Tips from telephone etiquette expert Claire Brewerton of the Virtual Business Centre

Phone calls are a dying art -vintage telephone
Phone calls are a dying art -vintage telephone

Phone calls are a dying art
While the use of smartphones grows across the world, with an estimated 7.33 billion people expected to have them by 2025, making an actual phone call is becoming less common.

Yet a phone remains one of the most used tools in modern business. Over 25 million business calls get made every day in the UK. And, according to the Harvard Business Review, voice communication is now more important than ever. But the art of talking on the telephone appears to be dying. Many people under the age of thirty struggle with ‘how’ to strike up a conversation over the phone.

The virtual business centre

Claire Brewerton - Phone calls are a dying art
Claire Brewerton from Virtual Business Services – talks about how Phone calls are a dying art

Claire Brewerton runs the Virtual Business Centre in Brinkworth and has done for more than twenty years. Her team manage 1000s of calls every week.

She said: ‘At the Virtual Business Centre we receive and make calls for clients at a rate of around 3000 calls a week. Our business is still growing after twenty-two years. When we recruit or when we talk to younger members of staff within businesses it becomes clear they often struggle with the ‘how’ of making or answering a phone call.

‘Conversation over the phone, which I took for granted as I was growing up, has now changed. These are skills which we need to consider in the working world.

Telephone conversation tips

Here are a few of Claire’s tips for telephone conversations, which are often, in the world of business, with complete strangers.

‘When we deal with customers over the telephone, it’s important to remember that it’s a substitute for face-to-face conversations. Thus, we cannot see facial expressions, manners and reactions. We can’t see what the other person is doing, we can’t lip-read what the other person is saying and we can’t use illustrations to help them understand,’ Claire said.

1. How to make effective telephone calls:

If you’re right-handed, put your phone on the LEFT SIDE of the desk. This enables you to hold the phone and take notes at the same time (and vice versa if you’re left handed).

Open a conversation with a stranger in a positive manner such as ‘I wonder if you can help….’ to set the ‘helpful’ tone of the conversation.

If you have to leave a message say exactly what you need, how to contact you, and the best time to reach you. Be specific. Avoid vague phrases like ‘call me as soon as possible’.

If you’re leaving a message with a human being, ask that person to REPEAT your message back to you to make sure they got it right. Don’t do this as a demand. ‘Would you mind reading that back to me?” – will often elicit a positive response.

2. How to return a missed phone call:

Before you even pick up the phone, ensure your receptionist, PA, colleagues or staff are briefed on when you’ll return a call.  Don’t leave people hanging; this enables you to set callers’ expectations. It might be ‘he/she will call you back tomorrow between 10am and 11am’ and then ensure it’s in your diary.

Respect other people’s time. Gather all the information you need to take care of a request BEFORE you return a phone call.

Beware the ‘throwaway’ statement as these can create a poor customer perception – such as ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call you back. My boss had us in another meeting that lasted all morning‘ or ‘I’m sorry it took so long. Now what do you want?

Start the conversation positively with ‘thank you for your call yesterday/two days ago/this morning, how can I help?….”

How to answer the phone in an effective manner

Smile before you pick up the telephone. It may help to have a mirror on your desk, this way you will be able to see how you ‘sound’ on the telephone. It makes your voice positive from the start.

Use the four answering courtesies of greeting the caller, stating your organisation or department, introduce yourself and offer to help.

Show enthusiasm as it helps make the caller feel welcome.

Use friendly phrases as part of your greeting such as ‘may I help you further?’

Close the conversation in a positive way. Thank the caller, thanking them for their business (if relevant), provide assurance that you’ll fulfil any promises.

Let the caller hang up first as this gives them a final chance to add something.

How to respond to a complaining customer

Listen with understanding – identify with the customer and acknowledge the complaint. This defuses anger and demonstrates your concern.

Validate their concern with something like – ‘I am sorry you’ve been inconvenienced, please tell me what happened so that I can help you.’

Take action – deal with the complaint in a timely manner, dealing positively with a complaint can turn it into a positive experience.

Claire said: ‘A customer’s first impression is all important in gaining co-operation.

If there’s a problem, do not blame others or make excuses. Instead, take the responsibility and initiative to do whatever you can to solve the problem as soon as possible.

If you’re not answering your phone, your messages are going to voice mail and you never return calls, it’s inevitable that you’re losing business, creating a poor impression of your business and showing up fundamental inefficiency and poor customer service.’

For more information

For more information about Claire and her team at the Virtual Business Centre visit

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