The importance of high-quality phone etiquette cannot be overstated when it comes to both attracting new clients and retaining existing ones. Greeting callers with courtesy, engaging with their words, and listening closely are all examples of good phone etiquette, but what exactly does bad phone etiquette entail? Below are fifteen things that, if practiced when your business’s phones are answered, means your phone etiquette skills might need some practice.




1. Not Answering the Call

This is probably one of the worst phone etiquette fouls in this list. Always answer the phone! Not doing so results in lost business.

If you’re too busy to have a conversation with the customer, answer the phone, record their name and contact information, and inform them that you’ll give them a call back in “x” amount of time.

2. Excessive Hold Time

Certainly, we all get busy from time to time, and the seemingly convenient thing to do is to pick up the ringing phone and say, “Thank you for calling, do you mind if I put you on a brief hold?” However, according to a survey by Velaro, sixty percent of callers will hang up the phone if they’re on hold for only one minute.

Even if your intentions aren’t to leave the caller on hold for any longer than a minute, if you’re busy, it’s a good idea to answer and let them know that you’ll call them right back (and to really do so). In a survey conducted by CTS, “Respondents were asked which they would prefer when all agents were busy, to hold or to get a callback... Two-thirds chose the callback option.”

3. Improper Greeting

Answering the phone with a simple “Hello,” or even just with, for example, “Dexcomm,” is unprofessional, and it reflects bad phone etiquette all around.

You should always answer the phone by saying hello, introducing yourself, and by stating the name of the business the caller has reached. The most professional and congenial way to answer the phone is with something to the effect of: “Hello, thank you for calling Dexcomm! This is Kennedy, what can I do for you today?”




4. Not Smiling When You Pick Up the Phone

It sounds small and insignificant, but truth be told, people really can hear a smile in your voice. However, just as much as they can hear a smile in your voice, they can also hear when there’s not one, and that never makes a caller feel like they’re in good hands.

Answering the phone with a smile can seem like a chore at first, especially if you’re having a trying day. Despite, with some practice, answering the phone with a smile will become a habit overtime. More than that, it will make a notable difference in any customer’s experience with a call.

5. Making the Customer Feel Like They’re a Chore

No one enjoys feeling like their ask for help is a chore, and the callers to your business are no exception. If a customer is calling to see what time your company closes and they’re met with a dull “Our hours of operation are on our website,” that’s not helpful and can come across as rude.

You should strive to be inviting to customers on the phone, making them feel as though they’re welcome to speak freely about whatever their issue or question may be. Be enthusiastic about helping them find a solution! If you know the answers to their questions, answer them, and if you don’t, direct them to someone who can help.

6. Talking Over the Customer

Most likely, there is “x” information your receptionist must get from any caller. Whether it’s their name, their phone number, their reason for calling, or anything—it’s important to hold off on those questions until the caller is finished speaking.

Keep in mind that anything you have to say isn't as important as what the caller has to say. This is especially true when you consider that the caller may answer some of your questions without you having to ask them. That being said—let them get to their point before you interrupt them.




7. Rushing the Caller

If a customer calls five minutes before it's time for you to clock out with a bunch of questions, it’s still unkind to rush to the end of the phone call. Rushing callers is bad customer service and will probably result in a lost customer.

You should listen to the caller as you would for a customer who called at any other point in the day. Practice patience in these situations and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Anything other than that is just showing that you have poor phone etiquette.

8. Being Distracted

Callers can tell whether you’re really listening to them or if you’re distracted. If you’re typing up an expense report while they’re speaking to you, they’ll notice you've missed important details when you later ask for information they've already given you.

Give callers your undivided attention! Not doing so reflects poor customer service. Treat each phone call as though it were a family member calling you.

9. Speaking Too Quietly or Unclearly

It’s one thing if your phone lines are cutting out (and that’s a problem that should be fixed in and of itself), but you should never be mumbling or speaking quietly when you’re on the phone with a customer. Speak at a volume in which callers can hear you! If not, you’ll have to repeat yourself several times, and one of you, if not both of you, will be frustrated by the end of the phone call.

Enunciate your words well and speak with confidence. If you’re more quiet-natured, this will certainly come with practice overtime.




10. Expressing Impatience

If a customer is having a hard time conveying their point to you, or if they’re obviously distracted on the call, it is imperative that you do not express impatience with them. It’s never okay to take on an angry tone of voice with a caller.

Find a way to politely redirect their thoughts and attention to the conversation at hand. A simple, “I’m sorry ma’am, but what were you saying about your air conditioner?” or “You could give me a call back if something came up!” goes a long way.

11. Expressing Indifference

Almost worse than expressing impatience with a customer is expressing indifference. Imagine that a customer calls and says, “Hello, do you know how much it would be to have my water heater replaced?” If your response is simply “I don’t know,” or “No ma’am,” you’re telling the caller that you really don’t care about their question at all.

Again, take on a genuine concern for the customer’s needs. If you don’t know how to help a caller, direct them to someone who can or guide them to the right resources.

12. Unprofessional

In a professional setting, you must conduct yourself in a professional manner. Speak with politeness and respect in your voice.

Don’t cuss when you’re on the phone with a customer, not even to yourself under your breath. Also, make it a point to refer to your customer by name.




13. Confused

If a customer starts telling you something and you realize you have no idea what to do with the information that’s being presented to you, don’t mislead the customer with a response that’s inaccurate or that has nothing to do with what they’re saying. This is not only bad for the customer, but it’s also bad for business.

Instead of confusing the caller as a result of your own confusion, again, direct them to someone who can help them! Let them know that you want to find someone who can answer their questions more thoroughly than you know how to. They will appreciate it!

14. Dead Air

“Dead air” refers to the long, drawn-out silences on a call. For example, “dead air” is when a customer explains something to you, and you simply don’t respond to them while you’re writing something down.

If you’re busy while they’re on the phone with you, even if your handling business that pertains to the call, they don’t know that! Never leave space for dead air on a call. Whether it’s you who’s not being responsive or the caller, it’s necessary that you find a way to engage with the customer at all points in conversation.

15. Being Robotic

Don’t treat each customer as if they’re the same person! Remember, we’re all human, and we all have different ways of expressing our thoughts. Using your same script for each caller won’t always work out for you.

Be flexible. Know when it’s your turn to speak to a customer and when it’s your turn to listen. Treat each of them as though they are a person, not a number.




No one’s perfect, so don’t beat yourself up when you make these phone etiquette mistakes. On the next call, make it a point to improve where you went wrong! If you find that your business has an overwhelming call volume, consider an answering service to take that weight off your shoulders.

Dexcomm is a Louisiana-based corporation that provides answering services to businesses and service agencies across the United States. We have been open since 1954, employ a staff of roughly 80 people, and our average client retention rate is 10+ years.

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Read More About The Author: Kennedy McNabb