How NOT to answer the phone in business!

We’re a pretty sophisticated bunch of people, us business owners, I’m sure you’ll agree. Grown up and savvy, know a thing or two about life, and capable of achieving (most of) our wildest dreams.

So why, oh why, oh why, do so many of us fall down when it comes to answering the telephone? Bearing in mind that the telephone could often be the first port of call for a potential customer, and therefore the first impression of the company – surely the way in which the telephone is answered is pretty important?

I’ve been calling a lot of people recently and would like to share just a few of the characters I’ve come across:

1) The No Namer

This person picks up the phone and simply says ‘Hello’. No name given, no company name given, nothing. You’re left wondering whether you’ve called the right number, or gotten through to someone’s Grandma. You’re on the back foot immediately, having to ask if you’ve got through to the company intended, usually to be responded to with an incredulous ‘Yeah that’s us’ – you can almost hear the ‘Who did you think you’d rung, idiot!’ being muttered under the breath of this telephone answerer.

Action point: Make sure you or your staff answer the phone at the very least by saying your name. “Hello, John Smith speaking” if not the full name of your company. No-one like being on the back foot before they’ve even spoken to you.

2) The Food Muncher

Whether it’s crisps or gum, a sandwich or a sweet, the Food Muncher doesn’t let anything get in the way of his or her gastronomic pleasure. The phone is ringing? Oh well, let’s just stuff in another piece of cake before I answer! There’s nothing worse than talking on the phone to someone who sounds as if they’re speaking through a mouthful of pebbles, and it’s not a great image to give of your company.

Action point: Ban food while on telephone answering duty. If you think that’s a little draconian, then by all means make company policy that no-one can answer the telephone while eating – I’m sure your salt and vinegar crisps are lovely, but my order is lovelier and the crisps will wait…

3) The On Holder

No sooner have you started to speak than the On Holder states “Hold please” and you’re sent off to telephone hold music hell. While Greensleeves played on some Indian mountain flutes is blasted into your ear, you’re not even sure if you’re through to the correct company, let alone whether you want to deal with them. While I accept that the receptionist may have another call, some common courtesy wouldn’t go amiss.

ACTION POINT: If you have to put someone on hold, at least find out who they are first. Maybe instead of putting them on hold you can quickly explain the situation, take their number and call them back? If you really can’t avoid it, a short conversation beforehand (and an apology for the dodgy hold music!) would make a better impression and they may still be on the line when you finally get back to them.

4) The Can’t Helper

“Is Ms Green there?”

“Umm, no”

“OK can you tell me when she’ll be back?”

“I’m not sure, sorry”

“OK, we were due to speak about an email I sent her – do you know if she got it?”


There’s not much worse than the Can’t Helper – every question you ask is met with a No, and it feels like pulling teeth. They can’t tell you when your contact will be back, don’t know his or her mobile number, don’t have control of the diary and simply don’t want to help. You often wonder why they took a job they so obviously hate so much!

ACTION POINT: Make sure your telephone answering staffs are trained to be as helpful as possible. The simple act of engaging in conversation and saying “I’m so sorry, I can’t help, but I can take a message and get them to call you” can turn a disgruntled potential customer into your biggest advocate. Don’t let the Can’t Helper put people off your business.

I’m sure you’ve come across many more bad examples of telephone answering – maybe you could share them with me in the comments? And don’t forget, if you’re one of the above examples, maybe you need to be delegating the answering to someone else 🙂

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