At some point or other, whatever your job title, your phone is going to ring and you’re going to have to answer it. For some people, answering the phone comes naturally, and they sound so pleased to hear from you. For others, it is a complete nuisance, and you can hear the reluctance in their voice. However you feel about it, the telephone remains one of the best ways to stay connected to your clients, even in this digital age of emails and social media. Therefore, the way in which you answer the phone can make or break your business.

I just want to speak to a human!

So why is telephone communication still so prevalent today despite the popularity of the internet and the rise in other forms of communication? For me personally, as much as I love the ease of doing business online, sometimes I just want – need – to speak to someone. It’s all well and good for a chat bot to pop up while I’m on an organisation’s website, offering to help me with whatever query I might have today. But it really can’t compare to that one-to-one personal interaction you get with another human being.

And this is where you come in: the human that can solve all of your clients’ problems and make everything better.

But, like any form of communication, there’s a preferred way and, well, a less than ideal way to answer the telephone. Let’s take a look.

Focus, focus, focus

First off, when the phone rings, drop everything you’re doing and shift your focus. This might be easier said than done, what with your ever growing to-do list and overflowing in-tray. It seems that every time you get settled into tackling that job that was due last week, the phone rings, rupturing your concentration, rudely and without apology. At this point, it can be hugely tempting to continue what you’re doing and answer the phone at the same time. But I guarantee that the caller will sense your distraction, and most likely will not be reassured by it.

I am guilty of multitasking while on the telephone. And I can attest to barely remembering a single word of what was said during those conversations. Being on the other end of that call isn’t fun either. Have you ever called a business, and had a mounting sense of dread as you spoke to the person on the line? The sense that they were so preoccupied, they didn’t hear a word you said?

So, as fun as juggling is, please, take a breath, shift your focus, and only then should you answer the phone.

A garbled message

As our workloads have swelled, we are now more likely to eat at our desk while multitasking. This can prove tricky if you find yourself chewing into a sandwich when the phone suddenly rings. Do you gobble it down quickly, risking possible choking, or tuck the offending morsel into your cheek? Needless to say, you want the caller to be able to understand you, and a mouthful of food can seriously impact on that goal. So chew wisely.

Three strikes and you’re out

How quickly you answer the phone is also an important consideration. Answer on the first ring, and you risk startling your customer. Take your sweet time, and you could lose your customer altogether. Everyone’s time is precious, and no one wants to sit on the phone listening to it ring out. So what’s a happy medium?

The three-ring rule seems to be an agreed business standard. Three rings gives you enough time to compose yourself, while allowing the caller to collect their thoughts.

What if you’re on the opposite side of the room when the phone rings, and you need to make a mad dash to get to it within three rings? In these cases, it might be best to take a few moments to catch your breath before picking up the phone, even if it means the phone rings four, five or six times. You don’t want your customer misinterpreting your heavy breathing.

Manners are cool

So you’ve finally picked up the phone. Obviously, you, as the person being called, should speak first. It might be a bit creepy if you were to answer the phone and then sit there silently. But what to say?

Even if caller ID lets you know who is calling, it’s best to pretend otherwise. Answering with a “Howdy Tom, how’s it hangin’?” might be a bit too familiar, even if you’re best buddies with your client.

So err on the side of caution. No matter who your clients are, they want to be spoken to with respect. Manners never go out of style.

Keep it simple on Telephone Answering

Like any form of communication, simplicity and clarity are key.

Begin with a simple greeting like “hello”. “Good morning” and “good afternoon” work well too.

In this moment, you are your organisation’s ambassador, so it’s good to identify the name of your business. Follow this up by stating your name, and perhaps even an offer of assistance.

A good example might be:

“Good morning, ABC Workspace. This is Jane. How may I help you?”

Here we have all the elements of a polite and respectful greeting that tells the caller who they’re talking to, and explicitly lets them know that you’re ready and willing to help.

Tone it down

The final point to consider when answering the phone is how you say it. On the phone, and in the absence of all other non-verbal cues, your tone of voice can give the whole game away.

One of the easiest ways to sound friendly and approachable is to smile as you pick up the phone. As cheesy as it sounds, it really does work. Because when you smile, your voice changes. It’s hard to sound snarky when you’re smiling (unless, of course, you’re smiling through gritted teeth).

And that’s all there is to it: breathe, swallow, wait three rings, smile, and say hello.

Here at holdeverything we pride ourselves on always answering your business calls with professionalism so you can be sure that your clients always get the right impression.

Author note:  David Miller blogs on a range of business and social topics.