Tips For Proper Telephone Etiquette at Baylor

Goal: In keeping with our mission here at Baylor to be a "caring community," we strive to have every phone call to any office handled in a courteous, caring, professional manner.

  • Be Prepared.
  • Practice using the features of your phone (transfer, hold, etc.) until you can use them easily and confidently.
  • Have a pad of paper and pen near the phone ready to take notes.
  • Clear off a space around your phone so that you are not knocking things over when you reach for the receiver.
  • Hold a team meeting prior to business hours, or early in the day, to review any new information that a caller may ask about or need to know.
  • Make sure you are in the communication loop. Ask members of your department to let you know about any new information that a caller may inquire about, for example: new promotions in Athletics, training opportunities, etc.
  • Greet Correctly.
  • Use a friendly greeting - Include words such as "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon." Besides being welcoming, they serve a useful function. Sometimes the first syllables of your greeting may be cut off when you answer the phone. If you skip the "Good Morning" the caller will hear something like "...ment. This is Jenny." Better the words "Good Morning" get cut off than the name of your department.
  • Identify your department - The first thing a caller wants to know is whether or not she has reached the place she intended to call. Be sure to identify your department. Once the caller hears this, she can go on abut her business confident that she has reached the right place.
  • Identify yourself - Please state your name clearly when answering the phone. The caller wants to know who he is talking to. Also, if you state your name, the caller will be more likely to tell you his name. Stating your name is especially important for interdepartmental calls. Sometimes, particularly if you are a new employee, it is hard to recognize voices on the phone. It is embarrassing to say, "This is Jenny, may I speak to Kay?" only to find out that you are already speaking to Kay.
  • End with your name - You may often hear a greeting like this, "Good afternoon. Information Technology Services. This is Jenny. May I help you?" Many people use this greeting in an effort to be helpful. Actually, it is more helpful to end the greeting with your name. Most people remember the last thing they hear. The words "May I help you?" can actually erase your name from the caller's memory. So, end your greeting by stating your name. Let your tone of voice express your willingness to be helpful.
  • Use a professional voice and manner.
  • Professionalism means that when people call your office they feel like they are in good hands. When you answer the phone in a professional way, your callers feel like they have connected with someone who is willing and competent to help them.
  • Since your callers cannot see you, they judge you (and your department and Baylor) by the tone of your voice and what you say. Use a pleasant, professional tone. Speak clearly and not too quickly. Avoid being abrupt or terse. Inspire confidence with your voice. Strive to be unfailingly polite.
  • Examples that aid in sounding professional:
  1. Speaking at a reasonable speed, not too slow or too fast.
  2. Using a conversational tone. Varying your voice expression. High and low tones give your voice interest.
  3. Consciously lowering the pitch of your voice if it is too high, or raising it, if it is too low and gruff.
  4. Using Please, Thank You, and You're Welcome.
  5. Using "Yes" instead of "Yeah" and "Uh-huh."
  6. Using "May I?" instead of "Can I?"

  • Examples that detract from your professionalism:
  1. Being too terse or abrupt.
  2. Being too chatty or casual. Part of being polite is being brief and getting to the point so that your caller can get back to her work.
  3. Using southern-isms and slang such as: Honey, Lady, Darlin', Girl, Girlfriend, Buddy, Big Guy, Man, etc.
  4. Giggling, yawning, or making other mouth noises.
  5. Chewing gum or answering the phone with your mouth full.
  6. Sounding rushed or out of breath. --Let the phone ring one more time if you need to catch your breath.
  7. Saying "Uh" and "like...You know" too many times.
  8. Opening mail, reading, or typing on the keyboard (unless it's part of what you are doing for the caller).
  9. Trying to talk with someone else while you are on the phone.
  10. Saying "I think" or "I'm pretty sure," or "I believe so." Either you know or you don't -- if you don't know, find out. Give out only correct information.

