Cartoon man, frustrated by customer care online

It’s no secret that creating a personal connection with customers is vital to successful businesses. It’s also common knowledge that many great business relationships begin with a phone call.

So answering the phone in a warm, friendly tone is essential to creating a lasting connection. A negative phrase can leave customers frustrated. Worse yet, it can escalate a situation that you could have otherwise resolved quickly and effectively.

So, what phrases should you cut from your call answering lexicon to give your call handling skills a boost? We’ve put together a list to help give customers a great call experience every time.

Man talking on a mobile, using call handling skills to help customers

1) I am only… 

When your receptionist tells a customer they are “only” the answering service; the caller hears one thing; I don’t want to take responsibility for this. That mentality doesn’t just demean the customer; it diminishes the very important role receptionists play in your organisation.

So instead, let’s concentrate on what you are, not what you aren’t. Example – “What I can do is elevate this to my duty manager and make sure they call you back as soon as he is available. Is that OK?”

It’s simple, friendly and offers a real solution to a real problem. Give it a try next time you can’t solve an issue yourself!

Business owner with great call handling skills on phone

2) I don’t know… 

Let’s be honest; this is not the answer customers want to hear. “I don’t know” doesn’t just point out a gap in your knowledge; it suggests you aren’t interested in filling that gap either. Caller’s will become frustrated or, worse, hang up when they know their question isn’t going to be answered.

Try saying “ Good question, let me find out for you.” The caller knows you’re interested in them and want to help. Most importantly, they know you’re taking steps to find an answer to their query.

Man with poor call handling skills on laptop

3) Please hold… 

OK, so this might not seem like a biggie! It might be better than “Just a minute please,” then disappearing into the ether, but you’re still demanding that a customer waits on hold.

Try asking instead, “Would you mind holding for a moment until…” then explain why you are asking them to hold. If your customer knows why they’re being asked to hold, they are usually more willing to accept the wait.

Businessman with headset using a computer and call handling skills

4) You’ll have to… 

Direct orders can come across as demanding and dictatorial. Customers don’t like being told what to do. When someone calls with an issue, they may be looking for direction. But how you convey these directions will have a significant impact on their perception of you.

So, rather than tell them what to do, suggest the best action for them to take: “ The best thing to do is…”  or “Would you be willing to try…” With these optional suggestions, callers know you are giving advice and guiding them to the best solution. In my experience, customers feel far more valued that way.

Man in office wearing a headset using excellent call handling skills to talk to customer

5. We’ll get back to you soon…

This might seem like a perfectly reasonable statement. But vague language like “soon”, “shortly” and “when we can” doesn’t offer any tangible value. Your callers’ perception of ‘soon’ could differ significantly from your own, and misaligned expectations are a recipe for disgruntled customers.

Instead, give clear time-frames and deadlines. Don’t know when you’ll have the information they need? Even offering a date for when you’ll be able to get back with an update could suffice. At least callers will know when to expect you. Clarity, honesty and transparency are key to building trust – even when it’s to tell a customer you don’t have the answer to their question.

Quick takeaways.

  1. It is common knowledge that many great business relationships begin with a phone call, so answering the phone in a warm, friendly tone is essential to creating a lasting connection.
  2. Phrases to avoid while on the phone:
    • I am only…
    • I don’t know…
    • Please hold…
    • You’ll have to…
    • We’ll get back to you soon…

This article was originally developed by Gerry McColl. It was updated on 30.01.2020  by Ben Graham