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Hello! 14 tips for answering the phone professionally

How to answer the phone professionally

If you saw the movie Jerry Maguire, you might remember the scene where Renée Zellweger’s character interrupts Tom Cruise’s character to say those iconic words, “You had me at hello.” 

Whether you’ve seen the film and recall the scene or not, it demonstrates a cornerstone principle of customer service: you can yap all you like, but a spectacular hello is usually what counts. 94% of people say a positive initial customer service experience encourages them to keep buying from you, according to Salesforce.

But what does a good hello sound like on the phone? What defines a great first impression? And how can you train a team so everyone always answers the phone the right way: with courtesy and professionalism?

If you’re interested in establishing the right call-answering framework for your team, here’s how to professionally answer the phone so you’ll have your customers at hello.

Tip #1: Answer calls by the third ring

Every phone ring is on a logarithmic scale: the longer you take to answer, the more your customer gets frustrated. And that frustration can go up exponentially.

Aim to answer your calls by the third ring. Why? Customers are running out of patience. One report said 39% of customers have less patience now than before COVID-19. And 14% even say their patience for hold time has dropped to zero.

So how do you achieve it? Get your team on a shared phone number. This can simultaneously ring multiple colleagues, ensuring your team picks up on the first ring — and a potential customer doesn’t just move on to another business after you miss their call.

Tip #2: Say the greeting with a smile (because warmth comes through the voice)

Smile. Now say something. It might not sound to you like there’s a big difference, but your body language can have a genuine impact on your tone of voice. 

“A smile is more than an expression,” writes Kaan Turnali for Forbes. “Smiling isn’t just something your face does. It communicates your state of mind. In retail, it can influence people’s perception of a brand and their customer satisfaction.”

A great first impression comes from two elements: verbal and nonverbal. And when we’re on a cell phone, it can be easy to forget about the nonverbal. But something as simple as a smile can have an impact on the way your customer feels.

It has a bigger impact than you might think. One study asked subjects to listen to vocal-only cues. Not only could the subjects tell when speakers were smiling, they even distinguish between the types of smiles.

Tip #3: Use a positive, upbeat tone — even when you don’t have the answers

If you answer calls for a help desk, a good first impression is simple: give the person calling the answers they want. But what if you don’t have those answers? 

Learning how to answer the phone professionally means conveying a friendly, upbeat tone of voice to prevent an interaction from going sour. Even a simple “good morning” can change a customer’s day.

Tip #4: Avoid jargon to create clarity

There’s a reason for jargon in different industries and small businesses: it works. Jargon makes effective shorthand for concepts and phrases you’d otherwise have to repeat. But jargon’s disadvantage is that it doesn’t translate well to people outside your industry.

And when customers call you, they’re not always in your industry. 

Try to craft messaging that’s more likely to appeal to all customers. Pretend your average customer isn’t hip to industry-specific jargon. Those who do know the jargon will still know what you’re talking about. Those who don’t? They’ll be able to follow along, too. A good first impression will quickly fizzle if customers have to keep asking you what you’re talking about.

Tip #5: Let customers know if you’re recording the call

“We’re recording this call for quality and training purposes.”

It’s a simple sentence, but it accomplishes a lot. In many cases, it may even be required by law

There’s another advantage here: when your virtual receptionist notifies callers about the recording, it reinforces that you’re investing in call quality. You shouldn’t only notify callers that you’re recording but why you’re recording. 

Don’t let this take up too much time, though. Do it quickly, then move on with the call and get straight to your customer’s issue.

Pro-tip: OpenPhone’s call recording helps you play back, assess, and improve the professionalism of your team. 

With OpenPhone, you essentially build a “library” of recorded conversations over time. Did something go wrong with one? Go back and find out where the first impression didn’t land. Did something go right? Play it back and repeat what works. It’s a great way to teach everyone how to answer the phone professionally.

Tip #6: Enunciate when you speak

A call doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There may be background noise on either end. And if you don’t communicate clearly, nothing else you do will matter.

That’s why every call should include the following audio principles:

  • Enunciate clearly, taking your time to pronounce words without seeming like you’re sounding them out
  • Keep your voice volume moderate — easy to hear, but not shouting
  • Speak slowly enough that people can process what you’re saying, especially if you have to use a lot of technical terms

This is where call recordings can help, giving your team a more objective perception of their tone and enunciation.

Tip #7: Personalize the interaction

Author Dale Carnegie once said, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Simply repeating a caller’s name once or twice reinforces you’re not the usual call center.

But you can go a level beyond names. Any phone rep can say a customer’s name. Use OpenPhone to reference information from previous conversations you’ve documented under OpenPhone’s contact properties. This way, your customers won’t have to repeat themselves. That’s personalization at a higher level. 

