A smiling woman talking on an office telephone.

Developing a business phone etiquette plan will help build a strong brand.

Companies put a lot of time, money, and thought into creating a great customer experience, both online and in person. But what about on the phone? Phone calls are the primary — if not the only — human interaction that customers have with many companies. So, what business owners and their employees say, and how they say it, can make or break the brand experience.

Simply put: If your team doesn’t have proper business phone etiquette, it won’t matter to callers that your website is awesome or that your marketing is engaging.

How do you ensure that all customer communication is professional and on-brand? Develop business phone etiquette policies that address the following:

1. How Employees Identify Themselves

The way an employee answers the phone sets the tone of the conversation and should clearly reflect the brand image you want to project. Are you going for casual and friendly, or professional and efficient? Should employees give their first names or their full names and titles? Do they also need to identify the company and perhaps the department?

The answers to these questions will depend on your brand. If you want to seem hip and approachable, something as simple as “Hi, I’m Bill. How can I make your day better?” might suffice. For a more professional tone, a formal and informative intro might be more appropriate.

2. Vocabulary Selection

Word choice also depends on the brand. Is slang acceptable? Where should employees fall on the scale between friendly and formal? Is it OK to use customers’ first names, or are Mr. and Ms. more appropriate salutations?

Also, consider the audience and what vocabulary they might not understand. Are there internal terms or technical jargon that might confuse or bore customers? If so, consider providing examples of customer-friendly ways to discuss common technical topics.

3. Environment

If you’re running a startup tech company or managing a team of stockbrokers, loud background noise might suggest that exciting or innovative things are happening behind the scenes. For most business calls, however, too much noise just makes it hard to hear. And if the conversation concerns sensitive information, such as financial or health data, background noise might suggest the call isn’t as private as the customer would like.

What noise levels are appropriate when your employees take calls? When should they step into a private office or conference room? If you’ve embraced the virtual enterprise and remote workers, of if your employees take business calls while on the go, what noise level or privacy concerns should they consider before answering?

4. Putting Customers on Hold

No customer likes to be kept waiting, but most don’t mind a brief hold if they understand why, if they agree to it, and if they believe your team cares about resolving their problems quickly. Being told to “please hold” without an explanation doesn’t send that message, nor does leaving a customer on hold for too long.

Spell out what employees should say before putting a customer on hold and when it’s OK to do so. For example, is it okay to answer call waiting with a customer on the phone? Also address how long to let someone wait. Should employees come back on the line at certain intervals, if only to let customers know they’re still working on it? If they know a task will take more than a few minutes, should they offer a call-back instead?

5. Transferring Calls

The words “I’ll need to transfer you” fill many callers with instant dread. They’ve been scarred by previous transfer experiences, where they were either disconnected or directed to the wrong person … again, again, and again.

A virtual receptionist can help direct customers to the right individual or department, but employees may still receive questions or requests they’re unable to address. What policies can you put in place to ensure callers don’t get caught in a transfer loop? For example, should employees put customers on hold and talk to their colleagues before transferring calls to them? Do you have (or can you create) a company directory they can consult that spells out exactly which calls should be directed to which person or department?

6. Handling Inappropriate Comments

It’s unfortunate but true: Some customers are … challenging. There are those who will, on occasion, make inappropriate comments that catch your team off guard. By preparing them to respond well, you can ensure they handle these situations with grace and respect.

Spell out how they should handle challenging calls. What should they say when callers resort to yelling, cursing, or even name-calling? Who should they call on for backup?

Think about typical calls from the customer’s point of view, and consider whether there are other critical moments where better business phone etiquette could lead to a better brand experience. If you have a smart, talented team, it knows how to talk to customers, so you don’t have to script every interaction. However, getting everyone on the same page goes a long way for brand consistency and a great customer experience.

Speak to a Vonage Business consultant to learn more about communication tools for your small business.

Taylor Mallory Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a professional writer with more than 11 years of experience writing about business, technology and health care for both media outlets and companies. Taylor understands how enterprise mobility and cloud technology can reshape industries and provide new opportunities to streamline workflows, improve employee collaboration and reimagine the customer experience. She is passionate about helping business leaders understand the impact that emerging technologies can have on communication, operations and sales and marketing.

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Happy woman talks on the phone

The right technology can make managing virtual teams easier and more effective.

