Follow Us:
7 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Your Business Phone

Customer Service Answering Your Business PhoneThe process of monitoring thousands of calls across all types of businesses to ensure quality leads for our customers has given us great insight into some of the most common mistakes small businesses make doing a seemingly basic task—answering the phone. You’re probably thinking, “This is a no-brainer. I know how to answer my business phone.” Likely so, but does your staff?

Here are ways you and your team can avoid the top seven mistakes:

  1. Monitor. If you’re the business owner or manager and have access to call recordings, be sure to listen to them. You’ll quickly find out which staff members are doing a great job—and which are not. Plus, you can use the calls for training purposes, as well as to help you understand what your customers truly want. With a small investment of your time, you may be able to make a significant positive impact on your business.

  2. Shorten your automated greeting. Click. That’s what you’ll likely hear when a caller encounters a lengthy automated greeting or an extensive menu selection. Many callers simply hang up without pressing an option or waiting for voice mail. Take another listen to your greeting, and consider reducing the time it takes for callers to reach a live person.

  3. Hello? I’m always surprised when I hear a business answer their phone and simply say, “Hello?” Here’s a typical conversation—verbatim:

    Business: “Hello?”
    Caller: “Hello?”
    Business: “Hello?”
    Caller: “IS THIS BUSINESS XYZ???”

    Rather than confusing or frustrating your callers, be sure to confirm that they’ve reached your business. “Joe’s Pest Control” or, better yet, “Joe’s Pest Control. How may I help you?” lets the caller know they’ve reached their destination.

  4. Don’t be rude. Some businesses actually come across as inconvenienced when answering the phone. One example is a business that had two agents handling calls. The first had a very gruff phone demeanor, and the second, a very polite one. The gruff one? He didn’t convert a single caller into a customer. The polite one? Almost every caller became a customer! Exuding a bad tone does not help you gain new business. Sincere smiles, on the other hand, can turn callers into customers.

  5. Listen. Sounds obvious, but sadly it’s not. A comedy of errors ensued when a caller wanted to rent a car but had incorrectly dialed an airport shuttle service. The first mistake the business made? You guessed it—answering the phone with “Hello?” The second mistake was not listening to the caller, and instead speaking over them. I heard the caller’s intent very clearly from the start, but it took the business almost six minutes into the call to recognize the mismatch. Six minutes! Both parties ended up laughing, but wow, what a waste of time.

  6. Enunciate. This is especially important with the increasing variety of accents, dialects, and nonnative English speakers in the population. It’s frustrating to hear callers repeatedly ask for clarification when the business agent is either speaking too rapidly or not clearly enough. Wait for the other party to stop talking and then e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e.

  7. Sell! This one is super important. If you can’t provide what the customer is requesting, do you have an alternative? I listened to multiple examples of a charter service that failed to offer alternatives when they could not accommodate specific dates or times. Instead of saying, “Sorry, we can’t help you,” how about, “Sorry, we’re booked that day, but we have availability the next. Will that work?” Calls that offered an alternative to the customer frequently resulted in bookings. Don’t hire people to simply answer the phone—train them to sell!

For small businesses in today’s economic climate, how (and if) they answer the phone can make or break a sale. For managers, try to take immediate action on the first two mistakes above, and then review the rest with your teams. Quickly correcting these common mistakes can help you build trust with your customers and increase sales.


Want to learn more? Join us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


    1. Good post – thank you!

      1
    2. Thanks for reading Kate! I hope these tips are helpful for your business.

      2
    3. #3 is something that I run into a lot. When I call another business I’m almost so unsure that I have reached the business that I thought I simply say “Sorry, wrong number and hang-up.” Everyone should announce their business when answering the phone and have the business name on the outgoing message (cell and office). Good post, thanks.

      3
    4. Agreed! Losing a customer in that way is akin to business suicide. Thanks for reading, Tim.

      4
    5. I have 17 years experience answering the phone from a previous auto detailing business. Regardless of the business I think this applies. I answer the phone i.e. “Thank you for calling Eclectic Art, this is Jeff, how may I help you.” Before working as an auto detailer I worked in Vegas as a waiter. The golden rule I learned as a waiter and carried that into auto detailing . . . “THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT.” I had very few complaints following this rule combined with a courteous attitude and quality work.

      5
    6. Thanks Jeff – I’d like to take it even a step further. The customer may not always be right, but how we treat them when they are wrong counts just as much. Great work!

      6
    7. “Customers may be wrong, but they are needed.” How you deal with customers, keeping in mind that no matter how much you pay in advertising, there is only one “best” form of advertising that is critical . . . word of mouth.

      7
    8. Thanks Dave. Word of mouth is critical—small businesses drive much of their customer base through positive word of mouth. Just as impactful is word of mouth in the form of negative reviews and warnings from friends and colleagues not to deal with a specific business.

      8
    Join the Small Business Forum Community
    The Small Business Forum is a place where small business owners can learn, ask questions, and share advice on how to succeed online