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Topic

Basic
Telephone
Skills

LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this topic, you should be able to:
1.

Communicate effectively on the telephone by answering business


calls and handling enquiries in a positive and professional manner;

2.

Give accurate information, and leave or take messages by phone; and

3.

State the common dos and donts when using the telephone at the
workplace.

INTRODUCTION
This topic aims to equip you with the basic telephone skills that are essential to
ensure smooth work flow at the workplace. Very often, the telephone is the
companys first line of contact with a client. As such, it is imperative that all staff
be trained in basic telephone etiquette so that favourable impressions are created,
right from the first phone call. The different aspects of making effective business
telephone calls pre-call preparations, call-answering techniques, and ways to
take and leave messages are highlighted. You will also be exposed to common
dos and donts when making business calls, together with activities and exercises
that will help you get used to the language structures commonly used in making
formal calls.

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2.1

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GETTING READY

Look at Figure 2.1 below. What do you think the two people are saying to each
other? Can you guess what the problems are and how problems like these can be
avoided?

Figure 2.1: Pre-call planning prevents miscommunication


Source: Sweeney, S. (2000). Communicating in business.
UK: Cambridge University Press.

To avoid making telephone calls at a time when the call recipient is clearly not
ready to take your call, some kind of pre-call planning is necessary. The
telephone, which sits unobtrusively on your table most of the time, can create
havoc with your work day if you are not careful. Below are some tips that you
should consider BEFORE you reach for the phone:
(a)

Plan your calls to suit your work schedule and that of your call recipient.
You should avoid calling at a time when the other party may be unable to
take your call, for example, late at night. If necessary, compromise on the
timing of your call so as to minimise problems arising from different time
zones.

(b)

Be very clear about your objectives in calling. It helps if you make a note of
what you want to say before placing the call as this reduces the likelihood
that you will forget something important. Careful planning and jotting
down of what you want to say also means that you can concentrate on what
the other person is saying, instead of trying to remember what you want to
say, during the telephone conversation.

(c)

Anticipate questions from the other person.

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(d)

Make sure you have paper, pen, relevant documentation, computer files,
etc, ready and near you in case you need to jot down notes.

(e)

Check recent correspondence to update on the situation at hand before you


place the call.

(f)

Have your desk calendar nearby in case you need to check dates and fix
appointments.

(g)

A first-time call sometimes invokes uncertainty and suspicion. If you feel


that there is a possibility of this arising, fax ahead to say when you are
going to call and what you wish to talk about. It helps if the person you are
calling knows you even if it is only via an e-mail.

2.2

RECEIVING CALLS

In many organisations today, training staff to communicate effectively on the


telephone is a top priority. This is because there is a high possibility of
miscommunication arising in phone conversations, given the fact that you cannot
see the person you are talking to on the other end of the line. Add to this the
typical hectic pace of business communication, and you have a potentially
difficult situation.
You are probably used to making calls to friends and families but when you
make calls to companies, a slightly different set of rules apply. Generally
speaking, when you make a formal business call, you need to be:
(a)

BRIEF - Do not beat about the bush and waste the call recipients time;

(b)

CLEAR - Explain the background and purpose of your call; and

(c)

POLITE - Recognise and accept the other persons point of view.

Sometimes, these rules may seem to be in conflict, for example, if you are too
brief, you may confuse the receiver or appear impolite. The trick is to try and
strike a balance among the three rules.

2.2.1

Telephone Etiquette

Listed below are some of the basic dos and donts of telephone use. Observing
these rules will enable you to handle phone enquiries in a positive and
professional manner.

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(a)

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When the telephone rings, do:


(i)

Answer the phone promptly, if possible, within three rings.

(ii)

Identify yourself immediately. The usual practice is to use a three-part


greeting, for example: Good morning, Open University Malaysia,

Fatimah Daud speaking.


(iii) Use the callers name if you can as that helps to establish rapport.
(iv) Try to resolve the callers problem. If you must transfer the call, be
sure to explain why.
(v)

Sound positive and helpful. Your tone of voice speaks volumes about
you. It helps if the caller can hear you smile.

(vi) Keep jargon and technical words to a minimum to avoid confusing


the caller.
(vii) Speak at a pace that can be understood. Speaking too slowly suggests
confusion and uncertainty whilst speaking too quickly suggests
impatience or anger.
(viii) Practise active listening. Indicate to the caller that you are paying
close attention to what he says by interrupting in an encouraging
manner, using words like Yes, I see, Okay, I know what you
mean... You can also empathise with the caller by echoing important
points raised. This will also ensure that you have accurately
understood the information conveyed.
(ix) End the call with a polite Thank you, when you are sure that you have
answered all the callers queries. It is better to let the caller put the
receiver down first so he does not feel that you have cut him off.
(b)

Do not:
(i)

Eat and drink while talking on the phone.