Few things are less quantifiable, more important, and more difficult to directly influence than a company’s culture. In the modern era, where managing virtual teams and other distributed entities is the rule, a measure of cultural consistency is a written-in-stone necessity. This is something small fish and big players alike must manage for the sake of the name on the awning.

And, despite the challenges a long-distance working relationship can represent, today’s executives can’t just give up on imposing a singular culture because their virtual enterprise operates under more than one roof. Giving your locations the same feel, regardless of geography, can yield productivity benefits and make sure remote employees get a consistent workplace everywhere.

Here are a few takes on making your culture more portable in the mobility era:

Formalize and Centralize

The word “formalize” doesn’t always conjure images of a happy, productive workforce, but according to Recruiter, building a distributed culture gets a lot easier when you know what it is and what you’re trying to get from it. The first step in that process is asking yourself and your team questions about the company’s end goal, core values, and approach to productivity, and coming to thoughtful, collaborative answers.

You may discover that your company puts a lot of stock into communication and collaboration. You could also find that you’re in a laid-back workplace that doesn’t dictate process or strict behavior standards as long as the ethical end results are there. Maybe you’ll discover a more formal, buttoned-down environment. Or, maybe you’ll discover something else entirely.

Whatever that “something” is, write it down. Since this is an attempt to instill or influence culture, you may wish to only include positives to emulate. That said, this could also be an opportunity to identify and eliminate negative factors, which can obviously affect employee engagement and productivity. Either way — and even if you think you have a good grasp of your company’s culture — be sure to put it on paper first. You may be surprised at what you find.

Ears to the Ground

At the risk of sounding cheesy, it also goes without saying that workplace culture — both company-wide and on the individual-location level — is a living, breathing, organically cultivated thing. Keeping every location in cultural lock-step may not be fully possible because of this, especially considering how hard culture is to force.

However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be influenced or nudged in a certain direction. More, the high-level aspects you noted earlier can often be implemented through policy, management behavior, tone of internal communication, and other obvious and not-so-obvious avenues.

When managing virtual teams and other branches, one such not-so-obvious avenue — asking employees directly — can be huge in determining and dictating culture. This is especially pertinent since employees at all levels, from management to HR to ground-level reps, tend to believe their particular roles are the primary cultural influencers within their workplaces. Though you may not be present in every location long enough to get a real feel for their internal culture, and while employees are undoubtedly likely to understate any reservations, pinpointing trustworthy sources within branches and speaking to them regularly can yield real, workable results for individual roles and the company at large.

Translate with Technology

Once you’ve located positive cultural aspects and things worth changing, the next challenge is to replicate them. When you’re managing virtual teams, chances are you’re making heavy use of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools. Just like they enable basic work, these solutions will likely play a key role in replicating your culture across office walls.

The “laid-back” office referenced earlier provides one example to follow. While lax attendance policy may be acceptable when the job’s getting done, there will still be times when productive but MIA employees are desperately needed. This problem is easy enough to handle in single settings but increasingly difficult with a growing number of branches. Presence tools and cloud-based collaboration solutions can make it easier to track these troublesome-yet-productive employees and continue with the get-your-stuff-done atmosphere across locations. This will enable a greater level of collaboration than businesses working without cloud collaboration tools would be able to muster.

The other, more formal office can glean similar benefits from communication and collaboration tools. For example, weekly performance meetings could be held on a company-wide basis despite a growing number of locations, while particularly zealous regional management could use video tools to check on compliance concerns at multiple branches at once.

In both cases — and countless others — the goal is to nudge branch office culture in the same direction as the rest of the business. In some sense, the policy governing these locations should do most of the heavy lifting. Instead of trying to force its hand, company leaders concerned about replicating a successful culture should do what they can to identify the positive aspects, then cultivate them everywhere within the company.

To mangle the old saying, you’ll know you’re doing the right thing when it seems like you haven’t done anything at all. Happy growing!

To learn more about how technology can help you develop your company culture, reach out to a Vonage Business representative.

About Evan Wade

Evan Wade is an author and editor from Carmel, Indiana. As a veteran tech writer and lifelong tech enthusiast, he focuses his writing and research on communication, mobility and security. Alongside work with leading cloud technology providers and industry news sources, Evan has extensive sales and end-user marketing experience, giving him a unique view of the individual’s relationship with technology — and how organizations can realize huge benefits from it.

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