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  • Smile.
  • Believe it or not, your facial expression "shows" through the telephone. When you have a smile on your face your voice sounds friendlier. So, "Smile when you say that!" Keep a mirror, or some other reminder near your phone to help you remember to put on a happy face before you pick up the phone.
  • Posture is also important. Sit up straight and take a breath if you need to before picking up the phone. You will feel better and sound better.
  • Be aware of and careful with names.
  • Do you remember the theme song from the TV show Cheers? The song talked about Cheers being a place where "everybody knows your name" and how wonderful that is. When you call someplace numerous times, and they still don't recognize your name, you feel like a number -- like no one cares who you are. When "everybody knows your name" you feel welcomed and valued, like you are in a "caring community" -- and being a caring community is part of Baylor's mission.
  • Most people feel good when they are recognized and the best way to recognize someone on the phone is to know his or her name. If a caller volunteers his name up front, write it down so that you do not have to ask him to repeat it. Picking up on the caller's name immediately will make him feel important and welcome.
  • Be aware of the people who call your office often -- they will enjoy hearing that sound in your voice that lets them know that you know who they are.
  • Besides being aware of the names of your regular callers, you should make yourself familiar with the names of the president, vice-presidents and other campus leaders who are likely to call your office. This is a sign of respect and this awareness will help you handle their calls efficiently.
  • Also be aware of the names of regents, advisory board members and donors who may call your office. These people give large amounts of time, energy and sometimes money to Baylor. One way of showing our appreciation to them is to recognize their names when they call.
  • When you are answering the phone for someone else, find out the caller's name. That way you can let the person who is being called know with whom they will be speaking. Be sure to do this in a tactful way. It is much better to say, "May I say who is calling?" Rather than, "Who is this?" or "What is your name?"
  • People care about their names (and some people are quite sensitive). Show your respect by taking pains to pronounce and spell names correctly. When you take a message, write down the person's first and last name. (It is not helpful to get a message that says "Sue called" when you know half a dozen Sue's.) Check spelling if there is any doubt.
  • A person's title is a part of his/her name. Since Baylor is a University, you are likely to receive lots of calls from people with doctoral degrees. When in doubt about a person's title at Baylor, it is best to err on the side of "Dr."

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  • Be discreet and tactful.
  • It is especially important to be discreet and tactful when you are screening calls for someone. Find out what they want you to say and if there is anyone who has priority. Phrases like, "Ms. Morris is unavailable right now," "Ms. Morris is in a meeting right now, or "Ms. Morris is away from her desk right now" are often helpful in this situation. It is good to follow up with "May I help you with something?" You may be able to resolve the caller's need without interrupting the person for whom you are screening calls.
  • Give appropriate information, but only appropriate information.
Do not say: Instead say:
Brenda is in a meeting with Dr. Lilly Brenda is in a meeting.
Brenda is STILL at lunch. Brenda is out of the office. I expect her back
within the hour.
Brenda is in the bathroom. Brenda has stepped away from her desk for a moment.
Brenda is at a doctor's appointment. Brenda is out of the office. I expect her back at 3:00.
Brenda is on vacation all week. Brenda is out of the office this week. I expect her back on Monday.
Brenda has been gone a LONG time; I don't know WHEN she'll be back. Brenda is out of the office right now. She may check back in this afternoon, or it may be the morning before I see her again.
I don't know where Brenda is. I guess she's coming back today. No one ever tells me anything around here. Brenda is out of the office at the moment.

  • Transfer the caller with the call (meaning to let the receiving caller know who you are transferring to them).
  • Whenever you transfer a call, first talk to the person who will be receiving the call. Tell the receiving person the name of the caller and the nature of the call -- that way the caller does not have to repeat his/her whole story and the person receiving the call can be better prepared.
  • It may happen that you answer a call from someone who is asking for help or information that your department does not provide. In these cases, your objective is to deliver the caller safely to a person who can help. Keep in mind that one of the most annoying things that can happen to a caller is to be transferred from department to department repeating his/her request over and over again. When you receive one of these calls, use the following process:
  1. Give an explanation of why you are transferring a caller. Tell them what you are going to do. For example: "Another department handles gifts to the university Mrs. Smith, I'd be glad to check around and find someone who can help you. It may take a moment or two."
  2. Politely ask the caller if he/she is able to hold. Avoid expressions such as "Hold on" and "Just a second" or "Just a minute." Instead say: "Are you able to hold or would you prefer that someone call you back?"
  3. Contact the person whom you think can help the caller, talk to that person yourself and make sure he or she can help. Note: This step is very important. Try not to transfer a call unless you are absolutely sure the department you are transferring to can handle the situation; otherwise the caller may get bounced around to several departments without ever getting help.
  4. Return to the caller. Tell the caller the name and the number of the person to whom you are transferring in case there is a disconnection and then transfer the call.

