Welcome to this issue of "Dr. T's Timely Tips" by Dr. Tony Alessandra. Please send your feedback to info@alessandra.com!

Use proper telephone etiquette to score big points with customers

Do you remember Lily Tomlin's irreverent impersonation of Ernestine, the incompetent operator? "Hello, is this the party to whom I'm speaking?" she would sniff with her trademark squinty eyed, dried prune expression. Ernestine could use some tips on appropriate telephone behavior, not that she would ever choose to use them, of course.

One of the reasons we laugh at Ernestine is because she strikes a chord of recognition in us; we've all felt angry, frustrated, and abused at one time or another when using the phone. Ernestine flaunted the unique set of rules that has grown up around the telephone. I can only guess that Alexander Graham Bell would have been amused with Ernestine and bemused by the enormous implications of her performance.

We tend to take the telephone for granted, but it is important that, unlike Ernestine, you demonstrate courteous telephone behavior when talking to clients and other business contacts. Courtesy and thoughtfulness are the basic components of telephone etiquette. The knowledge of etiquette makes telephoning easier because if you creatively obey the rules, you can be confident that you will behave in the most appropriate, productive way.

Some of my telephone tips may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many times I have found that even the most basic telephone etiquette is ignored or abused. With this in mind, here are five quick tips for polite and effective telephone usage for business communication:

1. When answering the phone in the office, immediately identify your company, department, and your name. If you are self-employed with a home office, answer by stating your name.

2. When talking to customers, call them by name. Not only will the customer be pleased, but also by repeating the name, you are more likely to remember it the next time. Be sure not to overuse this though, as this habit can be annoying. This also applies when you find a friendly secretary. In the future, you can call her by name and create a rapport.

3. Know yourself and how you sound to others. You can find this out by recording your voice. Then analyze your tone, manners, friendliness, and vocal quality. This is even more helpful if others critique you.

4. Always use the hold button if you must temporarily leave the phone. It is surprising what the person on the line can hear, and you may inadvertently embarrass yourself -- or the other person.

5. Excuse yourself when leaving the line. A simple, "One minute, please, Jim," will do before you put him on hold. Then make sure you check back in and reassure the customer every 20 to 30 seconds that you have not forgotten him. If you must do this more than twice, it is probably better to call back when you are able to talk.

Are you listening, Ernestine? I hope you picked up some pointers, but I am not counting on it. As for the rest of you telephone communicators; I hope that these tips will propel you into many rewarding, people-oriented experiences on the telephone. I have a hunch that Alexander Graham Bell, and maybe even Ernestine, would have wanted it that way.

Here's to more personal insight,


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