Business phone communication etiquette: how to be friendly without being too casual.

Reading time:

I’ll let you in on a secret of business communication: speaking in a formal way doesn’t always make you sound professional. 

In fact, dear sirs and madams, one’s thoroughgoing and gratuitous reliance on the utilization of ostensibly pro forma linguistic habits can have the unintended consequence of causing said individual to stultify, obfuscate, and alienate.

See what I mean? Formality can sound dull, stilted, and old-fashioned. It can make you seem robotic—or like you’re overcompensating for a lack of confidence. And ultimately, it can push people away rather than drawing them in. 

But you also can’t talk to every caller the way you’d talk to your best friend. Professional business etiquette—be it over the phone, in person, or via text, chat, or email—is a delicate balance. It requires an awareness of context and a sensitivity to your audience. 

You want to be friendly and make a personal connection. But being too familiar, too fast, can make callers respond like Stephanie Tanner.

For callers, overly casual translates to “rude.”

What does proper business phone etiquette sound like? What does it take to answer in a way that sounds friendly, yet professional? 

It’s easier to answer these questions in the negative. Here are a few things not to say when picking up the phone:

“Hey.”

“Sup?”

“[Name] speaking.”

“Yes?”

“Who’s this?”

“What do you want?”

Notice anything about these kinds of greetings? They’re all abrupt and unhelpful. Not only are they startling to the person on the other end, but they fail to provide any useful information for anchoring the conversation. The most we’re getting is a name—nothing about what the answering party can do for the person calling.

The key to effective and professional business communication—or any form of communication, for that matter—is to focus on the other person. Make them smile. Make them feel comfortable. Listen to them. Serve their needs. Treat them how you’d want to be treated.

Of course, this is easier said than, well, said. Etiquette doesn’t come naturally for everyone, and calls don’t always arrive at opportune moments. You may be busy, tired, stressed out, or flustered when the phone rings. You might panic and start overthinking. 

Four tips for keeping business communication friendly and helpful.

Don’t worry—if you’ve ever engaged in a conversation with a stranger, you know how to do this. The next time you get a call, pause, take a deep breath, and remember these four tips:

1. Enunciate and use standard grammar. This goes for every medium your company uses to communicate with customers, from phone calls to email to social media. It can be tempting to respond quickly with a “thx! ur awesome!”—especially when you only have 280 characters to work with. Spelling out words completely and correctly and using proper punctuation is worth the extra time; your customers will appreciate the extra care and, more importantly, the clarity.

2. Stay positive. Expressive phrasing can make a huge difference in the tone of the conversation. “Absolutely!” and “Certainly!” sound much more enthusiastic than “Yeah” and “Sure.” You’re glad to have their business—don’t be afraid to show it.

3. Offer assistance. Keep on the lookout for additional ways to help. If you’re unable to do something, propose a different solution. “Let me…,” “I’d be happy to…” and “I’ll gladly…” are just a few effective solution starters.

4. When in doubt, think of Grandma. Here’s a fun and useful mental exercise: think about what it would sound like if you added “Grandma” to the end of your sentences. “I can’t do that, Grandma.” “What do you want now, Grandma?” Yikes! Just writing it makes me want to call my grandmother and apologize.
Balancing formality and a casual attitude can be challenging, but remember: it’s all about your customers. Your job is to make them feel comfortable and create a connection. After all, people do business with people they like. Plus, if you can delight your callers, you might just find yourself starting to enjoy talking on the phone.

Additional reads you may find interesting...

View All
Arizona landscape
About Ruby

Arizona, here we come!

Reflections on fallout

Square title card with circular-cropped head shot: The art and challenge of business services, Justin Dunham, ércule
Small Business Tips

The art and challenge of business services—with Justin Dunham of ércule

Customer Feature

Ruby customer feature: Rapid resourcefulness with Ashton Taylor

Small Business Tips

Forced changes and success with Loren Feldman

Small Business Tips

Get more clients like that one. You know the one.

Small Business Tips

Business live chat: Have your cake and eat it too.

Small Business Tips

Small business resourcefulness with Loren Feldman

Small Business Tips

Omnichannel customer experience: what it means and how to do it right

Small Business Tips

[Infographic] The #1 secret of successful law firms.

Small Business Tips

Use Ruby to schedule appointments and save time.

Small Business Tips

Automated lead capture: Why you need it and how it works.

Small Business Tips

[Infographic] Telehealth in 2021 and beyond.

About Ruby

This Women’s History Month, #ChooseToChallenge with Ruby.

Small Business Tips

PPP loans have relaunched in 2021—with an exclusive application window for small businesses.

Try Ruby Risk Free

Call to talk to a live virtual receptionist and hear why 10,000+ companies Ruby.

Call Ruby Sign Up
Sales Support

Already a Ruby customer?

Let’s get started.

Ready to turn more callers into customers?

Missed connections translate to lost revenue. With Ruby, you have a partner in gaining and retaining customers. Plus, we’re so confident you’ll love our service, we offer a 21 day money-back guarantee*.

*Ruby is delighted to offer a money-back guarantee to first time users of both our virtual receptionist service and our chat service. To cancel your service and obtain a full refund for the cancelled service (less any multi-service discount), please notify us of the service you wish to cancel either within 21 days of your purchase of that service or before your usage exceeds 500 receptionist minutes/50 billable chats, as applicable, whichever occurs sooner.