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Business Phone Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

In many cases, the first point of contact in business is through a phone call. Demonstrating excellent phone etiquette is essential for making a positive impression and building strong relationships with customers, clients, and colleagues.

Business Phone Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

Whether you're working, as a receptionist, or in any role that involves speaking on the phone, mastering proper telephone manners will helps you communicate more effectively and professionally. In this article, we'll cover the most important do's and don'ts of business phone etiquette to help you excel at handling calls.

Why is phone etiquette important in the workplace?

Why is phone etiquette important in the workplace?

When you answer the phone at work, you are often the first point of contact between your company and the outside world. The way you interact with callers forms their initial impression of your business and impacts the overall customer experience.

Good phone etiquette helps to:

  • Demonstrate professionalism and build trust

  • Make customers feel valued and respected

  • Resolve issues efficiently and improve customer satisfaction

  • Avoid misunderstandings and communication breakdowns

  • Reflect positively on your company's reputation

According to a blog published by Outmatch, a study by Dimensional Research shows 59% of consumers won't do business with a company again after a negative phone experience. This highlights just how critical it is to get phone etiquette right.

How should you answer the phone at work?

When answering the phone, strive to sound warm, friendly and professional. Before you pick the phone, convey warmth with a smile in your voice. Be prepared to speak clearly and slowly, Speaking too  quickly can give the impression the the caller is othering you or that you are really too busy to be answering the phone

Greet the caller and state your name and company name clearly, for example:

"Good morning, [Company Name], [Your Name] speaking. How may I assist you today?"

Speaking clearly and congenitally sets a positive tone for the interaction, reassuring the caller they have reached the right place, which is crucial.  It also encourages them to comfortably articulate their reason for calling.

Remember:  You are not doing the client a favor by answering the phone, the client is doing you a favor by calling!

Some other tips for answering the phone professionally:

  • Speak clearly and at a moderate pace.The caller does not know what you are saying so be clear.

  • Smile as you talk - it comes across in your voice

  • Stay away from  informal greetings like "Hey" or "What's up?"

  • If you need time to pull up information, let the caller know and ask them if they mind waiting, and then thank them for waiting

Following this simple phone answering etiquette, the caller feels welcomed and valued from the start of the interaction.

What tone of voice should you use on work calls?

What tone of voice should you use on work calls?

Your tone of voice accounts for 38% of the meaning conveyed in verbal communication, according to Professor Albert Mehrabian's landmark psychology study. So how you say something is almost as important as the words you choose.

When speaking on the phone, use a pleasant, upbeat tone to sound approachable and engaged. Modulate your pitch and inject warmth into your voice. Speak at a conversational volume - not too quiet, not too loud.

At the same time, maintain a professional manner and avoid sounding overly casual. Steer clear of slang, jokes or sarcasm that could be misconstrued without visual cues like facial expressions and body language.

If you're dealing with a difficult caller, keep your tone of voice calm and neutral. Don't take anger or frustration personally. Breathe deeply, focus on listening and respond in a patient, measured way to defuse tension.

With an appropriate tone of voice, you'll build rapport and understanding with the person on the other end of the phone.

How can you demonstrate active listening on calls?

Giving the caller your full attention is a fundamental part of good phone etiquette. Active listening shows you value their time and care about their needs.

To be an active listener:

  • Eliminate distractions and focus solely on the call

  • Allow the caller to speak without interrupting

  • Use verbal cues like "I see" and "Go on" to signal you're engaged

  • Paraphrase key points back to confirm your understanding

  • Ask relevant follow-up questions to gain clarity

  • Take notes to capture important details

  • Don't multitask, eat, drink or have side conversations

By demonstrating you're truly tuned in, you'll make the caller feel heard and respected. You'll also be better equipped to address their needs and resolve any issues.

If you do need to look something up or consult with a colleague while on a call, let the customer know. Say something like: "Let me just pull up your account details, may I place you on a brief hold?" This helps keep them informed about what's happening.

What's the best way to handle placing a caller on hold?

Putting a caller on hold is sometimes necessary to find information or transfer them to the right person. But it's important to do it politely to avoid frustrating the customer.

Here's the proper etiquette for placing someone on hold:

  • Ask for the caller's permission and wait for them to agree before placing them on hold

  • Provide a valid reason for the hold, like looking up their details

  • Thank them for their patience

  • Check back within 30-45 seconds if the hold is longer, to reassure them you're working on it

  • When you return, sincerely thank the caller for waiting

For example:

"Thank you for calling [Company Name] support. Would it be alright if I place you on a brief hold while I pull up your account? ... Great, thanks for your patience, I really appreciate it. I'll be back on the line shortly."

If you need to transfer the call, let the caller know where you're transferring them and why. Provide the name and extension of the person they'll be speaking with.

Avoid placing a caller on hold multiple times. If you do need to put them on hold again, apologize and explain the reason. Never leave a caller on hold for more than a couple minutes without checking in or offering a call-back.

By following proper ‘hold etiquette’, you show respect for the caller's time and help maintain a positive interaction.

Is it okay to use a speakerphone at work?

Using a speakerphone can be tempting in an office setting, especially if you need your hands free to take notes or reference something on your computer. However, speakerphone etiquette dictates you should use it sparingly.

The main drawbacks of speakerphone are:

  • Reduced sound quality, making it harder for parties to hear each other clearly

  • Background noise from your location can be distracting for the caller

  • Lack of privacy, as others may overhear the conversation

  • Impersonal feel compared to speaking directly into the handset

As a general rule, avoid putting a caller on speakerphone unless:

  • You're in a private room or office

  • You alert the caller and get their consent first

  • You mute your side when not speaking to minimize background noise

  • You speak clearly and at a normal volume

  • You don't have a side conversation with anyone else in the room

  • If you must use a speakerphone, keep the call as brief as possible. Switch back to the handset if you're discussing sensitive information or the sound quality declines.

