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Brushing up on telephone etiquette sound investment

Old fashioned telephone manners may get short shrift in today’s casual, fast-paced world but they’re still important in business. Answering the phone, leaving messages and recording personal voice mail greetings set the tone for business and professional establishments, say two Mississippi graduates of the Washington Protocol School. Diane Eaves of Hattiesburg and Jay Pearson of Byram firmly believe that polite, efficient telephone manners have not gone out of style.

“In my estimation, telephone manners are one of the most important things for any business,” Eaves said. “First impressions are very important and whoever answers the phone may be the only contact the caller has with that business.”

The etiquette consultant of seven years says the primary person answering a business phone should find out how the business owner wants the phone answered and if any specific information — other than the business name — is to be given.

Pearson, director of the Mississippi School of Protocol and Etiquette, echoes that philosophy. Aside from the basics of courtesy and friendliness, he notes that the first greeting should be clear, appropriate and understandable.

“There has been a true decline in phone etiquette because of cell phone usage and the fact paced world. The world is smaller and cultural boundaries have disappeared,” he said. “People are not taking the time to be mindful of their actions. Think before you speak and before making a call, anticipate that you may have to leave a message.”

In 2002 Pearson started the Mississippi School of Protocol and Etiquette and works with the realtors association, hospitals and 61 military bases throughout the country. He says research supports that people skills account for 80% of job advancement compared to 15% for technical skills.

Callers have the responsibility to identify themselves, speaking slowly and clearly. “Whether it’s a call to a business or a home, I always ask if it’s a convenient time to speak with the person I’m calling,” Pearson said. “That way they can let me know upfront how much time they have. Always clearly state your name. Don’t expect a person to recognize your voice. And I adjust my volume to the caller’s volume.”

If the caller does not identify himself, Eaves suggests asking if you may tell Mr. Jones who is calling. “Asking in this manner implies thoughtfulness and the request is hard to refuse,” she says.

Eaves says teaching children the proper way to answer a phone at home can carry over to phone usage in business years later. “I work with a lot of people who are technically ready for work but apparently missed a lot of the teaching of manners or weren’t listening to that part,” she said. “Children can learn these things at an early age and not be screaming in your ear when they answer a phone.”

Messages left on voice mail should be brief, she says, and it’s not necessary to say goodbye since you’re not actually speaking with a person. Eaves and Pearson stress that callers should speak SLOWLY when leaving messages. “Say the number slowly and repeat it. That eliminates a lot of stress for the person receiving the message,” Eaves said.

Pearson adds, “State the number twice and speak as if you’re writing it. Also, briefly state the reason for the call. It should be no more than 20 seconds. Don’t use ‘will call back’ and always end on a positive note such as ‘Have a nice day.’”

Eaves, who does a lot of etiquette training with business classes at the University of Southern Mississippi and recently trained employees at the Pearl River Casino Resort, says that in setting up personal greetings it isn’t necessary to state that you aren’t in the office. “Just say you can’t take the call at this time and keep it brief,” she said. “If you ask the caller to call you on your cell phone, be sure to give that number in your message.”

In every use of the telephone, the quality of your voice and your ability to express yourself clearly and confidently are of the utmost importance, she affirms.

Other telephone etiquette tips she suggests include:

• When you dial a wrong number, apologize. Do not just hang up.

• Always have a pad and pencil by the phone.

• Do not leave long messages on the answering machine or voice mail.

• Do not erase messages unless you have taken careful notes for others who were called.

• If you take a message for someone, write down the name of the caller, telephone number, time of the call and message.

• Under normal circumstances, the person who makes the call is the one who ends the call.

• The best way to handle an obscene call is to quietly and immediately hang up.

• Avoid long personal calls in the office. They are not only out of place but also waste company time and annoy others in the office who cannot help but overhear.

• Do not supply information above and beyond what’s normal, such as an employee’s home phone number. Explain that company policy does not permit giving that information.

• Try to calm hostile callers no matter how unfounded the anger is. Listen and allow the caller to vent. If appropriate, apologize and offer to rectify the matter.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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