Good Phone Etiquette for Customer Service Representatives

Proper business phone etiquette is a critical part of delivering outstanding customer service. Customer service representatives in a call center environment should be familiar with the following list of do’s and don’ts of good phone etiquette. Following these phone etiquette tips should improve customer satisfaction, reduce escalations, and ensure that customer service representatives are presenting their organization in the best way possible.

Good Phone Etiquette: Showing Customers Respect

Many escalations could be avoided just by treating customers with respect. Though call handling may differ from organization to organization, treating customers with respect is a universally accepted principal of professional phone etiquette.

Do address customers formally. 

Unless prompted to address the customer by first name, customer service representatives should address customers formally as “Mr.” or “Mrs.” using their last name. If unsure of how to pronounce a last name, “Sir” or “Ma’am” is usually acceptable, proper business phone etiquette.

Do not use slang to address a customer. 

Most businesses will consider the use of any slang words as poor phone etiquette, especially so if used to address the customer. Do not address customers as “dude,” “chicky,” “chica,” “brother,” “sister” or any other variation of slang that can be used to refer to a person. Derogatory slang words will rightly result in customer service representatives receiving a warning, at the least, and could result in termination depending upon company policies.

Good Phone Etiquette: Keep the Customer Informed

Customers can’t see what an agent is doing, and rely on the customer service representative to keep him informed about what he is doing to resolve his issue. All businesses want their customer service representatives to avoid long periods of silence during their calls.

Do let a customer know what progress is being made on his issue. 

Customer service representatives might use the following script to keep their customer engaged in the call while working on the issue: “Mrs. Smith, I’m reviewing your account information now. It should only take me a moment.” This lets the customer know to expect a moment of silence.

Do not let too much time elapse before giving an update. 

It’s easier to do this than it sounds. Building off of the script above, a customer service representative could demonstrate good phone etiquette by using the following script: “I see in the records on your account, Mrs. Smith, that this is your second time calling in for assistance today. The notes on your account indicate that you’re having a problem with…” Not only does this keep the customer informed on what the customer service representative is doing to resolve her issue, but it also encourages the customer to verify the information in the account notes.

Customer service representatives are demonstrating poor phone etiquette when enough time elapses that the customer prompts to see if the agent is still on the line. It’s a bad sign when Mrs. Smith has to question, “Hello?”

Good Phone Etiquette: Ask for Permission

It’s always polite to ask a customer’s permission before doing certain things during the course of a call. Though call handling will vary from one organization to another, customer service representatives will rarely go wrong by asking a customer’s permission before transferring to another department, placing the customer on hold, or making any changes to a customer’s account.

Do ask the customer’s permission before performing certain tasks during a call. 

Customer’s will rarely deny a reasonable request, though they sometimes might request further information. Customer service representatives might use the following script to obtain a customer’s permission prior to transferring to another department. “Mrs. Smith, may I transfer you to our technical support department at extension 123? I believe a more technically skilled agent will be better equipped to assist you with this issue.”

This script demonstrates good business phone etiquette by not only obtaining the customer’s permission prior to transferring her, but also keeps her informed by giving her the appropriate extension for her call and the reason she needs to speak to that department.

Do not make important account changes without obtaining customer permission.

This is not only poor phone etiquette, but in many cases a grievous violation of company policy. Always verify before making important account changes, as demonstrated in the following script: “Mrs. Smith, I understand you’re having some financial difficulties now. If you’d like, I can change your monthly billing cycle to make your payments due on the 15th of the month?”

Good Phone Etiquette: Hiding Behind the Phone?

Though rules will vary from organization to organization, customer service representatives that care about their work performance should show it by dressing neatly and assuming a professional posture while on calls. Dressing neatly and behaving as though the customer were face-to-face with the customer service representative is just another part of exercising good phone etiquette.

Do dress neatly for work and assume a professional posture while on calls.

That Slayer t-shirt that should have been thrown out a decade ago? Leave that at home. Dress neatly for work. Even though face-to-face customer interaction is highly unlikely in a call center environment, customers can tell by the tone of the customer service representative’s voice whether he cares enough to dress neatly for his job and, thanks to human anatomy, can clearly tell whether the customer service representative is assuming a professional posture while at his desk, or slouching in his chair with his feet propped up and his keyboard in his lap.

Don’t be a Squidward. 

The Cartoon Network series, Spongebob Squarepants, has an amusing episode that is done as a training video for the Krusty Krab. The video humorously shows the difference between Spongebob, who for the purpose of the training video is the new employee that cares about his job, and Squidward, the employee who doesn’t. The “Help Wanted” episode from Season 3 is featured on the “Sponge for Hire” DVD for coaches that may be interested in sharing this video with their customer service representatives.

Good Phone Etiquette: Let the Customer Speak

Most call centers require customer service representatives to meet certain metrics for performance. One important metric used by call centers to gauge customer service representative performance is average call time. While this puts customer service representatives under the gun to finish their call quickly and move onto the next customer, it’s poor phone etiquette to rush the customer just to meet metrics. A balance must be achieved.

Do attempt to meet metrics, but allow the customer to speak. 

If a customer service representative meets with a “chatty” customer, he should wrap up any work required for the call while waiting for a good moment to regain control of the call. While these customers may regale customer service representatives with stories that they find anything but interesting, the customer will have a more positive experience if the customer service representative allows him room to chat for a moment.

Do not interrupt the customer unless forced to do so. 

There are often natural pauses in conversation where a customer service representative can regain control of a call from a “chatty” customer. It’s better phone etiquette to wait for such a pause, then gracefully switch the topic back to business to close the call. A sample script a customer service representative might use, “Wow, that was so sweet of your grandson. By the way, Mrs. Johnson, I’ve finished those changes to your account and they should be reflected on your next billing statement. Can I do anything else for you today?”

Practice Good Phone Etiquette on Every Call & Every Day

Customer service representatives should practice proper business phone etiquette on every call. Addressing customer with respect, keeping them informed on call progress, and obtaining permission before transferring or making major account changes will improve customer satisfaction, reduce escalations, and ensure agents are representing their company professionally.

Phone etiquette is something that takes customer service representatives time to develop. When first beginning a job in a call center, most customer service representatives are learning new ticketing systems, new knowledge management systems, new billing systems… it can be a lot to absorb all at once.

If a customer service representative is really struggling with phone etiquette, he may try to incorporate one of these tips into his routine each week. With practice every day, and dedication to make each customer’s experience with their company the best possible, customer service representatives will improve their phone etiquette.