Essential Phone Skills for Small Business Owners

Despite the prevalence of email and social media communication, some people still prefer to conduct business on the phone. I can think of half a dozen sales and service scenarios where a phone call will always be the best communication choice for the customer and the company — and that’s just off the top of my head.

But we don’t spend a lot of time talking about phone etiquette, do we? The Internet is full of strategies for networking on Twitter or prepping an effective e-newsletter, but being effective on the phone is something we should all be striving for. Phone training isn’t just for the call center employee; it’s for everyone.

Pick up the phone.

You have to operate on the philosophy that there is no such thing as a nuisance call when you’re in business. Resist the urge to let every call go to voicemail. Solopreneurs get a certain amount of slack here, because they can only do so many things at one time, but missed calls should be returned promptly (the same day if at all possible).

Be confident and smile.

One of the great benefits of a phone conversation is the opportunity it gives you to sound completely professional, even in awkward situations. You might be standing in your office, ready to head out to the big game, with your face painted and a huge foam finger on your right hand. When the phone rings, smile and say hello and revel in the fact that you can still be the consummate professional.

Slow down a little.

Pause for a count of two before answering with your company greeting. It’s fairly common for greetings to get lost in that moment when two lines connect. You might’ve said, “Good morning, ACME Cleaning,” but all the caller heard was dead air. She might say “hello” again, or she might just hang up.

Deal with phone complaints like the person is right in front of you.

The same rules apply in person and over the phone when you’re dealing with an angry customer. Listen to the full complaint without interrupting, and maintain empathy. Keep your voice calm, and repeat the problem back. It’s hard to find a good solution for a problem you haven’t taken the time to understand.

Be consistent when you answer the phone.

I don’t know about you, but when I call for my favorite Chinese takeout I know exactly what I’m going to hear when the owner picks up the line. Train all of your staff to answer the phone with an appropriate greeting and the name of the business. (You may also want employees to identify themselves as well, but it’s not always necessary.)

Every interaction you have with a customer or client — whether it’s in person, on the phone, via email or through social media — can make or break your reputation. I don’t care what your business is or who your clients are, integrity and transparency are the absolute essentials of communication. So if you hit a snag and don’t know the right thing to say, just be honest.

Image credit: atroszko

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Emily Suess
Emily Suess is a full-time technical marketing writer in the software industry and a part-time freelance copywriter. To learn more about marketing your small business online, check out her copywriting blog, Say It With Me.


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  1. Hi, Nica. I suppose it depends on how the rest of the conversation goes, but here are a couple of options:

    1.) If you’re just saying goodbye and there’s no further contact imminent, thank the person for his or her time as a way to wrap up the conversation, invite him or her to contact you if they have any questions, and then say goodbye.

    2.) If you need to be in contact with the person again, remind him or her that you’ll be in touch again soon (estimate when, if you can), invite him or her to call if they have questions in the meantime, and then say goodbye.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for sharing Small Business Bonfire on Pinterest!

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  7. Thanks for these tips, Emily. I know I have been guilty of talking way too fast when answering the phone, and I have been on the other side when i cannot understand a word the other person is saying because they are speaking too fast. Phone etiquette is hard to learn, and some people are just born with it. Love your tips, though. I think they can help those of us that are not born with that skill. Thanks again!

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