just) say Hello! Announce your identity,” it’s best to include your name and the company name as you make or pick up the call. This doesn’t only assure the caller that they got the correct number, but it also helps set the tone of the conversation.

It’s best to keep the language professional. Say “just a moment, please” instead of “hang on a sec.”  With such efforts, you can impress the person on the line, be it a customer, partner, or an applicant.

2, Don’t speak too loudly.

If you’re in a room where other employees who are taking calls like you, be mindful of the volume of your voice. You may be speaking loudly to make sure the other party hears you, but that could turn off potential customers. After all, nobody likes being “shouted at” over the phone. Your loud volume can disrupt your colleagues, too.

It’s best to keep a normal tone and follow this phone etiquette guideline: keep your mouth one and a half inches away from the receiver. This is the ideal distance to ensure excellent sound quality, according to some of the oldest telephone companies. If you’re unsure about your volume, feel free to ask the person on the other line if they can hear you. Step out of the room if background noise is an issue.

3. Don’t talk with your mouth full.

Talking with your mouth full is generally considered rude. It doesn’t apply only to face-to-face conversations but phone conversations as well. Following this etiquette is easy: don’t make or receive calls during your lunch hour. If you genuinely need to make essential calls during lunch break, resist the urge to chew something, or even take a bite, while doing so. The person you’re calling might not take you seriously if they hear you chewing or smacking your lips while making a pitch or answering their questions.

4. Don’t leave people on hold for too long.

Remember how placing a call and then leaving the phone to attend to other things was a worrying practice decades before? It still is today — in the form of putting someone on hold for too long.

Again, if you have to place a person on hold, ask for their permission first. If they give you the green light, make sure you don’t leave them hanging for a long time. Assess if putting them on hold is the best step or if getting their contact details and promising to call back later would be better.  There’s no quicker way to make a potential customer, vendor, or business partner feel unimportant than putting them on extended hold.

5. Don’t curse

In 1910, placing a call alone could take over 20 minutes. There were also instances wherein speakers were disconnected as soon as the caller started talking. People found telephones so frustrating that they used profane language while on the line or waiting to connect through an operator. Because of that, some telephone networks issued fines and penalties to callers who swore while using a phone.

While people are no longer punished today for swearing on the phone, it’s best to be polite and keep your emotions in check when taking a business call. Remember, with business calls, you’re speaking as a company representative; make sure that your manner of talking and phone behavior doesn’t put your company in a bad light.

6. Don’t be afraid to end the conversation. 

In the 1950s, it wasn’t considered rude to interrupt the person you’re talking to on the phone if you want to end the conversation. During that era, most people use public payphones, and only a few could afford to have a phone at home. Unfortunately, these few telephone owners were often victims of nuisance calls. To avoid being disturbed for too long, they were taught to get callers off the line. One telephone company even encouraged people to use this phrase: “I’m sorry, but I have to stop now. Thank you for calling.”

You can adopt that old-school phrase or other polite ways to end phone conversations today. There’s nothing wrong with ending a phone call midway, as long as you do it politely. Be honest if you think the conversation isn’t going anywhere. This way, you don’t waste any minute of both your precious time.

7. Don’t call before 9 AM or after 9 PM.

Similar to nuisance calls, phone calls that are too early or too late are considered rude in the past. Typically, there was only one telephone in the entire household, and it’s stationary, unlike mobile phones today. If you happened to call at 6 AM or 11 PM, the telephone in the living room would ring loud enough to wake up everyone sleeping in the house. The unwritten rule was: don’t call before 9 AM or after 9 PM to avoid waking anyone sleeping.

People should apply the same rule today. It is simply rude to call someone too early or too late, no matter how early the receiver wakes up or how late they sleep. The only exception to this rule is if it’s an emergency. An extension of this rule is to not make business calls on weekends to respect people’s personal time.

In today’s fast-paced world where communicating is only a hand’s reach away, it’s easy to ditch rules and forgo etiquette. But this should not be the case with phone calls, especially in a business setting.

Remember, a phone call is a good starting point to provide excellent customer experience. Brush up on some old-school phone etiquette and make people feel better about doing business with you. Who knows, that initial contact could lead to something big for your company.

Want to learn more about efficient communications technology for your business? Give us a call today. Just don’t do it after 9 PM.