Telephone Skills

by Babs Moore

Coaching others in using the telephone

Despite the telephone being such a commonplace and important work tool, it is often the case that very little attention is given to improving people’s skills in using it for the benefit of the business. Most people are happy and comfortable chatting to friends or family on the telephone, but this is very different to using the telephone professionally.

  • Set a good, consistent example and use the phone in front of your team.

Having a good example to follow and imitate is one of the best learning tools. If a customer service desk is having a tough time due to a series of late deliveries, a manager will earn respect by taking his/her place on the desk and handling some of the challenging calls, demonstrating how to cope with even the most difficult call professionally. This can be tough but very rewarding, and is likely to be appreciated by those who are keen to learn.

  • Explain and expand on company policy, where applicable.

Ensure that new recruits are trained in the company telephone policy and know how to answer calls, how to transfer them and so on. If you explain why things are done the way they are, this will make the policy easier to accept.

  • Help plan, execute and review calls.

Give the team to time to plan calls, particularly those which are likely to be challenging. Review the calls afterwards and discuss what went well, what didn’t and what could be done differently next time to improve the experience and/or result.

Listening and questioning skills

Many skills, such as active Listening Skills and Questioning Skills, are equally applicable to telephone transactions. For staff whose prime role involves being on the telephone, it is important to teach these skills, with an emphasis on their use over the telephone. It is also worth reminding people of the old saying that we have two ears and one mouth and that they should be used in that ratio. It is easy to talk too much and not listen enough on the telephone.


Telephone skills can and should be practised. If a new skill needs to be learnt or new product promoted, the appropriate telephone manner can be developed internally through role play. Placing two chairs back to back, so the occupiers cannot see each other but can hear, is a good starting point for telephone skill role plays. You can then experiment with different scenarios in which the participants can be challenged to work out the mood and the body language of the person they are talking to. A lot of fun and learning can be had at the same time.

Building relationships

Discuss building relationships through taking a personal interest. It’s important to know when to chat and be friendly and when to be efficient and business like. It is worth encouraging people to think through the message delivered when referring to someone as Sir or Madam as opposed to Mr or Mrs or using first names. Discuss the impact this has on the relationship and when they should move from one form of address to another.

Brainstorm annoying habits

A lot of fun and constructive learning can be had through getting your team to list the annoying habits of other telephone users, be it within the same office or people on the other end of the telephone. Such habits might include speaking too loudly, interrupting, eating, not listening, repeating everything that is said, indulging in too much personal chat and so on. Most people have an idea as to how they like to be treated on the telephone, so a brainstorming session of this type can lead to some interesting discussion on how to behave more effectively on the phone and how to deal with the annoying habits of others.