Telephone Skills

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Telephones are devices that allow the user to communicate messages across lines electronically. One can easily communicate with those both nearby and far away using the telephone by simply dialing a specially designated number. The word telephone comes from two Greek words meaning "far" and "sound."

Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone in 1876 in Boston, an outgrowth of his teaching the deaf and his experimentation with devices to assist in improving the hearing process.

It is difficult to estimate the total number of telephones in existence today. They are ubiquitous because of their extreme importance as a communications tool. Telephones come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors, as well as with options that can be configured to accommodate almost any conceivable need.


Effective telephone skills are predicated on strong communications skills. The four major means of communication are speaking, reading, writing, and listeningwith listening being the most important part.

Listening involves sensing, interpreting, evaluating, and responding. The major roadblocks to effective listening include distractions and interruptions. Roadblocks to effective listening can be overcome by practicing the following techniques:

  • Being ready to listen actively.
  • Keeping your emotions in check.
  • Listening for specific information.
  • Asking questions when necessary.


Telephone calls may be broken into three major parts(1) the introduction, in which both parties establish their identity and the convenience of the call; (2) the purpose, which involves communicating needs by asking well constructed questions; and (3) the conclusion, whereby both parties reach a verbal agreement on the points made during the call and any specific action that needs to be taken.


Questions should be asked in such a way as to obtain the desired information. There are three major types of questions:

  • Open questions : These questions call for more than a yes/no answer and often begin with who, what, where, when, why or how.
  • Closed questions : These questions are used primarily to verify information. Often these questions begin with are you, do you, can, could, did, will, or would.
  • Forced-choice questions : These questions call for an either/or response. The listener has the choice between at least two options.

It is an excellent idea to write down any questions prior to beginning the call or during the call. During the call, when both parties are asking questions, it is equally important to listen attentively. Attentive listening can be demonstrated by speaking in such a way that the listener knows you are hearing.


Before making a telephone call, consider its purpose. Calls could possibly be made to obtain information, return a call, schedule an appointment, or service a customer.

Be ready psychologically to make the call. Have a positive attitude toward making the call while making it. Have all necessary information available when you make the call.

When making a call, be sure to do the following:

  • Identify yourself immediately to get the call off to a positive start.
  • Tell the person the purpose of the call. Be specific.
  • Ask well-stated, appropriate questions to obtain the desired action.
  • Close the call in a friendly tone with an understanding between both parties of the action(s) that need to be taken.


Telephone numbers may be obtained from your own record, from directories, or from directory assistance.

Have the telephone number visible when you get ready to make the call. Developing a personal telephone list is very helpful.

Telephone directories that contain both White Pages and Yellow Pages can also be sources of excellent information. Use the White Pages to locate a specific name of a person. Use the Yellow Pages to locate a product or service.

Directory assistance provides access to a telephone number by going through a directory assistance operator. Usually there is a fee for obtaining this information.

Directory information is also available on the Internet.


Operator-assisted calls are the most expensive type of telephone calls. Avoid them if possible. Types of operator-assisted calls include the following:

  • Collect calls : In collect calls, the person being called must agree to accept the charges for the call.
  • Third-number billing : Such a call is billed to a third party.
  • Person-to-person : Such a call involves telling the operator you will speak only to a designated person. If that person is unavailable, you will not have to pay for the call.


Be prepared to answer the telephone when it rings. Keep pens and message pads close by as well as telephone directories and other reference materials. Use an answering machine if necessary.

When answering the phone, follow these guidelines:

  • Answer the telephone no later than the second ring.
  • Identify yourself in a friendly tone.
  • Use the caller's name.
  • Gather as much information as possible.
  • Do not interrupt the caller.
  • Give accurate information.


Screening a call means using judgment to determine whether you should put the caller through to the desired person by being friendly to the caller without revealing embarrassing or unnecessary information.


Transferring a call means that, for any number of reasons, it would be best for the caller to speak with someone else. It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the specific procedure for transferring a call.


Messages may either be left as voice-mail messages for the person being called or written down by someone else. If you are writing down the message, use a telephone message form to fill in the appropriate parts.


Handling the wide variety of both incoming and outgoing specialized telephone calls requires in-depth skill. The following are some of the more common types of specialized calls:

  • Information calls : Calls made to gather information require careful thought to determine exactly what information you are trying to obtain.
  • Scheduling appointment calls : Know exactly when you want an appointment before placing the call. Have all information in front of you when you place the call. If you are making calls for another individual, notify that person of the scheduled appointment. Likewise, be certain you have carefully recorded on an appointment calendar the designated scheduled time as well as any special instructions.
  • Complaint calls : Often a complaint call can become a negative experience by nature of the call's very existence. Be prepared to deal with emotions in as positive a fashion as possible.
  • Collection calls : Collecting money over the telephone is a challenging experience. Good questioning skills are of paramount importance in handling a collection call.
  • Telemarketing calls : Selling a product or service over the telephone is done by a skilled salesperson called a telemarketer. Generally, telemarketers have been trained to deal with a wide variety of responses and situations.

It is wise to follow these steps when dealing with specialized calls:

  1. Always respond in a courteous and professional manner.
  2. Give accurate information.
  3. Be prepared to deal with rejection and negative responses.
  4. Offer a variety of positive solutions.
  5. End all calls courteously.


Customer service is an extremely important aspect of telephone skills. This is the reason most businesses are in existenceto serve the customer. Good customer service via the telephone shows respect for the customer and builds business over time. Good customer service is provided by maintaining an excellent voice quality that is easy to understand and includes a pleasant tone spoken at a reasonable speed. Selecting appropriate vocabulary is also important. If words are used that are not understood, positive communication will not be conveyed. Listen intently when servicing a customer. Be prepared to offer responses that will be delivered in a positive manner.


Choosing telephone equipment is a challenge with the wide variety of choices available. There are many telephone-related pieces of equipment that can be used with the telephone. Some points to consider when selecting telephone equipment include size, location, number of phones, special options, and whether to buy or lease. Careful thought should be given to researching your needs before making a decision.

Cellular telephones are the type of mobile phones used, for example, in cars, on planes, or on the street. These phones are serviced through licensed cellular phone companies with a variety of configurations. Check them out carefully. Often bad weather or other types of interference can make communication by cellular phone difficult.

Cordless telephones are portable and very convenient. They come in a wide variety of styles for easy use. Cordless phones can be used only within a certain range of area. Their base must be attached to a telephone line in order to function.

Pagers are devices that can be used to alert the user that someone is trying to call them. Pagers come with various options. The more options that are selected, the more expensive the pager.


Telephone skills will undoubtedly continue to be increasingly important as the technology and equipment evolve. Strong communication skills will always be highly essential when using the telephone. Evolving technology will enhance the telephone in the future. Telephone skills must be integrated with that technology to make the process work.

see also Communications in Business


Friedman, Nancy J. (2000). Telephone skills from A to Z: the telephone doctor phone book (rev. ed.). Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Learning.

Maxwell, Dorothy A. (2006). Phone skills for the Information Age (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Neal, D. (1998). Telephone Techniques (2nd ed.). New York: Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.

Dorothy A. Maxwell