Telephone Etiquette 101

Posted on March 1, 2002 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

The majority of a limousine operator?s customers interact only with their chauffeur and the person who answers the business phone. Proper telephone etiquette helps ensure that their first impression of your business will be a good one.

Answering and receiving phone calls is a vital part of customer service, and the ultimate opportunity to promote your business to potential clients. The more polite and helpful you are on the phone, the better your chances of securing a caller?s business. ?A phone call is not a nuisance; it?s business,? says Carolyn Nelson, president of Belaire Limousine in Bel Air, Md. ?It?s really important that you realize every time the phone rings there?s value to that ring.? Remembering basic telephone etiquette will help you make the most of every telephone call and give you one step up on your competition.

The way your business phone is answered is the first impression many people have of your company. When the phone rings, smile when you answer it. Whoever is on the other end of the line will be able to hear it in your voice. Nelson?s previous employer put mirrors on everyone?s desks with a reminder posted on them to smile.

?This is what your client is going to see through the phone,? she explains. An annoyed, agitated or disgruntled attitude will certainly come out in your voice, and will give the caller the impression that the rest of the business is run with the same uncaring approach.

Identify your company and give your name when you answer the phone. This lets callers know that they have dialed the correct number and immediately puts you on a first-name, more personal basis with them.

Eric Weiner of All Occasion Limousine in Providence, R.I., says this courtesy helps to identify their business to callers. ?We like to immediately start to build a relationship between the person answering the phone and the person calling,? he says. ?We want it to seem like a welcoming environment to whoever?s on the phone.?

When a caller asks for someone other than the person who answered the phone, ask for his or her name and transfer the call. If the requested employee is not available, ask if you can help with something. If not, ask if the caller would like to leave a message. Transfer the call to the employee?s voice mail, or take down the person?s name, number, reason for calling, and whether the call needs to be returned or the caller will try again later. Always remember to return phone calls as soon as possible. Not doing so will mean lost business for your company. When picking up a call that has been transferred to you, answer with hello and then state your name: ?Hello, this is Mr. Jones.? This lets callers know they have been transferred to the right person. Do not answer with ?Yeah.?

Sounding Like an Expert If an employee is inexperienced answering the phones, it?s a good idea to keep a script by the phone. The script keeps the call on track and ensures that the person answering the phone will get the needed information. A nervous or anxious employee may rush the phone call. Since a script outlines the necessary information to gather, the employee is able to listen to the call without worrying about what to do next. Wiener?s reservation agents keep the company?s Web site up on their computers so they can accurately and efficiently relay information to their callers.

?With the Web site, [the agents] are able to easily access either our rate pages or the information about our vehicle pages or our general information,? Weiner explains. ?So if it?s a situation where someone wants to book right away and just wants to know a price, that information is quickly accessible.?

Having the information on hand ensures that you will never say ?I don?t know? to a customer, and reduces the amount of time a caller spends on hold while you look up information.

If a script feels too contrived, keep a pad and pen by the phone to jot down notes during the call. At the end of the call, repeat the caller?s information and requests back to them to verify that you have recorded everything accurately. Not only does it increase efficiency on your part, but it also reassures the clients that their requests have been heard and noted.

Allow callers to finish their requests before interrupting to gather information. We have all been on the phone with the cable or phone companies to explain a connection problem, only to be inundated with suggestions on how to fix the problem before we?ve finished explaining the problem. Wait for a pause and then offer your suggestions. Allow the caller to respond to these suggestions so you know if you?re on the right track or not.

Putting Callers on Hold No one likes to be put on hold. If you must, always ask if it is ok with your caller. Nelson tries not to put anyone on hold, but when it?s necessary, she always asks permission before doing so.?If the caller says no to being put on hold, if they say, ?Look, you?ve put me on hold twice already,? I say, ?I?m sorry, let?s just continue.??

Staying on hold for an extended amount of time is frustrating for callers; keep their hold time to a minimum. ?Someone should not be on hold for longer than two minutes or you?ll lose them,? Nelson says.

If you must put someone on hold for an extended amount of time, it is important to check back often. ?I try to get back to them, even if I have to put them back on hold,? says Barbara Clark, general manager for Elite Limousine Service in Honolulu, Hawaii. ?I try to get back with them and say, ?It?s taking a little longer than I had thought. I need to put you on hold a little while longer.?? Clark also remembers to check back with callers and remind them they haven?t been forgotten.

Always ask for the sale. Every call is potential business. And sometimes the easiest, but most avoided, way to ensure the deal is simply to request it. If a caller has been asking a lot of questions, offer to book their trip before they hang up.

Keep in mind the difference between asking for business and begging for it. A sure-fire way to guarantee you don?t get the business is to harass a caller about it. If callers are simply shopping for prices and your business is not the most inexpensive, warn them of the dangers of booking a company only because they offer the lowest prices. Remind them that quality costs and a licensed company is definitely worth the extra money.

Dealing With Angry Callers Most businesses will face an angry caller at least once in their time in the industry. But even irate phone calls have the potential to make your business stand out among competition. Do not fight back with a caller. Maintain a calm tone and politely ask what the problem is and the solution the caller expects. If your business can accommodate the request, let them know. If not, tell the caller what you can do to help them out. ?Agree with them until they calm down,? Wiener advises. ?Then attempt to have a rational conversation.?

If a caller continues to be rude, even after you have tried to cooperate, kindly let them know that you don?t think you can be of service to them. This is the method Randy Throckmorton of Celebrities International Limousine, Inc. in Richmond, Va., employs. If someone calls and is rude about everything, ?I calmly say, ?I don?t think we will be able to help you,?? Throckmorton says. ?And I thank them for calling.? The best policy is not to fight back, but to listen and attempt to handle what you can. ?Never lose sight that angry customers are an opportunity to establish valuable relationships,? Wiener adds.

Remember to thank the caller before hanging up. This gesture shows that you ... for more information on this topic, see the March issue of LCT magazine!

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