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Phone Answering Etiquette: Five Things to Avoid Saying on the Phone

Unless you’re a lumberjack (and sometimes even then!), answering the phone is probably an important part of your workday. And making a good first impression counts more than ever: 74% of callers are likely to choose another lawyer after they have a bad experience.

Ruby receptionists are great at knowing what to say to make a caller’s day, and they’re also pros at knowing what not to say. At Ruby, we love sharing our telephone answering knowledge!

If fielding phone calls is part of your job, the Ruby team suggests avoiding these five phrases:

1) “I can’t.”

Whatever your professional role, you want to help your callers get to where they need to go, and, “I can’t,” is a dead end. Even if you can’t do exactly what your caller asks, you can provide some kind of help. Think of what you can do, and offer to do it. Instead of this…

Caller: I need to reset my online password. Can you help me with that?

Receptionist: I can’t. I’ll connect you with our tech support department.

…get rid of “I can’t” and get right to the good stuff:

Receptionist: Let me put you in touch with our tech support department. They’ll be happy to help you with that!

2) “I don’t know.”

You may not have the answer to your caller’s question, but saying, “I don’t know,” gets you nowhere. Bypass it and move on to the next part: putting the caller in touch with someone who does know.

“Great question! Diana in our sales department will be happy to answer it. Let me put you in touch with her.”

“That’s a good question! Let me find the best person to answer it.”

It can be difficult or even embarrassing to ask for help. Your callers will feel better about themselves if you acknowledge their question and find the best possible person to answer it. If no one knows the answer, let the caller know that they’ve got the team stumped but that you’ll find out how to help them and call them back when you can—then follow through!

3) “They’re on the other line.”

Although it may be true, telling your caller that, “Ms. Smith is on the other line,” can cause trouble. Your caller may infer that Ms. Smith will return the call as soon as she’s off that other line, and that may not be true. Another potential hitch: your caller might ask to wait on hold until Ms. Smith is available, and if you’re not sure Ms. Smith wants to talk to your caller as soon as she’s free, things can get tricky.

4) “Hold, please.”

Sure, you’re going to need to place callers on hold from time to time, but it’s best to ask permission first. Rather than, “Hold, please,” go with, “May I place you on hold for a moment?” Our live virtual receptionists ask first. If a caller declines to be placed on hold, we don’t place them on hold—simple! Take a message if need be and call them back—they’ll appreciate your attentiveness and manners.

5) “Just a sec.”

This phrase is too informal. Trade it in for the classic, classier, “One moment, please.” It’s more professional and considerate, letting the caller know that you care about them.

You can boost your phone etiquette by avoiding or swapping out just a few phrases. Try one or more of these tips next time you answer a call and see how much more smoothly your conversation flows.

What words do you avoid over the phone? Let us in on your tricks of the trade by Tweeting us @callruby!

About Law Technology Today

Law Technology Today
Law Technology Today is the official legal technology blog from the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (LTRC). Law Technology Today provides lawyers and other legal professionals with current, practical and innovative content developed by some of the leading voices on legal technology.

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