(ii)

Be too familiar with the person on the other end of the phone.

(iii) Talk to someone else in your office while you are still on the phone.
(iv) Allow too much background noise.
(v)

Speak too quietly or loudly.

(vi) Use rude language (please refer to Figure 2.2).

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Figure 2.2: Refrain from using rude language


Source: Rees, D. (Artist). (2005). Get Your War On [Clip art], Retrieved February 8, 2010,
from: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Issue/story?oid=oid%3A268460

SELF-CHECK 2.1
Think back to the times when you were on the telephone. Were you
ever put on hold and made to wait for a long time before your needs
were attended to? How did you feel when that happened? What was
your reaction?

2.2.2

Im Calling Because

A telephone call at the workplace is a purposeful activity. Your caller has an


objective in mind and you will need to find out what this objective is, as quickly as
possible. In some cases, your callers needs are simple and all you have to do is to jot
down his name, address, and telephone and fax numbers for future reference.
However, in more complex situations, you may need to ask probing questions to get
more information before you can ascertain the real purpose behind the call and
determine appropriate follow-up action. For instance, if your caller has a complaint
about a product that he has bought from your company, you would need to:
(a)

Identify the problem;

(b)

Verify that the product is, indeed, from your company;

(c)

Determine if warranty still applies;

(d)

Ascertain how the caller has been using the product;

(e)

Find out what steps have been taken to rectify the problem.
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Sometimes, you may need to direct the callers attention to his original objective in
making the call as he/she may get side-tracked and begin talking about other things.
In all instances, always let the caller know that you are sincere in wanting to help.

ACTIVITY 2.1
Different people have different objectives when they make a
telephone call. What do you think are the objectives of the people in
the situations below? The first one has been done for you as an
example.

Situation A: A purchasing manager who has received an incomplete


delivery.
Objective of call:

To tell the supplier that the delivery is incomplete.

To arrange to get the rest of the delivery as soon as


possible.

To complain about the poor service.

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Situation B: A computer operator with a hardware problem calling a


helpline.

Situation C: A sales representative for a furniture manufacturer making


a first call to a company which sells office furniture.

Situation D: A travel agent who has paid for a ticket for a flight that
departs tomorrow. The ticket has not reached him yet.

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SELF-CHECK 2.2
Have you ever received a call from someone who was angry to the
point of being abusive?
Describe what happened during and after the call.
How did you handle the situation?

2.2.3

Common Telephone Words

Telephone skills are one of the most difficult to master, partly because we cannot
see the person on the other end of the telephone and thus cannot depend on nonverbal signs (gestures, facial expressions, etc) to help us understand the person.
However, there are standard phrases commonly used in phone conversations
and learning these telephone words will help you to better understand what
the other person is saying as well as give you some guidelines as to what to say
when making or receiving calls at the workplace.

ACTIVITY 2.2
Read through the words/phrases given below. These phrases are
commonly used in phone conversations. Can you think of other
telephone words. Fill in the blanks with such words.

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(a)

(b)

(c)

(d)

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Introducing yourself:

Hello, Chan and Lee Clinic.

Good morning, this is Mariam.

Kenny speaking.

Good evening, Harris, Open University Malaysia.

Hi, my names .................. and Im calling from ..........................

Finding out who is on the telephone:

Excuse me, who is this please?

May I ask who is calling, please?

Whos speaking?

.............................................................................................................

Asking for someone:

Is Bob in, please?

Can I have extension 3421, please? (extensions are internal


numbers at a company)

Id like to speak to Max Thambirajah.

Can you put me through to Steven, please?

...............................................................................................................

Connecting someone:

Certainly, hold on a minute, I'll put you through ...

Can you hold the line?

Can you hang on a moment, please?

.............................................................................................................

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(e)

(f)

(g)

BASIC TELEPHONE SKILLS

Saying that someone is not available:

I'm afraid he's out at the moment.

Im sorry but the line is engaged... (when the extension


requested is being used).

Im sorry but Jack is not in at the moment.

Paul is on leave today.

Jim is in a meeting.

.................................................................................................................

Asking the other person to repeat what was said:

Im sorry, but can you say that again?

Pardon?

Can you spell that please?

.................................................................................................................

Ending a call:

Thank you for calling.

Thank you very much for your help.

Okay, Ill check the details and get back to you later.

I think that covers everything.

Ill come by your office on Monday at 10am.

.............................................................................................................

