Telephone Etiquette 101

A bazillion years ago when I was working in retail we were taught that if you have a customer standing in front of you and the phone rings, your telephoneobligation is to take care of the customer in front of you first. If you absolutely have to answer the phone, you take their number and ask to call them back, then return as quickly as possible to the customer standing at the counter.

That small lesson has stayed with me all these years and it still irks me when I’m in a store and I’m “bumped” while a clerk answers a phone call and proceeds to provide the caller with “excellent service” while I wait…even though I was there first.

For me, the same theory applies to phone calls. Call waiting and Caller ID are great, but some people abuse the idea.  If I’m on the phone with someone, and the important call they’ve been waiting for all day comes in…..no problem. Go take that call and get back to me when you can. But when I hear the words “hang on…I have another call coming in” that sends a clear signal that I’m no longer important and whatever it is we’re talking about isn’t important.

It’s even worse if I’m standing face to face with someone and in the middle of a conversation and they put me on “hold” while they answer their phone. I have no choice but to stand there awkwardly while they carry on another conversation.  Again..if it’s important and something that requires immediate attention. No problem. A simple “Excuse me, but I really have to deal with this….I won’t be long”  will suffice.

There is no law that requires we answer a phone just because it’s ringing. That’s why we have voice mail. If my phone rings and I choose not to answer, it’s because I’m on the other line, or talking to someone else in person, and giving that person my undivided attention. It is rare that a caller doesn’t leave a message if I don’t answer…and if they don’t leave a message, then I guess it wasn’t very important anyway. Besides, my phone saves the number and I often will call back to acknowledge the missed call just in case I did miss something important.

If you ever call me (828-551-6290) and I don’t answer, it’s because I’m being courteous and attentive to someone else at that moment, but I will be happy to return your call promptly. And when I do, you can trust that I am giving YOU my undivided attention.

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