We love blog comments, and recently received a comment on this post from our reader Joe. Joe was wondering about the best phrasing to use when you’re not able to connect a caller to the person they’re trying to reach, and we thought it might be helpful to share our response to Joe’s thoughtful question with all of our readers!

Q: What’s the best way to tell a customer that the person they are calling for isn’t “available” or is “in a meeting” or “out the office”? Any ideas of what would sound genuine?

It would be great if we could always connect customers to the people they’re trying to reach, but as you know, there are times when we simply can’t: Meetings do happen, and coworkers aren’t always by their phones. Callers typically understand this, and with the right phrasing, your callers will feel taken care of even when you can’t connect them.

As a general rule, it’s best to steer clear of saying someone is “unavailable,” because it tends to give the impression that the person is around, but doesn’t want to talk at the moment.

One great way to craft a solid response is to ask your coworkers to keep you apprised of their schedules. If you know what your coworkers are up to, you can give their callers honest replies that make sense — and often, you can let callers know when they might receive a return call. Saying, “Ms. Smith is in meetings for the rest of the day, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call tomorrow!” is much more likely to satisfy a caller than a reply like “Ms. Smith is unavailable.”

For those occasions when you don’t know a coworker’s schedule, a reply like “Ms. Smith is away from the phone at the moment, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call! May I have your number?” is solid. Sure, you aren’t giving any exact details about your coworker’s whereabouts, but you are making it clear that you’re ready to do all you can to help.

Any time you’re unable to connect a call, always come back to your caller with an offer of assistance and a guiding question. A response like “Ms. Smith is in a meeting,” feels like a dead end to a caller, but a response like “Ms. Smith is in a meeting, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call as soon as she’s able. What’s the best number for a return call?” is helpful, friendly, and efficient.

Do you have a question about telephone etiquette? Share your question in the comments section below, and we’ll be happy to answer it for you!

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How do guests feel when they enter your office? Establishing a greet, seat, treat routine can help create positive experiences for your guests and great first impressions of your business. Here’s how to make sure anyone who walks through your door feels welcome:

Greet

A warm greeting can be much more than a mere formality. Who’s to know whether your office guest has heard a friendly word from anyone today? You may be in the special position of turning someone’s day around with your kindness, and that’s an opportunity too amazing to pass up! There’s no easier way to establish a real, human connection than eye contact and a smile, and for that, you may not even have to wait until your guest walks through the door.

Got windows? Take advantage of them, and flash your smile at anyone whose eye you catch. Sure, the occasional passer-by may be graced with your grin, but it’s great practice for actual guests, and it’ll make you feel good, too. There’s no such thing as a wasted smile! If you’re on a phone call when a guest arrives, politely indicate that you’ll be with the guest in just a moment (a friendly wave does the job nicely). If you’re not on a call, give your guest a warm greeting like “Good morning! How may I help you today?”

Seat

This one’s easy! Offer a guest a seat in your lobby: “Please make yourself comfortable! I’ll let Ms. Smith know you’re here.”

Treat

Anticipating needs is a great way to wow a guest, and in this case, doing so is incredibly easy: Offer your guest something to drink. If you don’t have a watercooler handy, it may be helpful to keep a pitcher and glasses stocked at your desk. If you’re able to offer coffee, tea, or something to nibble on, add that to the treat list as well!

Clearly, the greet, seat, treat method is a simple one. But these little gestures of kindness can be incredibly impactful to your guest and your company. Positive experiences mean repeat business, and friendly connections go a long way in today’s world!

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When answering the phone, you probably do your best to sound positive and upbeat – an excellent default no doubt! We often think of these tones as being synonymous with great service, and they usually are, but some situations call for a different approach. If you sound happy for every single caller — no matter the circumstance — you risk coming across as robotic, providing the same cookie cutter experience to everyone.

Where’s the personal touch? Where’s the empathy?

Without visual cues like body language and gestures, tone of voice can be especially important over the phone and has the potential to help, or hinder, caller connections.

Think of a time when you called a business to complain and consider the response you received. If the person didn’t display any sense of urgency or if they didn’t sound concerned about your frustration, the words they were actually saying to you probably didn’t matter. On the other hand, when someone matches your tone, you start to feel that they are truly on your side.

Some people are tone-matching naturals and do it without thinking, while others experience true empathetic connections but have a hard time using voice to express it. Luckily, this is a skill anyone can learn. It just takes a little practice, so here are some tips to get started!

  • Listen. Simply listen to a caller’s tone and adopt the same. If they sound chipper, amp it up a little! If they’re having a hard day, a more serious tone might be appropriate. A slow talker will probably feel more comfortable if you take it down a notch too.
  • Exercise kindness. Be careful not to match frustration with frustration or anger with anger. An underlying tone of friendliness is a must no matter what state the caller is in.
  • Be wise with word choice. “Have a wonderful day!” is the perfect thing to say at the end of most calls, but to an unhappy caller that might sound trivializing. Instead thank them for calling, offer additional assistance, or tell them you hope their day turns around.

By tailoring your tone of voice for each caller, whether they’re happy or serious, in a hurry or relaxed, you’ll show that you understand their situation and that it matters to you. It’s a great way to give a personalized experience that’s sure to make your callers feel cared for and important.

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