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ACTIVITY 2.3
In groups of three, practise the telephone conversation below, paying
special attention to word pronunciation, intonation and stress. Then,
repeat the conversation, replacing the words in italics with similar
phrases of your choice.
Switch roles and practise the conversation again so that you get the
chance to role play all the different characters.
Operator :

Hello, Aidah, Open University Malaysia. How can I help


you?

Peter

This is Peter Ng. Can I have extension 3421, please?

Operator :

Certainly, hold on a minute, I'll put you through ...

Dr Li

OUM, Arts Faculty, Dr Li speaking.

Peter

This is Peter Ng calling. Is Professor Mahmud in?

Dr Li

I'm afraid he's out at the moment. Can I take a message?

Peter

Yes, Could you ask him to call me at ...? I need to talk to


him
about a collaborative project with Dinkins
University. It's urgent.

Dr Li

Could you repeat the number please?

Peter

Yes, that's ..., and this is Peter Ng.

Dr Li

Thank you, Peter. I'll pass the message to Professor


Mahmud when he comes in.

Peter

Thank you so much. Goodbye.

Dr Li

Bye.

Note the common telephone words in italics and the informal language used.
For instance, Is Professor Mahmud in? is an informal way of asking: Is
Professor Mahmud in the office? Other informal words include hold on
(wait), tied up (busy).

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2.3

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TAKING AND LEAVING MESSAGES

Sometimes, there may not be anyone available to answer the telephone when it
rings. When that happens, you need to leave a message.
Basically, there are five simple steps to follow to ensure that the person who receives
your message has all the information he needs.
(a)

Mention your name:

Hello, this is Ahmad Fauzi.

(b)

State time and reason for call:

It's 10am. I'm calling to let you know that ...

(c)

Make a request:

Could you call me back?

(d)

Leave your number:

My number is ....

(e)

End the call:

Thanks, I'll talk to you later. Bye.

SELF-CHECK 2.3
Read the following voice message and answer the questions below:
Telephone: (Ring... Ring... Ring...) Hello, this is Sanjeev. I'm afraid I'm
not in at the moment. Please leave a message after the beep..... (beep).
Ken: Hello Sanjeev, this is Ken. It's noon now and I'm calling to see if
you would like to come with me to the futsal game on Friday. Could
you call me back? You can reach me at 016-367 8925 until 5pm this
afternoon. I'll talk to you later. Bye.
Does the message contain all the information needed to allow the call
recipient to respond to the call? List down this information.
1.

Name: ......................................................

2.

Time and reason for call: ................................................................

3.

Request: ............................................................................................

4.

Contact number: .............................................................................

5.

Ending: ............................................................................................

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2.3.1

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Language Checklist

Below are words/phrases commonly used when you take or leave telephone
messages. Can you think of other words? Fill in the blanks with some of these
words/phrases.
(a)

(b)

(c)

Offering to take a message:

Would you like to leave a message?

Could I take a message, please?

Could I have your name and contact number, please?

Leaving a message:

Could you ask X to call me back please?

Can I leave a message for X?

Promising action:

I'll give X your message as soon as he comes in.

I will pass your message on.

2.3.2

Tips for Effective Message Taking

In order to help you take down messages accurately, you should:

Use a pad/notebook to write down the details.

Record the date and time of message.

Spell names accurately do not be afraid to ask the caller if you are unsure
how his/her name is spelled.

Quickly ascertain what the caller wants a return call, action to be taken, etc.

Offer assistance.

Follow up with appropriate action.

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ACTIVITY 2.4
Work in pairs. Use the information given below to write out the phone
conversation; then practise it aloud with your partner.
Caller A:
You want to speak to Mrs Abraham about your account with her
company, KW Associates. She is not in the office, so you decide to
leave your name and telephone number. The reason for your call is
that you would like to change the conditions of your contract with KW
Associates. You can be reached at your contact number until 5pm, but
if Mrs Abraham calls after 5pm, she should call 012-458 2777.
Caller B:
You are a receptionist at KW Associates. Caller A would like to speak
to Mrs Abraham but she is out of the office. Take down the message
and make sure you get the following information:

Name and telephone number -- ask Caller A to spell his surname.

The message Caller A would like to leave for Mrs Abraham.

The latest (time) that Mrs Abraham can call Caller A at the given
telephone number.

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ACTIVITY 2.5
Fill in the blanks with the appropriate word/words.
1.

Hello, I am trying to get ................................... with Mr


Thuraisingam and someone gave me this number. Is he in,
please?
I am sorry but Mr Thuraisingam has just left.

2.

Hello, is Ahmad Tajuddin ..................... today, please?


