A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Dear Sue: I related to the question from the sole proprietor who
was concerned about answering the phone without annoying other clients.
Although I do not meet clients in my home, I do have a home office where I
run a one-man consulting firm. I spend most of my time on the phone,
making and taking calls, sending and receiving faxes and sending e-mail
all day long. I have a few comments and suggestions for your readers.
First and foremost, I would never answer a call while meeting with a
client. As a client I would find this extremely rude; it implies that
other clients or potential clients are more valuable than the one you are
meeting with. If you have a cell phone, turn it off during meetings. I
personally keep my cell phone number private except for family members; if
it rings, I know it's an emergency that would justify an interruption.
There are many ways to handle incoming calls if I am on the phone, and
I recommend three things: voice mail, call waiting and caller ID.
It is important to change your message every day, and more often if
necessary. I use the same simple message every day, but I always mention
the day and date, so callers know I check my messages every day at a
minimum. If I'm going to be out, even for an hour, I change my message and
inform callers when I plan to return. This reassures callers by giving
them an idea of how long a callback will take. Personally, I don't like
answering machines because they are more difficult to change, and they
often sound cheap. It's also easier to check voice mail on the road (don't
forget to mention that you do this in your message). I also don't like
answering services; a real person on the other end encourages questions
and callers want answers as to when you will return or if someone else can
help, which quickly reveals that the "real person" doesn't even
know who you are or what your business is.
Call waiting/caller ID: If you are on the phone, and another call comes
in, you may be able to decide if you need to interrupt your current call.
I don't really mind being put on hold for a moment, as long as I'm not
abruptly cut off during a critical discussion. Don't kid yourself, or try
to kid clients: they know you're the only one in the office, and they
understand that sometimes you need to take another call. Just don't do it
too often, or let them hang for long. Caller ID also lets you return a
call if someone doesn't leave a message; you may contact a few wrong
numbers, but you may also impress a potential client.
Another important consideration is additional lines. You should
definitely have one for phone and one for fax/on-line access; if you spend
lots of time on-line and receive lots of faxes, get three lines. Busy
signals get very annoying quickly.
These services add to your overhead, but I find that they are well
worth it in reassuring your clients of your professionalism and attention
to their needs. - Tom
Sue Says: Your suggestions are well thought out and make sense.
I always appreciate knowing when to expect a return call, and like the
idea of daily updates, however, if you plan on doing so, be sure to change
the message daily. There is nothing worse than reaching someone's voice
mail on February 5 that tells you where he or she is on January 25. This
sends a negative message to callers and can appear as though you are
absent minded or lack attention to detail. In addition, don't say you will
return all calls if you know you won't.
While we are on the subject, I'd like to add a few words of advice for
callers when leaving messages: Keep in mind that any message you leave is
one of many the person you are calling is receiving. Make your message
brief and to the point and write down the main points you want to cover so
you don't waste time collecting your thoughts while you are recording.
Don't eat, smoke or chew gum while talking, and when you state your name
and phone number, speak s-l-o-w-l-y. In fact, if you write down your
number as you say it, you will be helping the listener out and be more apt
to slow down. Spell your last name for the benefit of the listener as
well. It's also a good idea to leave your name and number both at the
beginning and end of a message. And, since e-mail is preferable for many,
you may want to leave an e-mail address on both incoming and outgoing
Connecting with people by phone has become quite a challenge - thanks
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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