When was the last time you got your team together to talk about how to present your small business on the phone? From the time the telephone appeared on the scene, proper phone etiquette has been a topic of discussion – sometimes heated.

One of the most famous debates in the history of the phone was between Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison over the phone call salutation. Bell was insistent that “ahoy” should be the correct way to answer the phone, indicating that the recipient wanted to speak. Edison argued for “hello,”  which as we well know won out.

But hello was just the beginning of the issue over appropriate phone behavior, with the phone company eventually getting involved.  According to an ARS tehnica article “Keep Mustache out of the opening:” a history of phone etiquette,” AT&T sent out a card titled “The Telephone Pledge,” which required users to declare “I believe in the Golden rule and will try to be as Courteous and Considerate over the phone as Face to Face.”

From AT&T’s earliest guidelines, there now are a host of recommendations for properly conducting a phone call, especially for business. Plantronics business partner Shortel advises:

  • Use a professional greeting when answering the phone – hello followed by your company’s name and your name.
  • Ask how you can be of assistance.
  • Ask if you can put someone on hold. Check back at least every 45 seconds if you must continue to keep the person on hold.
  • Don’t interrupt the caller when they are speaking.
  • If you have to transfer the call, let the caller know and explain why. Also ask permission to transfer the call. and confirm the person to whom the call is being transferred is available.
  • Don’t answer a call when you are eating, drinking or chewing.
  • Always be courteous. Talk to the caller in a way you would like someone to speak to you.

Today with widespread use of mobile phones and the shift from private offices and cubicles to large open office spaces, which are short on privacy but can be big on noise, new issues have emerged  affecting phone etiquette.

In the open office

Some things to keep in mind about calls if your small office employs an open office plan from UnMasked, an inside look at acoustics:

Keep your voice down: That applies to conversations on the phone and off. Your open office space acoustics, if designed properly, should allow everyone to talk in a normal voice and not have to whisper.

Turn off speaker phones: Speaker phones tend to encourage everyone to speak louder. Not only will your team member be heard, so will the person on the other end of the call.

Turn down ringer volumes and notifications: Whether your team is using desk phone, mobile, tablet or the computer, turn down volumes, limit the number of rings, put mobiles on vibrate, and don’t listen to voicemail on speaker.

Going mobile

Not too long ago, I shared my views with Small Business Trends about the need for small business owners to provide guidelines for team members about exhibiting professionalism when using mobile phones as well as staying safe. Here are a few of my recommendations from “10 Rules of Mobile Etiquette for Small Businesses.”

Move 10 feet away if you must make a call: Ideally you don’t need to interrupt face-to-face conversation with someone else. But if you must, excuse yourself and explain why the call can’t wait. Then move to a location – some say at least 10 feet – where you can respect the personal space of others.

Avoid checking smartphones in meetings: This applies to visually checking for text messages, emails and missed calls, or listening to voice mails. Checking your mobile phone distracts you from giving your full attention to the meeting at hand. It may be construed among other attendees that you find the people in the meeting to be boring or unimportant – certainly not the message you want to convey.

Ditch the wild ringtone: Want to convey professionalism – ditch the acid rock ringtone. This might sound funny but your ringtones say a lot about you. When it comes to business, keep it that way and pick discreet ring tones.

Plan for good reception:  If you know you will be spending time on the phone while you are out of the office, check to make sure you’ll get good mobile phone coverage in the area. Nothing disrupts your ability to create rapport on an important business call more than when you keep hearing, “Could you repeat that? You broke up there.” If bad reception persists, then hang up and offer to call from another location.

In and out of the office also consider a headset to help boost phone etiquette. Headsets ensure audio clarity for your team and callers by keeping down background noise. They also keep your hands free so you can take notes or check for information online without putting the other party on hold.  Find Plantronics wired and wireless headsets that support your small business needs and “polite” conversation.