Business Phone Etiquette

Telephone etiquette skills to ensure you create the right impression

When you make or receive a business call, your business phone etiquette and cell phone etiquette provides an image of yourself and your company.

The impression you give with your phone manners can be a lasting one and it is quite often the first contact someone has with you and the company you work for.

With an increasing number of companies recording telephone calls nowadays it is so important to get your business phone etiquette right first time.

Your aim should be to both convey your personality and attitude through your voice and also demonstrate good business phone etiquette.

Good phone manners also extends to your voice - speaking in a monotone voice can make you sound bored, and speaking too loudly can make you seem anxious. You want to portray a self-confident, energised attitude through the use of well practiced telephone etiquette.

Answering your own Phone in the Office

You should show good business phone etiquette every time you answer your phone, from the first call at 8.30am until your last call at 6.00pm.

No-one must suspect you have had a rotten day and already answered the phone 40 times!

If you answer your phone then you are indicating that you are available and you should automatically have good phone manners and be using your business phone etiquette skills, they should become second nature as soon as you pick up your phone.

Like anything new, at first it is a conscious effort but after a while you will use these phone manners automatically.

  • Answer the call after a maximum of 3 rings - this will make your caller feel important and is a good start to demonstrating phone manners.
  • Always say good morning/afternoon, the name of your company (or department if it is an internal call) and your full name.
  • Try to smile and sound enthusiastic - this will be reflected in your voice.
  • If you do not know the answer to the question do not get flustered or worse, fib. Take their details and arrange to call them back making sure you give yourself enough time to find the answer. 


  • Slumping at your desk - you may sound tired and lazy and perceived telephone etiquette is just as important.
  • Leave your phone ringing and ringing - if necessary arrange an answer phone to cut in after 4 rings.
  • Use over familiar words with colleagues even if you know them on a social level i.e. darling, honey. Your boss needs to see that you can still act professionally and demonstrate telephone etiquette with colleagues even if you do socialise with them.
  • Slam the phone down - the whole office will hear and you may earn a reputation as not being able to handle difficult calls.

Making a Business Phonce Call

Firstly, to ensure your good phone manners reputation remains intact, it is advisable to avoid making any personal telephone calls unless it is an absolute emergency. It is easy to forget our business phone etiquette when chatting with a friend. If necessary excuse yourself from your desk for 5 minutes and go to a private office, otherwise keep it short and to the point.

When making a call it is always good manners to identify who you are, where you are calling from and then whom you would like to speak with i.e. "Hello, this is Jane Jones calling from the Manners Company, please may I speak with Paul Green". Once you have Paul Green on the end of the call it is, in normal circumstances good phone manners to ask him if it is a good time to talk.

If you are struggling to get hold of someone, either you keep missing each other’s calls, you are stuck through an automated service with "press one", "press two" etc., or they are avoiding you (yes we have all had those), try not to let your frustration take over when you do finally speak to them.

It is very easy to forget our business phone etiquette when we are wound up and it is also easy to forget that the voice on the other end of the line is a person, especially when they are in a foreign call centre.

But this is when you will start to stand out from your peers - by bucking the trend of complaining about it and just getting on with the job professionally and with respect for the person that is handling your call.

Not only will you look calm and collected in the office, you are more likely to get the result you want by having kept your business etiquette skills in mind.

We are all happier to help friendly people and you may also start to influence those around you and how they deal with these situations. That's true leadership from being a good example and something your superiors will note.

Call Waiting Etiquette

A "call waiting" beep is a difficult one to handle as both parties will want your full attention, and now, so it is a bit of a phone manners minefield. Both of them will want to feel that they are the more important call so what should you do?

The most polite option is to remain with your first conversation and ignore the call waiting. If you must take the second call then quickly explain to them that you are already on a call and will phone them as soon as you are finished with the first call. 

If the second caller really is more urgent then it is good telephone etiquette to explain to your first caller why you must take this call, without going into too much detail e.g. "Mike, I am so sorry but that is my manager on the line and he needs to speak with me urgently as he is about to see a client. May I call you back as soon as I have handled this?".

