Phone skills – your checklist.

Use this checklist to see if your phone skills are up to par. (They probably aren't.)

Telephone skills
Phone skills are different for business calls

Phone skills don’t seem to matter when you are chatting to your mother or your friends. This post is in my ‘Sell’ category, but telephone manners and style apply to GPs, lawyers, property managers, churches, political parties, school administrators and receptionists of any enterprise at all, not just shops.

Phone skills with friends – who cares?

You can grunt, talk while you’re shopping, doing the dishes, or watering the garden, and if you have no class at all, in a wedding service or at a funeral. You can cut them short, rave on forever, be abrupt or use an irritated tone which suggests they should have known you were in the checkout line at the supermarket. You don’t even have to say your name most of the time and hardly ever use theirs. Generally, they won’t mind much. As for your messaging service, you don’t even need one. You can decide people close to you know who you are and that they know whose number they’ve called and that you haven’t answered.
They might conclude you’re a bit casual or even rude but they probably won’t stop calling you.

Phone skills at work are very different.

At the LPMA (Leading Property Managers Association) conference on the Gold Coast a couple of weeks back I began my presentation by saying.

‘Forget about all the new apps and gadgets and modern geegaws being promoted over these two days. You people can’t even use the telephone properly and that’s been around for 130 years!’

Fortunately, none of the members or sponsors had access to a rotten tomato or a brick. These are very nice folks. It was a brilliant convention, by the way, beautifully organised by Bob and Dixie Walters. (If you’re in PM, you should attend their functions). I continued, ‘And in a sec. I will prove it to you by calling some of your offices and suppliers live from stage and you will be amused and appalled about how right I am.’
After about four not-so-hot calls I couldn’t get anyone else to volunteer their office number! It was hilarious and alarming. One audience member called the responses, ‘typical’. He was right.

Member after member approached me for two days and said they were so glad someone still talks about phone skills, and that it’s the most basic thing employees should have burned into their heads.

Ah dear. I’ve been saying that for 33 years.

Check to see if you have your phone skills right.

Telephone skillsI can’t answer all your questions in a blog post, nor give you all the reasoning. I’ve actually done that in a set of CDs and the e-Book that goes with them which you can check out at the Great Phone Skills site. When you are there, sign in for the FREE one-page cheat sheet.

Meanwhile, I can at least invite you to check the fast five.

Phone skills 1.

When you and your team go to answer the phone do you pause long enough to mutter, ‘Goodie, Goodie,‘ and put on a smile. Why ‘Goodie, Goodie!’ and a smile? Duh-uh! It makes you remember that when the phone rings you are still employed to solve problems. It puts you in the present, not sounding like you’re half way down a rabbit hole trying to get your ferrets back.

Phone skills 2.

When you and your team answer the phone do you use this simple phrase, Good morning. Smith and Partners. This is Jenny!’ And say it like it’s a direct announcement about someone important, (you!) and not like 99% of people do,

    ‘SmthnprtnrsJnnyspikkin’, or
    ‘Hlo’, or
    ‘Sjenny!’ and

definitely not like an NBA announcer, ‘Here’s S-t-e-e-E-E-E-p-h-e-e-e-e-n C-u-u-u-u-u-u-r-r-Y-Y-Y-Y-Y-y-y-y-y!’ nor

    ‘Smith and Partners.Jenny Speakingggggggggggggggggggggg.’

Surely you don’t think all your callers are so silly they can’t work out that the sound of your voice is you speaking. You don’t actually have to explain the fact!

Phone skills 3.

After your callers state their need do you have a pleasant and responsive statement that you all make? ‘Thanks for calling. I can help you with that. Can I ask you a couple of questions?’ You don’t use that phrase if it’s the boss’s wife calling to say the cat’s having its kittens of course. There’s much more about this on the CDs.

Phone skills 4.

If the team member the caller is asking for is not able to take the call, do you have a reassuring way of letting the caller know they can still be helped? If you use any of these, you go directly to gaol and don’t pass Go and definitely don’t get your $200.

    ‘Sorry, He’s out.’
    ‘You just missed her.’
    ‘He’s in a meeting.’
    ‘She’s at a conference.’
    ‘He’s away sick.’

and worse than them all,

    ‘Can someone else help you?’ (As if the caller can see your staff roster.)

Do you use this delightful response instead? ‘Bill will be here tomorrow afternoon. In the mean time, Linda does the same kind of work as Bill. She might be able answer a question for you? Shall I call her?’

Phone skills 5.

Can you set an appointment without playing ‘Here we go around the mulberry bush’? I had to give a specialist’s receptionist a lesson the other day when I was trying to book a time for an examination. She kept asking me when I was available and the times I nominated were not right for her. She was asking,

    ‘When’s a good time for you?’ or
    ‘When can you come in?’

Eventually I said, ‘It’s no good asking me when I’m available. You have to tell me when you have an available time and see if I can fit into it. Do this:

    You: We have times available earlier in the week or later. Which is best?
    Me: Early.
    You: We have Monday morning before 11 and Tuesday afternoon after 2:00.

Believe it or not, she had never heard of anything so wonderful. ‘You’ve changed my life’, she said.


Are you going to train everyone in your office how to be more winsome on the phone or are you going to stay as you are and hope your opposition doesn’t get the drop on you? Who’s going to get hurt if you don’t take a look at the solution?

Question: (Comment below – scroll a bit) What do you listen for when you make a call to a business or to a service centre? And what do you hate to hear?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic or comprise 'ambush marketing' and/or SPAM.

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9 thoughts on “Phone skills – your checklist.

  1. Hi Colin,
    Great new website! makes it easy to find clear explanations and samples of your training courses and other information.
    Always enjoy reading your blogs as well.
    Love your work!

    • Appreciate your kind post there Joff. Like life, a website should be a work in progress and like a shop window, should be decked out differently and often to draw the shoppers inside. I will value your keeping a watchful eye on it.

  2. I was sitting in the audience at LPMA when you made those calls. Made me really think about my office. We had a Temp in to look after the phones and the office while we were at the Conference and I was asking myself how she would have answered your inquiry. This made me realise that I had not given her any specific training to handle your kind of question. Thanks again for the wake-up call!

    • We’ve all done it, Kev. You just have to hope that the biggest deal of your life didn’t slip through your fingers while you were away. Everyone needs to think like this on an hour by hour basis but we get all ‘frog and kettly’ and pretend we’re doing everything right. You’re onto it now yourself, so that’s good.

  3. I had language such as maybe, perhaps, it doesn’t look like. I love definitive language. That way I have trust in what the person is saying.

    • Yes, Christina, Precisely! ‘Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.’ ‘It looks like rain’ is a lot less peeving than ‘It looks like you won’t get your delivery til after Monday.’ What’s wrong with saying, ‘Your delivery will be on your doorstep on Wednesday.’?

  4. What do you listen for when you make a call to a business or to a service centre? And what do you hate to hear? – Dear Colin, Oh how you have hit on a sore point. – I would like a new gate built – I am 10 tradies in. Ahh I might be able to come .. . Hi leave a message….I’m just at a job – I’ll call you right back – only 1 out of 10 replied. Eventually from the local paper – an older gentleman, his wife answered the phone, advised me, who she was, where he was, when he would be back, and when he would call. Can you guess who got the business. The telephone is the first impression you get to make and it need to be a good one.

    • Great story Pat. Thank you. Tragic to have to tell it though isn’t it? The other 9 tradies who didn’t get the job are now complaining about unreliable and time-wasting callers and how the economy has gone to pot, but there you were, bright and shiny and ready to spend with EACH of them. If only …