Office and Admin

Admin Assistants: Develop your phone skills for the office

Written by Peter Jones

You may think having an excellent phone manner is an outdated relic—after all, won’t everyone just email if they want something? Not necessarily—if you’re in an admin or customer service field, talking on the phone might still be a part of your everyday reality. And even if you’re not, a good phone manner never goes out of style and can add a veneer of professionalism to your image in whatever job you do.

Here are a few tips on how to be a boss at manning ye olde telephone.

Have a formal greeting.

Unless you know it’s your coworker Bob, or your spouse, or your boss calling you back after getting disconnected, come up with a professional way to answer calls. Be polite and informative: “Good morning/afternoon/evening. [Name of Company.] [Your name] speaking .” If you’re serving in an operator capacity, you can add something along the lines of “How may I direct your call?” It may seem silly, but it helps to think of a few variations and try them out loud to pick the one that comes most naturally.

Only answer if you’re ready to talk.

That means answering promptly (not making someone wait for 14 rings), but also making sure not to answer if you have your mouth full of coffee or lunch or if there’s a big commotion going on at your desk. If someone is calling you they want to you to hear what they have to say and respond with clarity.

Take excellent messages.

If you’re answering the phone for more than just yourself, make sure you take good messages. Work out with your boss the exact information you should get from everyone who calls. Never be too shy to ask for spelling clarification on a name or email address, or return phone number information.

Leave excellent messages.

If you hit an answering machine, speak slowly and clearly. Give your name and contact info at the beginning and again at the end so the person jotting down your details won’t have to listen to the whole thing again to get your number if they missed it at the beginning. Be succinct, but don’t leave out any important or relevant details—such as the reason for your call. Spell things you think might be garbled, especially by bad cell reception.

Charm and disarm.

Anger and frustration can magnify over the phone, especially when you can’t throw an empathetic facial expression the way of someone ranting and raving. If you’re in a position to deal with difficult or outraged clients or customers, you’ll have to pacify with your words. First and foremost, let the person know you’re listening (“I hear how upset you are and I understand why.”). Then, let him or her know you will try to get to the root of the problem and fix it. Shouting back and getting snippy or curt will not help—it will usually only incense the caller more. Most people just want to be heard.

Use names.

Whenever possible, throw in the name of the person you are speaking to. Addressing someone this way makes a professional conversation feel more personal and less remote. You don’t have to feel distant just because you’re not in the room together. And this goes both ways—make sure to always identify yourself early on with your own full name!

Be sincere and kind.

Having a good phone manner doesn’t mean being a phony. Sure, you should be cheerful, enunciate clearly, and speak articulately, but don’t put on a persona that isn’t anything like your true self. Be the best and brightest professional version of yourself while being as genuine and as frank as possible. People can hear a lot of body language through the phone, and smiling is the clearest way to communicate positivity.

About the author

Peter Jones