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  • Be kind to people on hold.
  • Being put on hold is sometimes like being dropped into a black hole. You wonder if you've been forgotten. You wonder if you've been disconnected. You wonder what those people are doing -- did they leave for lunch?
  • Being put on hold is usually annoying for people no matter what you do, but here are a few things you can do to soften the blow:
  1. Always ask before you put someone on hold and listen to the reply. Say, "Are you able to hold?? or "Would you like to hold?" If the person is not able to hold, deal with his/her need immediately. Avoid "Hold please -- click" and "Just a second -- click."
  2. Use the Hold feature on your telephone. Do not lay the receiver down on the desk for the caller to hear all the noise and conversation in your office.
  3. If the caller is going to be on hold longer than for just the briefest transfer, tell them what will be going on and give them a reasonable time estimate (avoid "Just a second"). For example, say "I may be able to find that information for you, but I need to check in one of the other offices. It may take a minute or two. Are you able to hold while I check?"
  4. Get the caller's attention when you return to the line. Don't just start talking. For example, say "Mrs. Smith?" Then pause for her to acknowledge you.
  5. When you return to the line, thank the caller for waiting.
  6. If the caller is on the line for a long time, give progress reports every 30-45 seconds if possible. The caller cannot see what is happening and 30 seconds or a minute is a long time to be hanging on the line without knowing what is happening wotj a request.
  • Take messages correctly.
  • Accurate messages save time and confusion and are a huge help to both the caller and recipient of the message.
  • If voicemail is available, give the caller the option of leaving the message in voicemail or dictating a message to you.
  • When you take a message, use good judgment about how much information to record when you take a message, but err on the side of more rather than less. Here are some things you should consider recording on each message:
  1. The date and time.
  2. The caller's first and last name or some other identification. (Ex: Pat in purchasing. Phyllis from the video store.)
  3. A phone number if you can get it. Even though the recipient may have the phone number, it is usually more convenient to have the number right there. You might say something like this "Ms. Morris probably already has your number but could you give it to me just to be on the safe side?"
  4. Some information about why the person is calling. This enables the recipient to decide when and how to reply and to gather materials for the return call if necessary. Sometimes if the recipient knows enough about what the caller needs, a return call is not even necessary.
  5. Your name. This is extremely helpful when the recipient needs to get some clarification about the message.
  • When taking a message double-check your accuracy. Repeat the caller's name and phone number for verification. Read the message that you have written back to the caller to be sure you are communicating the important points.
  • Find out the protocol in your office for handling messages. Is there a special message pad that everyone checks? Is it best to leave a note on the recipient's chair? Is there a place on your desk where you keep messages? Should you send the message to the recipient in an email message?

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  • Strive to help callers in every way.
  • Be helpful. Be helpful. Be helpful. If you do not remember any of the other tips of ideas from this training, remember this one. The people who call you are calling because they need help with something. Consider yourself to be an advocate for your callers; try to find a way to help them no matter what. They need you. Do not leave them with a dead-end.
  • Here are some ways you can be helpful:
  • Keep yourself informed. Be aware of typical questions that are asked of your department and find out the answers. Do your best to learn to handle small or typical requests yourself. The more you can learn about the workings of your department, what people are doing, major events, and the general goings-on around Baylor, the more likely you will be able to help people when they call.
  • Offer help. If the person to whom the caller would like to speak with is not available, offer your help. Say something like "Mrs. Morris is not available right now. May I help you with something?" This is very important, most callers like most of us are very busy and would like to take care of their business in one phone call if at all possible. Your may be able to take care of the caller's needs yourself. At the very least the caller will probably appreciate the offer.
  • Avoid the phrase "We can't do that." Instead always demonstrate a positive attitude over the telephone. Tell the caller what you CAN do. For example, suppose a caller asks if you can set up a time for a meeting on someone's calendar when you do not have control over that person's calendar. Instead of saying "I can't do that," you might say "I do not have control over Ms. Morris' calendar, but let me write down when you would like to schedule the meeting and I will pass it on to her. She can get back in touch with you later to confirm."
  • Avoid the phrase "I don't know." "I don't know" leaves the caller at a dead end. If they don't know and you don't know, what are they supposed to do next? Here are some alternatives:
  • "Ill find out."
  • "The XYZ department handles that, let me transfer you."
  • "Mrs. Morris has that information and she is out of the office for the moment, let me take a message and have her call you back with an answer."
  • "Let me research that and get back to you. May I have your number?"
  • Avoid using the word "No" at the beginning of a sentence. You may have to tell the caller "No" eventually, but try not to have the word "No" be the very first thing out of your mouth. It is brutal. Rearrange your sentences so that "No" is not first. For example, you might change the statement, "No. Mrs. Morris is not available for a meeting at 2:00" to "Mrs. Morris is not available for a meeting at 2:00 this afternoon. What about tomorrow at 2:00?"
  • Stick with it. At the end of the call make sure you have fulfilled the caller's need to made plans to get back to her shortly with an answer. If the caller's need is something that you cannot help with, give them some options of what to do and make sure they know how to follow up on those options. Do not leave a caller with a dead end.
  • Volunteer information. Sometimes callers do not know enough about a situation to ask for all the information they need, but you know you can help them. For example, suppose you are working with a caller who wants to know if the ticket office is open on Saturday so that she can buy tickets for an upcoming game. You know that the ticket office is open on Saturday, but that it closes at noon. "Yes," you tell the caller, "the ticket office is open on Saturday." Imagine how frustrated this caller will be when she arrives at the ticket office at 1:00 on Saturday, only to find out that it closed at noon. If you have information a caller might need -- share it -- even if the caller does not know she needs to ask.

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Reviewed February 27, 2014