Yes, he is. Ill ............... him.

3.

Hello, this is Carol Lee from Flamingo Enterprise. Id ............... to


speak to Jane Tham, please.
Ill put you ...................................... to her.

4.

Good morning. This is Carol Lee. Can I speak to Roy Stevenson,


please? Its rather ....................................
Im .................................... but Roy is not here at the moment. Can
I help you?

5.

Good afternoon. This is Siti Hashimah from Leos Studio. I


would like to speak with Francis Brown please ....................... my
order.
................................................................................... Can you give me
your order number, please?

6.

Good morning. Is ................................ Miss Elizabeth Cardova?


Yes, speaking.

7.

Good evening. I was wondering if I could speak to Jolina Lum


................... Accounts, please?
Im sorry but Accounts arent ................................... Can I take a
message?

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2.4

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DIFFICULT CALLS

Sometimes it is necessary for us to handle difficult calls from people who we do


business with. As in any business dealing, it is important for us to observe the
highest degree of professionalism in handling difficult calls. We must make sure
that we handle all difficult calls politely and tactfully.

ACTIVITY 2.6

Read the following telephone conversation and answer the questions


below, using information from the passage given.

Cindy dials. (Ring! Ring!...)


Secretary :

Good morning, Asia Enterprises.

Cindy

Hello, could I speak to Jimmy Lau, please?

Secretary :

May I know who is calling?

Cindy

My name is Cindy Liew. I am a student at Open Universit


Malaysia. I am calling about a project we are doing.

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Secretary :

BASIC TELEPHONE SKILLS

OK. Could you hold the line, please?

(pause)
Lau

Hello, how can I help you?

Cindy

Good morning, Sir. My name is Cindy Liew. I am a


student at Open University Malaysia. I am calling about a
project we are doing on work experience. Tommy Chan
from Eurasia Products Sdn Bhd said you might be able to
help me. He is a friend of my uncle.

Lau

Yes, I know Tommy. So?

Cindy

Well, our assignment is to identify a company and find


out more about the kind of work it does.

Lau

Yes?

Cindy

Would you mind if I drop in and visit your company one


day next
week and talk to some of your staff.

Lau

We are very busy. What would you like to do exactly?

Cindy

I would like to spend a day in your organisation and


follow a member of your staff as he goes about his work.

Lau

Cindy

Oh, would it be possible to arrange something later then?


I will adjust my time to suit your schedule

Lau

Well, we might be able to arrange a visit for you the week


after

Cindy

That would be fine. Thank you very much, indeed. I don't


want to cause you any trouble but I would really
appreciate it.

Lau

I will try to arrange something. Which day would you like


to come?

Cindy

Let me see ... Wednesday is the best day for me.

Lau

Sorry, we dont allow visitors on Wednesday.

Cindy

How about Thursday, then?

Lau

That might be possible

Yes. Well, as I said, we are very busy next week.

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Cindy

Thursday then, Thursday would be fine for me. What time


is convenient for you?

Lau

10am?

Cindy

Yes, 10am is fine. Could you tell me where your office is,
please?

Lau

On the 7th floor, Suite 723, Wisma AE. Please ask for my
secretary.

Cindy

Alright, I'll be at your office in Suite 723 at 10am,


Thursday, August 28. Thank you so much for your help. I
look forward to meeting you.

Lau

I will see you then.

Cindy

Goodbye, and thank you again.

1.

(a)

What was Laus initial response towards Cindys request?


What words from the passage suggest this?

(b)

How did Cindy manage to get Lau to change his attitude


towards her?

(c)

What lessons can you learn from this?

2.

37

Imagine that when Cindy called Jimmy Laus office, his secretary
informed her that he was in a meeting. What could Cindy say to
make sure that she gets to speak to him the next time she calls?
Write out a possible telephone conversation between Cindy and the
secretary.

You need to have good, basic telephone skills if you wish to be effective at the
workplace.

When making business calls, remember to be brief, clear and polite.

Business calls usually have a purpose and you need to identify the objective
of the call as quickly as possible.

Answer all calls promptly, within three rings.

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Offer a three part greeting hello, the name of the organisation, and the name
of person answering the call.

Business calls often use standard phrases which are informal in tone.

Observe telephone etiquette when answering phone calls sound positive


and helpful, avoid technical jargon, do not eat or drink while on the phone,
speak at a steady pace, etc.

Phone messages should contain five elements the name of caller, the time
and reason for the call, the request, a contact number, and a thank you.

One needs to be firm, persistent and well-prepared, when dealing with


difficult calls.

Active listening

Hold on

Connect you

Jargon

Hang on

Put you through

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