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Deliver Stellar Customer Service This Holiday Season -- Follow These 5 Phone Etiquette Tips it's important that employees properly serve your customers, especially over the phone.

By Elaine Swann


"Tis the season for holiday hiring! From Amazon and Target to small businesses across the U.S., hundreds of thousands of seasonal employees will be hired between now and the end of the year.

For all the new employees you plan to hire for the season, it's important to train them to properly serve your customers, especially over the phone. A small-business owner's worst nightmare would be for a new employee to answer the phone in such a casual or misinformed manner that the customer doesn't know whether they called a business or the wrong number -- losing the sale, and potentially the customer, forever.

A recent consumer survey by GoDaddy found that nearly 70 percent of consumers consider a phone conversation their preferred method of communication when interacting with a business for the first time. Yet this is often one of the least trained skills, especially for seasonal employees who tend to be younger and more accustomed to texting rather than picking up the phone.

In order to ensure an employee is prepared to answer the phone with professional etiquette, here are some tips to include in your holiday onboarding process:

1. Provide a script.

A sample telephone script or conversation guidelines can serve as a blueprint to point employees in the right direction. The employee doesn't need to know the script verbatim, but it should be a good roadmap for how to handle certain scenarios.

This is also an employer's opportunity to make sure that key company information is communicated. If there is a tagline or information that an employee should be driving home during the holiday season, include that. Make sure to start and end with a proper salutation and lay out that a conversation should have a distinct beginning, middle and end.

2. Instill core values.

Employee-to-customer communication should revolve around three core values -- respect, consideration and honesty. If you teach an employee to apply consideration and honesty, the respect will shine through naturally.

For example, an employee might not be quite sure how to address a customer's question. In this instance, the employee should be honest with the customer, but also ensure that they will try to find an answer for them. Consideration also comes into play in this situation. When on the phone, an employee must make a determination on whether to put the customer on hold or to call them back.

Teach employees to be considerate of a caller's time and offer to call back if finding a solution to the problem will take more than a few minutes. If an employee determines the question is something that can't be answered right away, make sure to get back to that person within the same business day and always give progress updates.

3. Use technology.

"There's an app for that." People can't say it enough. There is even technology built to help improve how businesses use the phone and help refine etiquette.

One such app is SmartLine, which allows business owners to have a second phone number on their existing phone. Users can easily differentiate if an incoming call is business or personal and answer appropriately.

Phone etiquette is important during a live conversation, but proper procedure once the phone call ends is also key to a successful business communication. Zendesk, for example, helps businesses manage the results of phone conversations and sales calls. This is particularly useful to track during the holiday season as seasonal employees typically only stick around for two to three months.

4. Keep calm and carry on.

The holiday season tends to bring out anxiety in people, and there will be times where employees will be met with a difficult issue or personality. In these instances, it's important to not immediately become defensive -- even if the defensive statement is in protection of the company.

Instead, train employees to listen first and allow the customer to present their concerns in full before responding. You can teach employees to follow this formula:

  • Repeat the customer's issue back to them in an understanding manner.
  • Ask how you can help solve the problem.
  • Be sincere about what you can do to help.

5. Smile when you speak.

This may sound like the most trivial, but it's ultimately the most important. It's scientifically proven that when you smile or adjust your body language when you speak, there is a shift in your tone of voice, and this comes through even over the phone. No matter what you're saying, smiling automatically makes your tone more positive and friendly.

Encourage this from employee and try bringing a little holiday cheer into the conversation!

Elaine Swann

CEO and Founder of Swann School of Protocol

As the go-to leader in everything etiquette, Elaine Swann shares etiquette advice on various radio programs, as well as on the Today Show, ABC, NBC and Access Hollywood Live. A recent New York Times article touted her as one of the "Emily Posts of the Digital Age."