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Phone etiquette has fallen to the wayside, despite there being more phones on earth than people at this point in our history.

This problem is especially evident in the workplace where employees, particularly younger, inexperienced employees, don’t know how to interact with people on the phone. With so much of our communication coming in the form of text these days, it’s no wonder people are struggling to “talk” to one another on the phone. It’s become almost acceptable at this point to just send emails and text messages for everything from job applications to emergency messages.

If you run an organization and you want to stand out against the competition, consider improving the way your staff answers the phone and how they treat callers on the other end.

To help you do this, here are some employee training tips on how to train your staff without insulting them or upsetting them. It’s a good reminder that we are meant to talk to one another, not type to one another.

1. Rally the Troops

Rather than confront people on an individual basis or single anyone out, it’s better to take a bottom-up approach to any training in your company. Not only does this help staff feel like they are contributing to the overall improvement of the company, but it avoids having people feel like they are being attacked, which can just add fuel to the fire.

As the CEO or owner of the company, it’s your job to express concern for the way communication and technology seem to be clashing. Just because messages are being sent doesn’t mean they are being understood. With a little care and consideration, everyone could make a great impact on the way customers and callers perceive the company. That means everyone wins.

You can see how this approach makes the initiative a company-wide value, rather than a disciplinary action or punishment. Taking a positive approach to improving, rather than “changing” the way people use the phone, will go a long way in getting participation and execution of such ideas.

Ask everyone for their ideas on how to improve the phone systems, interactions between departments, and of course, how staff can improve interacting with the public, customers, and callers. It might be worth considering what can be done to improve email communications as well, but that can be a conversation for another time. It’s important to roll out new initiatives one at a time so people understand what is expected of them and can focus on making that part of the company better with their full attention.

2. Create a Plan

Once you have collected all of the suggestions from team members and staff, make a point to write down all of the information and format it into some kind of report that you can distribute to everyone for review. Ask staff to provide feedback on the report and offer another chance for them to provide more input at this time.

Once you’re satisfied that everyone has read and understood what is expected to improve over the course of a set time frame, you can set about creating a plan for rolling out the new communication efforts.

To do this, start with one department of your organization and ask them to take notes of how the different interactions occur and what might change over time as they work to improve their efforts.

Some of the expectations you might have set may include a value such as answering the phone within a certain number of rings, not putting customers on hold for longer than 2 minutes, never transferring a call without knowing who is calling first, don’t tell people to call back – serve them now. Improving telephone etiquette is not so much about what people say, but how they say it and how fast customers can get a response.

If someone is on hold for 10 minutes after getting an answer on the first ring, their hopes are dashed by the quick and efficient customer servers that the answer on the first ring provided. That leaves people feeling tired and overlooked.

Improving your staff’s phone etiquette can also be achieved by paying attention to “what” people are saying, of course. In your report, you might provide some examples of how you’ve observed people answering the phone and engaging with customers.

Rather than scold people for their behavior, which is never effective anyway, provide examples of better ways to answer the phone.

For example, rather than tell a customer they are being put on hold, making it a company rule that you always ask for permission to place someone on hold. It’s a simple action, but it’s one that will be felt in a remarkably different way for customers who have no way of knowing what’s going on at your place of business. Making them feel like they are part of the conversation, and not a nuisance goes a long way.

3. Follow up with Staff

After some time of rolling out the new phone etiquette values, hold another meeting to talk about how the staff feels about the changes.

Again, the best way to train your staff on everything from phone calls to applying for internal positions is to approach it from a team perspective and a learning perspective.

As the boss, it’s your job to help employees learn to be better at their jobs. Providing people with a platform to talk about how they want to be better gets them more invested and involved in the initiatives that grow your company.

As you continue to follow up, always ask for new suggestions and test those suggestions in smaller groups before rolling it out to the larger groups.

This also makes individuals feel important and like they are part of the decision-making process. It also takes the weight off your shoulders and gets more hands on deck to make choices that impact the workers and their work.

Man Yelling into the Telephone

4. Pivot as You Go

One of the benefits of working with your staff on how they want to be trained and what areas need to be improved upon is that they will take more ownership of the approach and result. This also means that you will get access to more insight and ideas as your staff works through training and implementation.

When training staff for the first time, even on something as commonplace as how to use the phone, it’s important to be flexible and open-minded. Meaning, the way you think it might all go down is not necessarily the way it will happen in the end – which maybe for the better.

Given that there are standard practices for how many businesses answer the phone, that seems like a good place to start, but you may find that those standards or commonplace way of doing things might not suit your needs, personality, or staff. Forcing people to act a certain way when it’s not the culture of the company can mean that people won’t invest as much time or energy into learning something new or implementing it.

5) What to Train Staff On?

When it comes to training your staff on proper phone etiquette, there are some areas that you’ll want to consider and consult with your staff on; for example, you’ll want to find an agreed-upon salutation when you or anyone else picks up the phone at the office. The salutation should be positive, upbeat, and inform the caller of the company name and the name of the person answering the phone. It is also courteous to ask the caller how you can help. 

It might sound something like this, “Thank you for calling ABC Company, this is Julie. How can I help you today?” If everyone answers the phone the same way, consistently, then callers know what to expect when they call and will come to associate your brand with friendly, helpful service.

Another area to consider is when a customer claims to have been wronged. Your company might have the policy to apologize first and get to the bottom of the issue second. Rather than try to correct the customer – which many organizations do – your company might adopt the policy that it takes responsibility for its wrong-doing, even if it’s just the customer’s opinion.

How you handle these issues internally can be different from how you handle them externally. Ensuring that your customer has a positive experience in complaining about an issue will become more important than the issue. Customers can be disarmed when they receive an apology and then the real work of fixing the issue can begin.

6. Moving Forward

From time to time, you might come to find that you need to alter your approach or retrain your staff to meet the changing needs of your company, but for now, start with agreeing on a place to start and a positive approach to your staff’s needs.

Training your staff on phone etiquette is something that many organizations overlook, and it is a conversation that happens in passing when a receptionist or front desk person is brought on. “Just say the company name and ask for which department the caller is looking for” is often all that is given as advice or “training.” But when you take the time to collaborate and you treat phone etiquette as something as important as the rest of your operation, it shows.

As for what a staff member should say when they answer the phone, a friendly greeting, followed by an invitation to help is enough to make your company stand out. These days, many organizations overlook the importance of how people answer the phone because cell phones make everything feel much less formal than a phone call did years ago.

Take the extra step of providing a proper salutation and keep your staff involved in going changes and improvements to see a drastic change in how people view your company, your values, and your workers.

Written By
Having grown up in a family owned business, and now working as the Content Director for Karrass- a company specializing in negotiation training for businesses - John is grateful for the many opportunities he's had to share his passion for business and writing.

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