And customers will notice. According to Deloitte, 69% of online shoppers say the quality and relevance of a company’s messages influences their perception of a brand. Your message isn’t relevant if it’s not personal. 

Tip #8: Ask polite follow-up questions

At certain points in every conversation, you’ll need information the customer has. For customers, this can be frustrating. They’re calling with a specific question, and here you are, asking for more information.

These can be points of contention and friction, so remember what Mary Poppins said: a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Basic phone etiquette rules apply. Please and thank you will go a long way when talking with customers, especially when you’re asking follow-up questions that may try their patience.

No customer wants to hear they’ll be placed on hold. But two words — please and brief — can make all the difference. “Would you mind if I place you on a brief hold?” (And wait for them to answer!) That’s all you need.

Tip #9: Practice active listening

Active listening is the practice of going beyond absorbing words. It seeks to build empathy by trying to understand the reason the customer called in the first place.

When you need to practice active listening, take a breath. Remind yourself to listen. You want to hear what they’re saying and get to the bottom of their reason for calling you. 

Why bother? Because every customer craves a human who can get things done for them — who can take their side in their struggle with their problem. In fact, 36% of consumers prefer to wait with a real representative, even if it takes longer. And that’s because humans do something machines can’t: try to listen.

Tip #10: Gain agreement and repeat information back when necessary

Since understanding is so important, take the time to gain agreement before you go down the wrong road with a customer.

This is part of active listening. You may think you know what their problem is, but if you repeat it back to them and they don’t seem satisfied, you haven’t gained agreement. So try! Even spell it out in explicit terms: “So I can make sure I’m working on the right problem, do I have it right that (restating the problem)?” If the customer corrects you, you’ll have avoided unnecessary work. If not, the customer feels heard.

It might seem repetitive. In fact, some customers may even wonder why you’re making them repeat themselves (see Tip #8). But gaining agreement is sometimes the only shortcut to what every customer wants: a solution.

Tip #11: Document messages clearly for future reference

In OpenPhone, you can add notes to your conversations. Add them to internal threads and tag teammates if you want to loop them in. Make this a habit, and every customer conversation becomes more than a means to an end. It becomes a way to improve your relationship with that customer the next time they call.

Your goal should be to avoid making customers repeat themselves, especially if you’ve already helped them. 88% of US consumers say they’ll spend more money with companies who don’t make them say the same information twice. 

Want a key tip to learn how to answer phone calls professionally? Use OpenPhone to document caller interactions — including problems solved, customer preferences, and customer hangups. The next time they call, you’ll be ready.

Tip #12: Finish calls gracefully

Once you’ve solved the customer’s problem, don’t shove them out the metaphorical door. Ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with. If they say no, thank them for calling and wish them a great day.

This gives customers an additional opportunity to bring up more if they want. They’ll feel you addressed their problems and took the time to ensure there wasn’t anything else you wanted to sweep under the rug for expediency’s sake.

Tip #13: Follow up as needed

Follow up with your customer, and you’ll show you care. You might also be able to upsell them on future services.

You can build an automated customer follow-up system to help with this part. Some keys? Use a dedicated phone number so every follow-up is on the same system and goes to the same place. Integrate with other CRM tools so other people on your team can design systems for outreach and follow-up that don’t require additional manual work.

Tip #14: Create a go-to inbound phone call greeting

When you pick up your business calls, do you sound like an answering service? Ideally, you sound like more than that. Your first impression should illustrate that, yes, your customer called the right person. That’s why your first goal should be confidence.

Confidence comes from two skills: knowing what to say and how to say it. A script can give you that kind of comfort. A scripted greeting also creates a consistent customer experience so you answer the phone professionally every time.

Keep the script simple and to the point. You’ll want it to look something like this:

[Greeting] Hello, thank you for calling [your company].

[Personalization] My name is [your name].

[Prompt] How may I help you today?

Don’t overcomplicate it. The script above is warm and shows the agent’s desire to be helpful. But above all, it lets the customer get right into the reason they called. You’re polite, you’re confident — and you’re all business.

Pro-tip: Use OpenPhone to create a professional voice greeting for more than business hours — you can build a great first impression even outside of business hours.

Thanks to OpenPhone’s in-app recordings, you can set a genuine human voice greeting when you’re closed. And you can customize these recordings for separate voicemail inboxes, which increases the personalization you can use.

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Your first impression is sometimes the only impression that lasts, so make it count. Customers are more likely to engage with and buy from you if you can make a great first impression.

So how do you do it? Consider implementing a cloud business phone system like OpenPhone to make many of these habits automatic. Use call training features – like OpenPhone’s call recordings and transcripts — so your team can improve over time.

Ready to give your team the tools to professionally answer the phone like a pro? Sign up for OpenPhone’s free seven-day trial today.

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