Phone Demeanor and Etiquette

Consumers know when they are, and aren’t, being treated well. Do not underestimate them! If I had to list the ten biggest tactical errors companies make, poor telephone manners would be at the top. If you’re serious about improving your chances of succeeding in business, pay close attention to the following essentials:

Anyone who answers the phone (including you) must smile!

Sound corny? Maybe so, but research study after research study confirms that a smile can be “seen” over the phone. If you don’t believe me, test it yourself. You will be amazed at the results! It costs nothing and makes such a huge impact!

Also, it’s a wonderful idea to develop a unique, scripted greeting for all to use when answering the phone

This is another no-cost yet extremely effective way of setting your business apart from others.

For instance, you may incorporate a humorous twist on your tag line like this:

Thanks for calling Joe’s Tire Company where everyone’s full of hot air! My name is, John, how can I help you?

I’ve used iterations of the following greeting and received great reactions:

Hi, my name is Mary and we’re having a great day at XYZ Company. How can I help you have one too?

A little “hokey” perhaps, but pleasantly memorable.

Voice Mail Greeting

Make sure your voice mail greeting is short, but pleasant (remember, smile!)


  • Tell the caller whether you’re on another line; away from your desk or closed.
  • It’s a good idea to change your greeting everyday so callers’ expectations are managed. For instance, you can begin your greeting with, “Hi, this is Mary and today is Monday, January 1st. I’ll be in meetings all morning with little opportunity to return calls. However, I will be back in my office by 2 pm and will return your call shortly thereafter. If this is an emergency…”
  • Changing your greeting is easy and cost-free and can make all the difference in the world!
  • Additionally, direct callers to an after-hours hot line for emergencies, if suitable.
  • Your message should tell callers when they should expect a callback. No customer should wait more than 24 hours (and less is much preferable) for a return call. If this isn’t possible, find the cause of the problem, and fix it.
  • Don’t skimp on quality when it comes to your phone systems! Both network voice-messaging products and / or equipment are inexpensive enough so you no longer have to choose price over quality. There’s no excuse for exasperating callers with garbled greetings or premature disconnects. As well as being annoying, it’s a good way to ensure that interested prospects don’t try to contact you again.

Use Call Scripts

Scripts are particularly important for companies that receive (inbound calls) or make (outbound) lots of phone calls. Again, studies point out that companies with a well-thought-out and delivered employee script are more successful than those who do not.

If it’s important that something is said correctly – and it almost always is, – then don’t leave it to chance. Provide your contact personnel with the ‘right words’ – they’ll thank you and so will your customers.

Placing Customers On-hold

  • First, try not to put customers on hold, either before or during a call.
  • Also, your caller will appreciate it if a real person answers your phones!
  • However, if you must place people on hold the following will help:
    1. Make sure you warn the customer… ask if they’re comfortable being place on hold; then tell them what to expect, i.e. what they’ll hear on hold (music, talking or silence); what you’ll be doing while they’re on hold; and how long it will take.
    2. Instead of playing radio stations (where callers might hear a competitor’s commercial) use on-hold time to relay important information; introduce new products or services; current promotions or sales; etc. (You may have heard this referred to as Marketing on Hold.)
    3. Play soothing music… Studies suggest that certain music, particularly classical, has calming effect. Check out baroque-era musical CDs… The piece, “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” is one of the best!

Other Considerations

  • Number of lines… As I said before your callers should never get a busy signal! This sends an unspoken message that you are less than professional and perhaps even ‘fly-by-night’, and there is no reason for it, given today’s affordable technology.
  • Also, if you’re getting lots of unanswered calls consider installing more lines to compensate. This will save you time, money and aggravation in the long run.

Toll-Free Numbers

  • I advise most of my clients to have a toll-free number. Why? Because they’re inexpensive nowadays and can effectively increase business’ sales calls from 30-70%! Here are a couple of tips to remember:
    1. Don’t worry about getting a phone number that spells out a word. If you do, prospects may hear or see it then assume they’ll remember, so they won’t write it down. Then what happens? That’s right, they forget .
    2. A better alternative is to get an easy-to-remember (but not that easy) all-digit 800 number.
  • If your company only conducts business locally, there is no need for a toll-free number and it might actually hurt you. If your company relies on business from your community, it’s important that everyone knows you are indeed local! So make sure your exchange(s) (yes, you can get more than one for different parts of towns, cities, states, etc.) and / or area codes are familiar to your targeted prospects.

Voice Response Units (VRUs)

Also known as, “voice jail” these rank at the top of consumers’ pet peeve lists! However, if used correctly and politely they serve as valuable tools for any small business!

If you’re thinking about using a VRU:

  • Make sure you seek the advice of a reputable company to design, complete and preserve the system. This is one of those areas where it will cost you more in time, mistakes and money to do yourself. Do not try this alone!
  • A good unit can be pricey but there are several excellent companies that I recommend, based on your needs. And it’s important to note that although the outlay may seem high, a good one is well worth it.
  • Make certain the ‘voice’ is professional, conversational and friendly… Again, seek wise counsel on this one.
  • Keep the number of prompts and information the caller has to enter to a minimum! Then, whatever you do, don’t ask them to repeat the same information again!

Remember, good manners are vitally important to your business… And as a very wise man once said:

Etiquette means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. Will Cuppy

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Mary Eule Scarborough, an unassailable marketing expert and thought leader, helps businesses of all sizes get and keep more profitable customers. She is also:

  • A former Fortune 500 marketing executive, …
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  • Qualified with a Masters degree in marketing from The Johns Hopkins University.

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