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Top Six Phone Etiquette Mistakes

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You pick up the phone and call your bank with an important question about one of your accounts, only to be met with a rushed, “Yes?”

Did you call the correct number? Are you talking to the right person?

Before you're able to mutter out more than a “Hello, I’m...,” you’re interrupted with a, “Can I put you on hold?”


Looks like you were put on hold regardless.

The frustration of calling a business and being met with a poor experience happens far too often—and, many times, keeps customers from becoming a frequent patron.  

Now it’s time to ask yourself: “Is this happening with the customers calling up my shop?”

Below are the top six most common phone etiquette mistakes businesses make, outlined by Kimberly Pope and Nancy Friedman. Pope is the founder of The Pope Institute for Polish, Poise, and Etiquette—she spans the gamut of business etiquette to dining etiquette and has worked with people and businesses of all types.

Friedman, also known as the Telephone Doctor, has worked to help countless businesses connect to their customers through her expert phone techniques. On top of large corporations and agencies, Friedman has in-depth experience working with those in the auto repair industry.


Mistake No. 1: Not Having a Proper Greeting

Every phone call starts with a greeting, and Pope says it’s important to have a proper introduction when answering the phone at your shop. Personal calls can easily start out with a casual “hey” or “hello,” but when representing a business on the line, an introduction is due. Far too many times, businesses will answer their phones with a quick one-worded “Yes?” says Pope, which not only makes the customer feel rushed, but also does not give any indication of which business they have actually reached.

Instead, Pope recommends shop staff slow down, introduce one’s self and the name of the business, and ask how they can be of service to the calling customer. This starts the conversation off with the mindset of customer service and opens up the discourse to be professional.

“[A greeting shows that] you have that person in mind, you want to be helpful and you really care about what’s going to happen in those next few minutes of the conversation,” says Pope.

A discussion of the shop’s location is likely to also happen in the first minute or two of the call. In order to properly avoid over-explaining or under-explaining directions, Friedman suggests changing the question from where the customer is located and whether they are familiar with the area. If the customer knows where the shop is located, just mention the cross streets to them; if they don’t, make sure to tell them specific landmarks to look out for, says Friedman.  


Mistake No. 2: Being Too Informal

Professionalism should be a theme throughout the call. Pope stresses the importance of phone formality, and advises shop staff be aware of not assuming a lack of professionalism with customers. Issues can arise when terms of endearment are used too quickly with a customer or when nicknames are assumed (“Nick” from “Nicholas,” or “Sam” from “Samantha”).

Each phone call with a customer should maintain the core principles of consideration and respect, explains Pope. She says that when interacting with customers over the phone, take the time to truly listen to what they are saying, including how they refer to themselves.

“You never know the background of the person, [...] they may take offense to that type of thing,” says Pope. “Try to maintain a level of formality [throughout the call].”

To continue the theme of formality, Friedman strongly suggests that calls are never to be answered on speaker phone, especially on the loud shop floor.


Mistake No. 3: Leaving Customers on Hold

Repair shops are busy places, and it’s inevitable that, at some point, a customer will have to be put on hold. The issue arises when a customer is met with the question, “Can I put you on hold?” and before being able to answer the question, is put on hold. The customer may have been calling on a phone that was about to run out of battery, on a strict time constraint, or actually just had a quick question like, “When do you close?”

If asking whether or not a customer can be put on hold, the employee must be willing to wait for the answer, says Pope.

Once the customer is placed on hold, be conscious of the wait, she explains; he or she may begin to feel like they have been forgotten. Customers want to feel valued, and as important as the person for which they are put on hold.      


Mistake No. 4: Going Into Autopilot

Quickly placing customers on hold without waiting for a response comes when the employee switches to autopilot. It’s easy to follow the script—or usual phone discourse—so much so that the conversation becomes rehearsed and not fully attended to.

“When you’re on autopilot, you’re not really hearing what’s on the other end,” says Pope.

Pope describes a time where she called a business for a refund. She explained to the customer service representative her situation and what she needed, only to receive a response completely unrelated to what she was inquiring about. The employee had switched to autopilot and wasn't actually listening to what Pope was saying or what she needed. After a while, and once the employee was able to check back into the conversation, they began to understand.  

In order to ensure full presence over the phone, Pope recommends taking notes during the conversation, so customers don’t have to continue to repeat themselves.

Phone scripts tend to put employees into autopilot more than organic calls. If the shop utilizes a script, Friedman suggests that, instead of writing out an entire script to be used, just include a bullet point list of top things that need to be touched on. That way, key areas are not forgotten, and the employee will avoid sounding scripted and robotic.

“Do what you can to be mindful and present in the conversation,” says Pope.


Mistake No. 5: Coming Across Uninterested

Being aware of how one comes across to customers over the phone is vital to successful conversations. Employees should always strive to give a positive impression during every call. Many times, customers will be met with a representative of a business who already sounds upset or exhausted before the phone call even begins. He or she may be having a bad day, or just dealt with a disgruntled customers, but those factors should never be obvious to the customer, says Pope.

“People can tell when you're not really present, and they’ll feel like you're not really interested in trying to be helpful and trying to resolve their situation,” she says.

In order to give off a positive impression and have a professional and poised tone, Pope simply suggests a smile.

She says that the muscles that are used while making the positive expression, change how people sounds over the phone and how he or she will go about the conversation. Although the customer won't be able to physically see the smile, it creates a connection and positive engagement.

“When you smile, things change all around, the conversation will change and your perspective will change,” says Pope. “You’ll go from thinking more about yourself, to thinking more about the customer.”

And don’t forget to add a little humor to the conversation, to help ease customers and build rapport, suggests Friedman.


Mistake No. 6: Failing to Follow Up

Important phone conversations with customers should be followed up. The issue comes when employees don’t remember what they promised to follow up with, or wait too long to reach out. Many times, employees will mention throughout the call that they will be back in touch with the customer, with the intention of doing so, but as autopilot kicks in, the intended future call becomes a distant memory.

Actively becoming more present in the phone call and taking notes will help remind employees of the follow-up, as well as what the subject of that follow up should be about.

Pope says follow-up calls are equivalent to “thank you” notes, and shows the customer that the employee took their time to create a continued personal connection.    

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