Why your business needs a written phone policy

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In this post, I’ll describe six important topics a well-written phone policy should cover.

But before that, please take a look at this account of how the lack of a phone policy can cost a business dearly.

People do the strangest things.

For example; Logan, a business friend told me of the horrible time he had in trying to setup a deal with another company.

He’d leave voice mails for their business development manager but the contact almost never called back. And when he did get through, the excuse was often something weak –  such as; “Oh, I was in a meeting.”

There was clearly a problem here with how this company expected its staff to treat callers, and what was actually happening.

But it got worse.

Logan probably wasn’t the only one having trouble because his contact’s voice mailbox was full by the 3rd day. And, incredibly, there was no announced option of how to reach a human operator. Many callers would assume they have to hang up and call right back.

However, what permanently ended the ‘negotiations’ was a breach of trust that embarrassed both Logan and (probably) some of the other company’s employees.
When he finally did get him on the line, their business development manager proposed a quick conference call with two other key managers.  Unfortunately, someone had forgotten (or just didn’t know) how to mute the line when not speaking. So, my friend could hear snippets of other conversations that must have come from folks in an open office environment.

Strike one for a breach of client confidentiality.

Not only that, but some of the overheard comments appeared to be about the very deal he was negotiating. And that’s when my friend realized he was on speakerphone… and yet no one had thought to ask his permission.

Well, he went ahead and finished the call diplomatically and the next day sent a polite email (no point in calling, was there!) citing differences in business strategy etc.

Sadly, it didn’t have to be that way.

Logan realized that they were not a bad company. Their problem was in not setting clear boundaries around how to treat customers and callers in a professional manner.

In short, they probably didn’t have an employee communication policy that included telephone calls. (Or if they did have one, it wasn’t enforced)

A well-designed company phone policy will provide your employees with written guidelines on how to have effective and professional business phone calls.  It may take time to implement but if employees know that management is committed to enforcing the policy, there will definitely be an improvement in how prospects and customers percive your business image.

Here are some ideas you may want to include when creating your company’s phone policy

  • Standardized Greetings – Have an agreed way of answering callers – internal and external. Personality matters but it’s more important that the caller knows whom they are talking with, and feel good about it too. (That old sales trick about having a mirror nearby so people can see themselves smiling while talking is worth remembering.)
  • Returning calls – It’s usually important to the caller that someone calls them back within a reasonable time frame. Find out what your customers and prospects regard as reasonable, and then aim to beat that on every call. This means that you also need to create guidelines on taking messages for someone else and passing that information on promptly and accurately.
  • Individual Voicemail Boxes – It’s important to present a consistent impression on the phone because it helps callers feel more at ease. Insist that all staff use a standard voice mail message that includes the company’s name, their own name, and a friendly greeting.
  • Speaker Phone – In most cases you should only use speaker phone during a conference call, and only with the caller’s permission.
  • Callers on hold – This should be handled with care. The caller should be asked if they would like to hold and then the operator should check in periodically to update their status and suggest other options such as a transfer to voice mail or to another person etc. Of course, this is also a great opportunity to implement an effective and friendly custom message-on-hold strategy.
  • Mobile Devices – Given that every one of your employees has a mobile phone, you should also address how company-owned and employee-owned devices are to be used for approved business activities.

Set aside time in regular staff meetings to go through a specific section of the phone policy.  Encourage staff to dicuss what’s working well and which areas need improvement, and why. Remember, your most challenging goal isn’t creating the perfect phone policy. It’s in making sure the policy is fully implemented by all staff you are responsible for.

Of course, technology can help by enabling the monitoring of voicemail in-box size, measuring the length of time callers are on hold, etc. and then providing feedback to staff who are not in compliance. However, employees often respond well to managers who lead by example and provide encouraging reminders from time to time.

I’d also recommend that you work with the Human Resources team so that the phone policy becomes part of an employee’s job discription – something that performance is measured against, where possible.

About the Author:

Jeff Wilson advises businesses and organizations about optimizing their telephony communication systems and develops custom professionally voiced messages that project a polished image for every caller. You can reach him using the, 'support' email link found on the contact page.
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