Cell Phone Etiquette: Calling with Uncommon Courtesy

Cell phones are a nearly indispensable business tool. But are you offending your customers and those around you with bad habits? Here are five cell phone etiquette rules you’ll want to follow.

There are 6 billion cell phone subscribers scattered around the world. Yet, judging by what we see and hear in both business and social settings, only a small percentage of those subscribers use their phones without offending other people. Stated more positively, you will become a caller respected for your uncommon courtesy by following, at a minimum, five rather simple steps.

Limit your listening audience to one person

How many times have you entered a shuttle bus after your flight arrived, and as a member of a captive audience heard a fellow passenger call her home office as if no one else had boarded the bus? You heard, “Hi, Margaret, just landed. No, the meeting with that CEO didn’t go well. Her reputation was right on target. She was rude, barely even listened to my presentation, kept looking at her watch. If we’re counting on her as the deal closer, I think we’re sunk. And now let me tell you why that hotel was a lousy choice. . . .”

Already, people around you are rolling their eyes, as you are rolling yours. All of you recognize that this conversation does not belong in public. The caller has allowed you to listen to confidential information that you aren’t interested in at all. Equally as bad, she has shattered the reasonably serene ride to the terminal you had anticipated.

To make sure you avoid becoming the offending caller, realize that there are only two people who could possibly want to hear you talk on your cell phone. One is the person you called. The other could be the person who called you. Nobody else wants in on the conversation, period. Anyone who desires an audience should go give a speech, not make phone calls.

Respect the other person’s convenience, not yours

Chances are very good you have experienced this next incident as well. You answer the phone, and one of your friends opens the conversation with, “Hi, I’m driving from Atlanta to Nashville, so I’ve got plenty of time to chat. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this, when I’d enjoy an uninterrupted hour. So now we can catch up on what’s been happening with each other without watching the time.”

Definitely, your caller has assumed that because the time is convenient for him, you can hang on leisurely. However, you’re scheduled to e-mail your budget revision in ten minutes, just before directing your staff meeting.

Uncommon courtesy will set you apart from the time-consuming, ego focused caller. Either before your call or when you start a call, you’ll ask whether the recipient can spare a few minutes. If they can’t, the two of you will select a different day and hour.

Remember it’s a phone, not a megaphone

Many telephone courtesy consultants warn against “cell yell.” Mistakenly, some callers think that because the phone has a small mouthpiece, the volume provided will not be sufficient. So they become sound blasters, about as annoying as a demolition crew using dynamite.

Unless you are in a setting where the noise becomes excessive, as when the cleaning crew turns on a vacuum cleaner, you will be audibly adequate when you use the same decibel level you use for chit chat at lunch.

Mention the caller’s name when you answer

Typically, we answer calls with our own name. That is what the caller expected us to say, because they dialed the number to reach us. What they don’t expect to hear is their name. You will surprise and please them when you answer, “Marvin, hi, I’m glad you called.” To make that easy, assuming you have a cell phone with this feature, add the names and numbers of key people into your “Contacts” and “Favorites” categories. Once you do that, the caller’s name will show automatically as your phone starts ringing.

The saying is old, but still valid: Everybody’s favorite sound is the sound of his or her name. So get off to a warm start by saying your caller’s name, with genuine enthusiasm.

Tell only part of your story on your voice message

When you aren’t able to receive a call someone placed to your number, they will hear your voice message. Assure that they hear only a small part of what you provide professionally. Why? Because if you tell them all they need to know, why will they need to talk directly? And if you’re that long winded on a recording, callers will wonder how excessively wordy you will be in an initial meeting.

Yes, common cell phone practice goes like this, ad nauseum: “Hello, thanks for calling. Certainly you’ve come to the right place to get competent financial management. Our firm helps you with life insurance, mutual funds, retirement plans, health care insurance, homeowners insurance, long term care, and unemployment insurance.”

This show business adage works best: “Leave them wanting more.” A more courteous revision of the just-mentioned voice message could go like this: “Hello, thanks for calling. When I return your call, I’ll be glad to answer your questions about which financial services we provide. We’ll be in touch soon, for sure.”

So to become a cell phone user with uncommon courtesy, talk to only one person at a time, at that person’s convenience, with the volume you use for other conversations, mentioning the caller’s name when you answer, and telling only a small part of your services when callers reach your voice mail message.

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