Phone Etiquette for Professionals


A phone call is often the first (and sometimes only) point of contact with some customers. The way that these calls are answered or placed can make or break a business relationship. Some companies now rely on professional answering services for this very reason, but if your company or organization does not, you might find the information below something that you want to review with your team. This is from an in-house document created to help our office team better represent our company.

Ideal Number of Rings

Answer the phone at 2-3 rings – callers do not expect the phone to be picked up at one ring and may be caught off guard, more than rings and the customer begins to be impatient.

Answering the Phone

Answer the phone with a positive greeting, followed by giving the name of the business and your name, and asking how you can direct the call or help, if appropriate. Always be polite, professional, and do not use slang or swear.

Example: “Good Afternoon, MG Services, Muriel speaking, how can I help you today?”

  • Smile before answering the phone – this affects the sound of your voice and gives it a more pleasant and friendly tone (which can help immediately diffuse a negative caller).
  • Speak in a clear tone, using a voice neither too loud or too soft, clearly enunciating words, and speaking slow enough that the person can understand what is being said.
  • Never answer the phone when eating, chewing, or drinking. If music is on, turn it off.

eating while answering phone.jpg

Gathering Information from the Caller

Once you have answered the phone with your greeting, you will need to collect certain information from the caller to determine if the call needs to be forwarded, if a message needs to be taken for a specific person, or if you can help the caller yourself. Always aim to help the caller immediately.

  • Ask for their name and what company they work for
  • Ask what you can help the caller with:

If they know who they want to speak to:

  1. If that person is in the office and free, let them person know that you will transfer their call to that person and do so immediately
  2. If you think that person is around but they aren’t at their desk, OR that person is currently on another call, ask the caller if you can briefly place them on hold while you either track them down or wait for them to get off the phone – let the caller know what is going on (NOTE: see Placing a Caller on Hold for more info on this)
  3. If the person is out, ask the caller if you can transfer them to that person’s cell phone or take a message down. If the person is away for an extended period of time, be sure to let the caller know that before taking down a message in case the call is urgent and should be handled by someone else. (see Taking a Message)

If they don’t know who they should speak to, gather more information.

  1. Ask the caller what they need (maybe they are looking to make a bill payment,
    maybe there is an issue on a jobsite, maybe they want to apply for a job)
  2. Determine who is best suited to help with the above needs. If you can
    help, please do it vs transferring the call. If you cannot, let them know
    that you will transfer them to the person you think can help them
    (NOTE: see Transferring a Call for more info on this) or taking down
    their contact details and that someone will call them back about the
    **When a caller is speaking, listen to what he or she has to say without interruptions.

Placing a Caller on Hold

Once you have identified the caller and their needs, you might need to place the caller on hold either to look up some information, see if the person they are looking for is in, or to check on something. Always ask the caller permission before placing them on hold and thank them if they say yes.

Example: “Do you mind if I place you on a brief hold while I see if Brian is in the office and can take a call? Thank you”.
If they say yes:

  • place them on hold but not for very long. If you think it’s going to be a long hold,
    ask the caller if you can do some investigating and that you will call them back shortly.

If they say no:

  • take down all the information listed in Gathering Information from the Caller and
    leave that information for the intended recipient (email is great) or so you can return the call. Also note the time and date of the call when you relay this message and let them know what help or information you may have already provided so as not to duplicate efforts.

    • If you have promised a returned phone call, do so as quickly as possible


Transferring a Call

If the caller knows who they want to speak to and that person is in the office and available (check before transferring the call), you can simply let them know that you will transfer their call to X and proceed to do so.
If the caller doesn’t know who they need to speak to but you figure out who would be best to take the call, put the caller on hold, explain to the person who you think is best suited to take the call the details of what you have found out (who the caller is, what they are looking for) and make sure they are ready to take the call. If they are, tell the caller you are transferring the call to (person’s name, title) and that they should be able to help them. Transfer the call.

If the person is not in the office, offer to transfer the call to that person’s cell phone, if applicable, or to take a message for the person you think can help. Always let the caller know who they should be expecting a call back from and when.

Taking a Message

When taking a message from a caller to pass along to someone else in the office or in the field, here is the information that should be taken down and passed along.

  • Person’s name, where they work, what they do (job title if applicable)
  • What did the caller want? Be specific in what details the caller has given
  • When did they call (time and date)
  • Any help or information you have already provided
  • Best number to reach the caller back at (include alternate numbers or email)
  • Urgency of answer: does the person expect to be called within the hour or that they don’t need an answer until next week?

This information is best send to someone in an email so the information is clear (if you are leaving a note on someone’s desk, let them know who left them the note if they have more questions about the all). Include in the subject line information so the recipient knows some immediate details
E.g. “Phone message: John Peters from Gescan – urgent, called at 10:30am today”. If it is an urgent message, try to call the person it was intended for to relay the message as well as sending an email.

Making Calls

When making calls to customers, employees, or anyone else, make sure you know who you want to speak with and what you want to speak to them about. If you aren’t sure who you need to speak to, make sure you have the issue you need help with clearly definable before making the call.

  • Let the person that answered the phone know who you are (name, role and company) and who you are calling for or what you need
    • if you dialed the wrong number, apologize and ask them if you called (xxx)xxx-xxxx so you do not bother them a second time).
  • Speak clearly, slow enough to be understood, and calmly (the same etiquette applied when making a call for when answering the phone).
  • Make sure that when you are placing the call you are not rushed or in a noisy environment (near construction, with music on in your vehicle, etc)
  • make sure there are no other distractions (in a drive-thru placing a food order, typing an email, etc). Give the person you are calling your full attention. People can tell if you are doing something else at the same time. Never ask to place
    someone you just called on hold.
  • If you are leaving a message, make sure you leave your name, company name and role, the reason you are calling, the time and date you are calling, a brief description of why you are calling, and your expectations (returned phone call, urgency, just for their information, etc).
  • Do not call anyone before 8:00am or after 5:00pm unless the person has expressly given permission to do so, or if their office hours fall outside of this range.


Some Additional General Phone Etiquette Tips

  • Don’t swear or use slang
  • Do not argue with the caller
  • If having a conference call (etiquette for this could be a whole post on its own!), make sure you are doing it from a location that won’t disturb other workers, preferably behind closed doors. Never take or make calls on speaker, unless you are not disturbing anyone else (make sure to always inform the caller that they are on speaker phone and who else is there).
    • If you are making or taking a call from Bluetooth in a vehicle, always let the caller know if someone else is there so they do not reveal confidential or private information to a third party
  • If the caller is not there and the information you need to leave is confidential or sensitive, leave a voicemail saying who you are, a general description of the subject, and contact details. For example, don’t leave a message that someone’s account is overdue and delinquent, say that you are calling from the Accounting Department and ask them to call you back about an urgent matter.
  • Keep personal calls short, to a minimum, and ideally in a private setting or from a personal phone (better yet to save these until a designated break time)
  • Never say “I don’t know” unless you follow with “but I will check on that for you/look into that for you” and follow-up
  • After answering the question that the caller asked, or taking a message for someone else from them, always ask “Is there anything else that I can do for you today?”
  • End calls with a positive closure such as “Thank you for calling”, or “Have a good day.”

There are so many great articles on this topics – here are some you might enjoy:
Phone Etiquette for Business Call by ShorTel
20 Business Telephone Etiquette Tips from CSM The Magazine for Customer Service Managers and Professionals