Using speakerphone judiciously and following etiquette, you avoid negatively impacting the caller's experience.

Remember: Always ask or when necessary inform the caller that you will be using speakerphone.

How should you conclude a business phone call?

The way you end a phone call is just as important as how you begin it. Proper etiquette can help you wrap up professionally and leave the caller with a positive impression.

Key steps for concluding a call:

  • Ask if there's anything else you can assist with

  • Summarize any next steps or action items you've agreed to

  • Thank the caller for reaching out

  • Let them know you appreciate their business

  • Say goodbye and allow the caller to hang up first

  • For instance:

  • "Is there anything else I can help with today? ... Wonderful. As discussed, I'll send that information over to you via email this afternoon. Thanks so much for calling [Company Name], we really appreciate your business. Have a great rest of your day!"

If the call involves a complaint or difficult situation, aim to end on an upbeat note. Reaffirm your commitment to resolving the issue and thank the customer for their patience and understanding.

Avoid rushing the caller off the phone or hanging up abruptly. Allow adequate time for a courteous wrap-up. Making the caller feel valued with a proper goodbye is well worth the extra minute or two.

What should you do if you need to call a customer back?

Sometimes you may need to end a call and get back to the customer later, for example if you need more time to research their issue or consult with a colleague. When setting a call-back expectation, good etiquette is key.

Here's how to handle it:

  • Explain clearly why you're ending the current call

  • Give a specific time frame for when you'll call back

  • Verify the best number to reach them

  • Apologize for any inconvenience

  • Thank them for their understanding

  • Make sure to follow through and call back as promised

For example:

"I want to look into this further for you, but I'll need to check with my manager to get some additional information. Would it be alright if I call you back within the next hour? ... Great, what's the best number to reach you at? ... Perfect. I'm sorry for the delay, I really appreciate your patience with this. I'll be in touch very soon."

Then, when you call back:

"Hi [Name], this is [Your Name] calling back from [Company Name], as promised. Thanks for your time earlier. I've gotten clarification from my manager on your question..."

Following through as agreed, you demonstrate reliability and build trust with the customer. Proactively communicating and delivering on call-back commitments is an essential part of a positive customer experience.

How can you handle angry or difficult callers?

How can you handle angry or difficult callers?

Even with excellent phone etiquette, you'll occasionally encounter frustrated or rude callers. It's important to handle these situations with professionalism and emotional intelligence.

Tips for dealing with difficult calls:

  • Stay calm and avoid taking anger personally

  • Listen actively and let them vent if needed, without interrupting

  • Empathize and validate their feelings

  • Apologize sincerely for any inconvenience

  • Aim to identify the root issue and focus on solutions

  • Maintain a patient, caring tone of voice

  • Know when to escalate to a manager if needed

  • Use phrases like:

  • "I apologize for the frustration this has caused you, I understand how annoying it must be."

  • "Let's see what I can do to resolve this for you quickly."

  • "I want to make sure I fully understand the situation - could you please clarify what happened when...?"

If a caller is swearing or being verbally abusive, calmly but firmly remind them you're there to help but can only do so if they refrain from that language. If they don't respond to a warning, you're within your rights to politely terminate the call.

With the right approach, you can often deescalate tension and turn a difficult call into a constructive interaction. Staying professional and solution-oriented is critical.

What are some other general business phone etiquette tips?

Here are a few other best practices to keep in mind:

  • Minimize transferring calls whenever possible. Get the caller to the right person the first time.

  • Return voicemails and missed calls promptly, ideally within a few hours.

  • Update your voicemail greeting if you'll be out of office and state when callers can expect to hear back.

  • If your phone system has a "direct to voicemail" feature, use it only for clear spam calls, not to avoid answering.

  • Always identify yourself when placing an outbound call. Don't make the other person guess who's calling.

  • Ensure any customer data or account details you discuss over the phone remain confidential.

  • If you work in a cubicle or open office, keep your voice down to avoid disturbing others.

  • Standing during calls can help you sound more energized and engaging.

  • When speaking with colleagues internally, extend them the same courtesy as you would an external caller.

  • As a manager, provide your team with training on phone skills and etiquette expectations. Regularly seek feedback from customers on phone experiences.

Making business phone etiquette a priority and an ongoing focus, you'll be well-equipped to represent your company professionally and build strong relationships over the phone.

Key Takeaways on Phone Etiquette

In summary, here are the most important things to remember about proper phone etiquette at work:

  • Always answer the phone promptly and professionally, stating your name and company

  • Use a warm, friendly and caring tone of voice

  • Give callers your full attention by actively listening and not multitasking

  • Ask permission before placing someone on hold and check back in if the hold is longer than 30 seconds

  • Avoid speakerphone if possible, especially in shared workspaces

  • Wrap up calls courteously by thanking the caller and letting them know you value their business

  • If setting a call-back, communicate a clear time frame and follow through reliably

  • Stay calm and solution-focused with difficult callers, guiding the conversation constructively

  • Stand while talking to project energy and confidence

  • Provide your team with training and regularly seek feedback on customer call experiences

Mastering these telephone etiquette essentials will help you shine in any role that involves phone interactions. You'll build stronger relationships, resolve issues efficiently, and deliver an outstanding customer experience that reflects positively on your whole company.

If you need a business phone etiquette coaching or workshop for your staff, VIP Protocol can definitely help you. This is our signature program and we're known for this. You may check this page to know more about our Customer Service and Office or you may contact us today by clicking here.


Jeannie Vaage, Etiquette Consultant, VIP Protocol
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