A Guide to Phone Etiquette: The 9 Essential Rules

Phone etiquette in customer service may be just as important as solving the customer's problem. Every customer service professional should follow these nine essential rules for phone etiquette.

Updated August 4, 2020

Phone etiquette for business professionals is not much different from regular etiquette — it's all about showing respect for your customers when you answer a call.

For some people, telephone etiquette comes naturally. But for others, phone skills training is necessary to get it right. Either way, it's important for customer service professionals to understand telephone protocol and utilize it in their interactions with customers.

These nine essential rules and phone etiquette tips will help you ensure the customer service experience at your company is second to none.

The 9 essential rules of phone etiquette for your small business

  • Be prepared
  • Answer calls within three rings
  • Introduce yourself
  • Speak clearly (but not loudly)
  • Watch your tone (and language)
  • Don't interrupt
  • Give your full attention
  • Take notes
  • Ask permission to put someone on hold

1. Be prepared

If you're in customer service, chances are you already know what people are going to ask you about when they give you a ring. Gather all the documentation you need access to ahead of time and be ready to answer common questions your customers have.

If you start the day unprepared, you'll be fumbling around for answers and will generally look unprofessional to the customer.

Tip: Talk to colleagues and get ideas from them. Ask them which questions they get the most, which ones are the most challenging, how they respond, and so on. You will gain insights on how to deal with customers you wouldn't come up with on your own.


2. Answer calls within three rings

Customers don't like to wait, even if it's just for a few extra rings. Answer phone calls within three rings to show the customer they are a priority rather than an interruption.

If you aren't able to get to the phone until after a few rings, it's not a big deal — just don't make it a habit, and apologize to the customer for making them wait.

Tip: If you had to step away from your desk briefly, don’t rush back to the office to get there in time for the third ring. You’ll probably answer the phone out of breath if you do that. Instead, take a beat and answer the phone calmly, even if it ends up being on the fourth or even fifth ring.


3. Introduce yourself

Have you ever called a customer support number only to be greeted with a perfunctory "Hello?" leaving you wondering if you dialed the wrong number?

That's certainly not how you expect to be greeted when calling a business. The professional way to answer the phone is to introduce yourself by saying something along the lines of, "Hello, this is [name] from [company], how can I help you today?"

Tip: Ask your boss (if you have one) how they would like you to answer the phone, and whether there is company-approved phone etiquette training. The company may have a preferred greeting, such as, "Thank you for calling ACME, manufacturers of high-end widgets. This is [name], how can I help you?"


4. Speak clearly (but not loudly)

Few things are more frustrating than talking to someone on the phone who you can barely hear. Customer support professionals should speak clearly over the phone, projecting their voice confidently, which not only helps the customer understand but also increases their confidence in you as a professional.

However, don't speak too loudly — speak at a normal volume, increasing it slightly only if the customer asks you to repeat something.

Tip: Sit up straight in your chair instead of slouching or reclining. This will free up your diaphragm and make it easier to project.


5. Watch your tone (and language)

Avoid speaking with a customer in an overly familiar tone. Doing things like expressing annoyance or using slang is not proper etiquette.

Communications with customers should stay professional, meaning no casual remarks or jokes, for the most part. Definitely avoid any kind of profanity, which may cause the customer to lose respect for you and consequently the company you work for.

Tip: Be positive and cheerful in all conversations with customers. It's a fundamental rule in the sales world. Even if a customer is rude or uncooperative, remaining positive and helpful is your best bet.


6. Don't interrupt

Always let a customer finish their train of thought before jumping in, even if you think they're going down a rabbit trail or being difficult. In particular, listen carefully to complaints and show the customer that you find their concerns important.

If they are being unacceptably rude or abusive, refer them to a manager, but in general, you should avoid interrupting.

Tip: Wait a beat after you think a customer has finished talking. Sometimes you think the customer is about to conclude and you start talking as soon as they finish their sentence, but they may have more to say. Waiting briefly ensures they are really done with their train of thought.


7. Give your full attention

Customers, like anyone, want to feel heard — and empathy in customer service goes a long way. You must make them believe you are paying attention, so avoid doing distracting activities while on the phone, like checking email or looking for something in your desk.

If the customer asks you a question and you pause before answering because you're clearly distracted, that signals to the customer a lack of respect, and it could cost you that customer for good.

Tip: Reflect the customer's concerns back to them to show that you have been listening. Don’t merely repeat it back to them like a parrot; summarize their concerns succinctly after they are finished talking. Phrase it like, "So the product lacked feature X, which you expected it would have, and you are asking us to remedy the situation? Is that accurate?"


8. Take notes

One good way to force yourself to pay attention is to take notes. This activity is also important because it ensures you have captured all of the elements of the customer's concerns and can refer to it later. If you don't take notes, you may forget something to check up on, and end up with a dissatisfied customer.

Tip: Create a filing system for your notes so you can track customer feedback. Many customer service software and CRM software options are great at this, allowing you to immediately see any interactions you’ve had with a customer the moment they call you.


9. Ask permission to put someone on hold

Sometimes, you have to transfer the customer to another individual or department. Always ask for permission before you place the customer on hold.

Blurting out, "Hold one second, please" after a customer has aired their concerns comes off as rude. Instead, say something like, "Thank you for detailing your concerns, I know exactly the person who can help you with this, can you hold one second while I transfer you?"

Tip: Many people struggle with transferring someone on a company phone or putting a customer on hold, so ask someone to train you on how to do it first. You don’t want to accidentally hang up on a customer because you hadn’t familiarized yourself with the process first.


Start building new habits

Put your customer service skills to the test by implementing these nine rules. Challenge yourself to live by each one, and create a checklist that you can check off with each customer interaction to ensure you’re turning it into a habit. You’ll find that your interactions with customers will improve.

Also, never stop learning. Look for examples of good customer service to determine what techniques other professionals use that you could incorporate into your own routine.

Ask yourself the important questions: How would customers describe me? What can I do better? What mentality should I have going into a call? By continuing to work to improve yourself and grow as a customer service professional, you’ll find that the work gets easier and more enjoyable.

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