How to provide great customer service on the phone

John Parker
John Parker

If you answer your work phone with a conscious effort to offer service excellence, you’ve probably experienced the dangerous dark side too. After countless rings someone finally answers. We hope they are going to greet us — their customer — happily and with apologies for the delay.

But, instead, we hear a voice that hastily mumbles, “Thank you for calling the ‘Annoyed That You Are Calling Us Store.’ We are so busy talking to our friends on our personal cell phones that we don’t have time to answer this blasted store phone.

“Anyway, this is Mumble Mumble, and I’m speaking really fast to make sure my name is completely incomprehensible. I’m tired and despise my job and don’t really give a rip what you need.

“You may hear me say, ‘How may I help you’ or, whatever. Just get on with it and tell me what you want so I can act like you are stupid, or, put you on hold and not come back, or, get someone else to deal with you, or, tell you we don’t have it and get off the phone.”

Make sure your own staff doesn’t create such horror stories with your customers. Teach them the importance of first impressions, smiling tones and wise words. Let’s consider each.

Make a great first impression

Sincerity and friendliness matter most for great first impressions. Positive quick-start words and phrases with build confidence. Examples include:

  • Friendly language: Good morning. Good afternoon. Please. Thank you. You are welcome. It’s my pleasure. Pardon me. Excuse me.
  • Hospitable phrases: Hello. Hi there. Hi. How may I help you? Thank you for calling. I’m glad you called.
  • Caring comments: Certainly. I would be glad to. Here’s what we can do. May I help you?

Sound as friendly as a smile

Can you hear a smile? Telephone experts say, yes.

A smiling, friendly voice can reassure customers that you are trustworthy, caring, and really want to help them. Speaking with a smile includes speaking clearly, naturally and with assurance. Pitch, pace and pronunciation are vital.

Pitch is also called tone or inflection. It takes the place of body language on the phone.

A monotone, flat tone says, “I’m bored.” Higher pitch may sound enthusiastic. Lower pitch may sound depressed. Pitch reveals attitude. Monitor both.

Talking too fast results in running together and mish-mashing words and phrases. Slow down enough so that every individual word is articulate. While it may feel  awkward and boring to you at first, it will sound better and clearer for your customer.

According to, “Speaking slowly may seem obvious to you, but often people have great difficulty putting this into practice. They may feel embarrassed to speak slowly or think they are speaking slowly, but it isn’t slow enough.

“Secret: Your listener won’t notice you are speaking slowly (and won’t think you are being stupid), they will just notice that they can understand you.”

When it comes to pronunciation, remember that customers can’t read our lips on the phone. They can only use their ears, and those frequently fuzzy phone lines are not their friends either.

Good pronunciation, and oft-times fuzzy phone connections, challenge us to enunciate each word clearly. My challenge is to say, “something,” instead of “sumpin.” What yours?

Wise words work

Consciously or subconsciously, we hear unwise comments such as:

  • Can’t
  • Won’t
  • Don’t
  • Our policy is …
  • You’ll have to call back.
  • I don’t know.
  • But
  • No

Wiser comments include:

  • I will
  • I can
  • I assure you
  • May I suggest
  • I will to solve this for you;
  • I’d be happy to
  • Yes

Unwise: “I’ll try to figure this out for you.” Wise: “I will get an answer back to you by 4 p.m. today. Will that be OK?”

Unwise: “You have to complete this application.” Wise: “Will you please take a minute or two to complete this application?”

Telephone customer service excellence is vital for business success. What are you doing to ensure it’s happening at your store or office?

You may be thinking, “How can I make sure that my employees who are answering the phone are consistently following these examples of good phone service?” This is a very important question and I will be addressing it in future columns.

Let’s answer our phones with excellent customer service!

John Parker is a customer service expert with Professional Development Adventures and an instructor for the UC Davis Center for Human Services. You can reach him at [email protected]


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