Caller ID Etiquette

Caller ID can be very useful in helping you screen and prioritise your workload. It is a display on your phone of who is calling, who called when you were out and when.

When you use this facility you will be able to see who is calling, however, you should still answer your phone with your normal, professional greeting.

When you return the call of someone who has called you when you were unavailable then it is good telephone etiquette to let them know that you saw their number on your caller I.D. so they know why you are calling.

It is poor telephone etiquette to call a number that you are not familiar with just because they are showing on your caller I.D.

Answering Machine & Voicemail Etiquette

Most people are comfortable with this technology and the majority of people and businesses use voicemail when they are unavailable and it is perfectly acceptable business phone etiquette.

However, I would err on the side of caution with this facility and really only use it when you are unavailable. It can become very tempting to let every call go through to your voicemail especially when you are busy.

You run the risk of gaining a reputation of someone who never answers their phone and clients can get very frustrated, regardless of how quickly you call them back.

It is good telephone etiquette to listen to and respond to messages regularly and ideally within 1 business day.

Your outgoing message should be short and to the point and include the following:

Your name, company name, request for the callers to leave their name, number and brief message.

You should also give a commitment to when you are likely to return their call in your message.

Mobile/Cell Phone Etiquette

The people you are with should always take precedence over calls you want to make or receive both professionally and personally. Cell phone etiquette seems to be an area where many people could do with some guidance! It is a breath of fresh air if I am with someone who does show good phone manners and puts their cell phone away during our time together.

However, from a business point of view they are invaluable and you should follow the following cell phone etiquette tips:

  • It is good phone manners to only take business calls when it is appropriate to do so i.e. in a secluded area. Otherwise set up your voicemail and put your phone on silent if in a meeting, restaurant or other busy area.
  • If you do need to take a call when in the company of others then it is good manners to alert them before you start the meeting and excuse yourself when the call arrives.
  • Try to be aware of your surroundings when taking the call, not only to be considerate of their space but also for your client's confidentiality.
  • When driving always use a hands free unit and only place calls when you are not moving. I think the safety issues are borderline even with hands free.

Answering someone else's Phone

If at all possible, it is good business phone etiquette to answer each other's phones if your colleagues are not available. Voicemail seems to be the default choice but I think the company gives a better impression of its phone manners to its clients if it aims for all its landline calls to be answered.

Some tips for ensuring your business phone etiquette skills extend to answering someone else's phone:

  • It is good business phone etiquette to answer it as quickly as possible by giving the name of the person whose phone you are answering e.g. "Mr Smith's office, Jane Jones speaking, how may I help?".
  • If that person is unavailable then take down a full message of the caller’s name and company, number and message.
  • Screening calls is also a bit of a telephone etiquette minefield - it can be quite obvious and rude if you ask who is calling, place them on hold and then tell them that the person they are trying to reach is unavailable.
  • If the person is in but on the other line then it is good phone manners to ask the caller if they would like to hold. Keep checking every 20 seconds that they are happy to continue holding. 

Speaker Phone Etiquette

It is essential business phone etiquette to let the caller know that you are using a speaker phone and that other people may be with you. You do not want the caller to say something inappropriate before realising that this isn't a private conversation!

How to handle Rude Customers

Most of us will have dealt with difficult clients at some time and this can be the ultimate test for our business phone etiquette skills.

Most people wouldn't dream of speaking to someone rudely face to face! 

Courtesy is the only way to respond - you can't fight their anger but you can allow them to vent off some steam before suggesting a way forward and demonstrating your excellent phone manners.

Don't lose your temper - you will have weakened your position and it's very difficult to move forward after then. If they use profanity's then you have every right to hang up.

Other Business Etiquette Skills to learn on this Site:

Business Email Etiquette

Business Meeting Etiquette

Business Negotiation Skills

Interview Etiquette

Interview Thank You Letters

Interview Dress Codes

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About The Author

The Author, Emma Dupont, runs various courses in London during the year.

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