The power of answering the phone in one ring

Reading time:

Ring, ring, ring.

There’s the phone. Quick—how fast can you answer it?

Three people over colorful backgrounds smiling doing phone gesture with hand and fingers, pantomiming talking on the phone

Many professional receptionists—that is, people who answer phones for a living—strive to pick up every call in fewer than five rings. Most advice online says you should do the same. The Balance Small Business’s number one tip for answering the phone professionally, for instance, is “Answer all incoming phone calls before the third ring.”

Call virtually any provider that specializes in customer service over the phone and you’ll see this principle in action. In fact, most virtual receptionist and customer engagement solutions average an 80% answer rate in four rings. Keep in mind that many of these companies handle hundreds, if not thousands of calls, per day.

Sounds remarkable, doesn’t it? And yet countless callers are less than impressed. These companies see significant abandonment rates—callers hang up before anyone on the other end answers.

Why? Think about it from the caller’s perspective.

With each ring, doubt creeps in.

From a customer’s point of view, each ring produces a new emotion—and not an altogether positive one. It’s equivalent to the experience one might have when knocking at a door or calling out to someone in another room; the longer they wait without a response, the more frustrated, unappreciated, and anxious they feel.

Let’s take an in-depth, slow-motion look at the process:

The first ring: Anticipation. Hope. The caller has just pressed the “call” button, clicked to call, or (if they’re really old-school) manually dialed a number. Their heart rate is up a bit; they’re subconsciously preparing themselves to speak. At this moment, they’re primarily focused on the reason they placed the call, and anticipating the conversation ahead: I hope this company can fix my HVAC problem. I hope this lawyer isn’t too expensive. I hope we can get this figured out quickly. 

The second ring: Uncertainty. Unease. Doubt has begun to form. It’s a slight doubt, but a noticeable doubt—like when you eat a spicy pepper and it doesn’t taste hot at first. The doubt’s there but it hasn’t fully kicked in yet. The caller is starting to wonder—their mind is drifting a little from the anticipation of the call ahead and towards other questions: Hmm, will someone pick up? I hope the person who does pick up is nice…

The third ring: Disappointment. Irritation. The doubt has become real, and it’s no longer ignorable. Back to the pepper analogy, the caller is starting to think they need some milk or water to cool down. Your business answering that phone is the cold, crisp beverage they need, but they’re not getting it. At this point, the caller wonders: Why am I still waiting? Maybe they’re super busy right now. Maybe someone stepped away for a moment. Maybe, maybe…

The fourth ring: Resignation. The caller’s doubts and fears have been confirmed. By now, the heat has kicked in; their mouth is a ball of flames. The message the caller gets is “we’re too busy for you,” or “we’re too disorganized to take your call.”

Pretty wild that a person can experience all that in a matter of seconds, huh? That a few small chimes can bring us any amount of hope and despair at all. Why is that? 

Why does the phone ring, anyway?

Well, the history’s too convoluted to really dive into here, but basically, the ringing sound dates back to the invention of the telephone. In the old days (think thick mustaches and padded undergarments), there was an actual bell attached to the phone that would ring when someone called—but only the person on the receiving end would hear it. The caller, meanwhile, would be connected to a switchboard operator, whose job was to transfer the call. 

The ringback tone (i.e. the sound the caller hears when they’re trying to reach someone) was invented in the mid-20th century. Telephone systems were becoming more efficient and automated, and human operators were starting to phase out, but callers still needed an auditory indication that a call was connecting to a machine. Otherwise, without an intermediary to immediately answer the line, a caller would be stuck in limbo waiting for another person to pick up. 

The ringback tone bridges the gap by mimicking the sound on the other end. It gives the caller a cue that the phone belonging to the person they’re trying to reach is, indeed, ringing.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder we pin our emotions on the sound of a ringing phone. It’s a simple, universal indicator of an attempt to connect—an outstretched hand, an unmet gaze. By picking up the phone, you’re returning that gesture. You’re showing the caller that you’re here for them; that you care about them; that you, too, want to connect. 

Take a moment to think about your experience and notice your emotions next time you place a call. What do you feel with each ring? How do those feelings change the longer you remain on the line—and what makes you decide to wait or hang up?


At Ruby, we understand the importance of meeting customers’ expectations and creating great first impressions. Customer service is where business begins. It’s where connections are made.

We also know answering the phone isn’t always every business’s first priority. When you’re responsible for all areas of your business, you probably don’t have the time or capacity to pick up every single call and provide your callers with cheerful, personalized service. That’s where we come in. With Ruby, your customers talk to a real person who’s ready to answer their questions, address their concerns, or just have a friendly conversation. 

It’s just one of the thousands of little things Ruby does to create meaningful connections every day.

Want to see how it works? Call us today!

Additional reads you may find interesting...

View All
Virtual receptionist sitting at desk

Virtual receptionist pricing 101

Professional sitting at desk on computer, working on a law firm's website
Legal Practice Tips

What Google’s Core Web Vitals mean for your law firm’s website

A group of Ruby customers stand together, smiling and talking

Does your business need an answering service?

Screenshot of a YouTube channel's live videos

How to use YouTube Live to engage your clients & audience

Smiling woman standing in a bicycle workshop with a mobile device in her hands
Small Business Tips

3 ways virtual receptionists elevate customer experience (while making your life easier)

Circular cutout of Rebecca Grimes, Ruby's Chief Revenue Officer

A conversation with Ruby’s Chief Revenue Officer, Rebecca Grimes

Woman in yellow sweater working in front of open laptop, sitting in home office interior, drinking coffee
Small Business Tips

Happy customers, efficient businesses: How to supercharge growth with virtual receptionists 

Help wanted sign hung in reflective window
Small Business Tips

Using online presence platforms for recruitment

A man in silhouette looks out over a foggy mountain range
Small Business Tips

How to communicate with employees during times of tension

Close-up: professional with blonde pompadour has a conversation over the phone in a co-working space with red walls
Receptionist Tips

How to keep a conversation going

Title card: Leveraging Customer Service as a Value Proposition, with Melinda Emerson, Kate Winkler, and Sharie Hendricks
Small Business Tips

Customer service tips and more from Ruby + SmallBizLady

A white-bearded man looks beyond the frame with a happily surprised expression on his face
Small Business Tips

This is what wow-worthy customer service looks like.

A woman in yellow overalls sits on a hardwood floor among houseplants with a closed laptop, her hands behind her head
Small Business Tips

Achieve remote work bliss with Ruby.

Title card with Sam's headshot: Ruby customer feature series, Sam Hainey, Hilltop Law Firm
Customer Feature

Ruby customer feature: Sam Hainey, Hilltop Law Firm

A man in a blue and white-striped shirt looks through binoculars at the open sea
Small Business Tips

Sick of losing sales? How to find the perfect leads for your business

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 canceled 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. Some restrictions may apply.


The Secret to Successful Law Firms

The inside scoop on Clio’s latest legal trends report.

Phone Thumbnail 2

10 Questions to Ask a Virtual Reception Provider

Ask the right questions and rate virtual reception services with our handy guide and scorecard!