How to Answer the Phone

By Jeremy Blake on March 17, 2017

A few years ago I rang my children's nursery to let them know I was coming to get them early. The phone was picked up and I was hit with, “Hi you’re through to Made Up Nursey, Its Jackie speaking how may I help?” Except what I heard was:

“Hiya thrutomadeupnusry jackispicking howmayielp?”

“Jackie, Jackie its Jeremy”, I said.

“Oh Hi Jeremy!”

“Jackie do you always answer the phone like that?”

“Like what? What did I say?”

To which I did an impersonation that made her laughter cover up her embarrassment. I then asked her this question.

“As far as the majority of calls you get, who are they from?”

“Parents, people asking if their child is okay, can they change the dates they are coming in, can they get them later, earlier that sort of thing.”

‘So who suggested that you answer the phone like that in a rushed, incomprehensible way?”

“Well head office I guess?”

Whatever country you are in, and whether you are working in a large organisation, a small business, an institution or a little shop I ask you to listen to how you are answering the phone and to question and challenge yourself and your owners and directors to change the way you do it.

Work through this list and develop a number of ways to answer the phone that stop you or your employees sounding like robots or zombies.

1. “Kelpu?” The hideous contraction of “Can I help You?” As soon as you say this, I question whether you can. I listen to your tone and wonder if you are awake, if you like your job, or are fulfilled and have the kind of energy and listening skills to help me.

2. Changing ‘Can’ to ‘How may I’, makes it no less effective.

3. Who are the majority of your calls from? Get your top types and design the response for the highest frequency of demand.

4. “Oh but we get the odd call from…" So what, just say, ah that’s great and move on.

5. You don’t have to say, “This is Tiddly Widdly 2325” we no longer have an exchange and hope that the operator has connected us correctly.

6. Good morning, Good afternoon and Good evening. Three robust, natural and polite greetings that can be your first two words as you pick up. You’ll be amazed at how many people get these wrong.

7. By all means tell them your name, both names if you are a professional and one name if that is more akin to your culture.

8. Do you need to say “you’re through to”,“you’ve reached”? These popular answerphone fillers are less effective when we are speaking live.

9. A closed question leads to a closed answer which is fine if you have your next question lined up. “Good morning, I’m Jeremy, are you calling to book tickets for this evening?”  If yes then you are efficient and have predicted demand and fulfilled it. If they don’t want tickets for tonight you have planted the seed that is the majority of calls you are fielding, which may lead them to want to find out more. If not you now say, “That’s fine what is your enquiry/which event are you interested in and so on."

10. They will tell you. You aren’t expected to be a mind reader, so politeness and an upbeat energised tone means they will fill the silence with the nature of their enquiry. “No, can I speak to Laura in Marketing please?”

By the way, Jackie at the nursery now just answers with, “Good morning Jackie speaking…” It is working like a dream.


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