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November 11, 2001 - Telephone Etiquette - 2002-01-30

MUSIC: "Hanging on the Telephone"/Blondie

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on WORDMASTER -- some tips on telephone etiquette.

MUSIC: ...don't leave me hanging on the telephone, don't leave me hanging on the telephone...

RS: One person you don't want to leave hanging on the phone is Nancy Friedman. For the past eighteen years ... ever since this Saint Louis, Missouri, businesswoman got fed up with her insurance agent's rude staff ... she's been traveling the country, and now abroad, on a mission.

AA: That mission, in her words: "training corporations to do a better job when the public calls." Nancy Friedman calls herself the Telephone Doctor. Let's start with her prescription for answering the phone:


"So it would be 'good morning, XYZ company, this is Mary -- stop. Anything after our name, erases our name. 'How can I help you?' is not necessary in initial greetings. We're there to help, that's why we've picked up the telephone. I can guarantee you that most 'how can I help you's' are interrupted by somebody asking for somebody or needing some help."

RS: Nancy Friedman says, don't underestimate the power of those first few seconds on the phone.


"That's where a sale is made, where somebody says 'Good morning, thanks for calling, Telephone Doctor's office, this is Nancy,' that's the point where the person thinks, 'Do I want to do business with this company or don't I.' And number two, the other nice part of this is when you give your name, eighty percent of the time you will get the caller's name. So if I were saying, 'Good afternoon, Telephone Doctor's office, this is Nancy,' you might say, 'Hi Nancy, this is Rosanne.'"

RS: And there's a reason she phrases it "this is Nancy."


FRIEDMAN: "Not 'Nancy speaking,' please remember -- not 'Nancy speaking.' We don't want that."

AA: "Why not?"

FRIEDMAN: "Well, we don't want 'Nancy speaking' because Nancy Speaking is married to Bob Speaking. They have two children, Judy Speaking (laughter) ... "

RS: "Exactly!"

FRIEDMAN: "Well, I make a joke on that, but the bottom line is they won't remember your name."

AA: OK, let's say you're on the phone with someone and you're not sure who it is, is it polite to ask: "Who is this?" That's a question our listener Njideka Umeh in Lagos, Nigeria would like answered.


FRIEDMAN: "Well, it is not polite to ask 'who is this?' over the telephone any more than if you would walk up to somebody at a party and say 'who are you?' We would shake our hand, we would put our hand out as a sign of friendship and we would say, 'Hello, my name is Nancy. And you are? ' And they would say it. So on the telephone we want to remember to do pretty much the same thing. When somebody calls up and gives a name, it is very rude to say, 'I'm sorry, what was your name again?' You can say, 'I apologize, I know you gave your name and I missed it. My name is Nancy and you are?'"

RS: But what if the caller never gave his or her name right up?

AA: Extracting the caller's name can require going beyond the obivious questions -- questions that might sound rude.


"Who is this,' 'what company are you with,' 'what is this concerning' -- those are all very threatening and very frustrating questions to ask and to answer, so we simply believe if somebody hasn't identified themselves, and you ask for Mister Smith [the reply should be]: 'I'll be glad to ring his office -- let me tell him who's calling, please,' and not 'can I ask who's calling,' not 'who is this,' 'let me tell him who's calling please.' But that has a second part to it and a very important second part. If you're turning around and telling Mr. Bigshot it's Mrs. Smith on the phone, Mr. Bigshot must answer the phone with Mrs. Smith's name or don't screen."

RS: In other words, don't try to find out who's calling.

AA: Nancy Friedman has some other rules of customer service.


FRIEDMAN: "Smile before you pick up the phone, because the callers can hear it, [and] don't rush callers. We find that sometimes, especially when there's a language barrier, each side tries to rush the other caller. Ending a phone call should be done as pleasantly as the beginning. 'Hey, great to talk with you,' 'good meeting you by phone' -- whatever closing signature you'd like. You do it on a letter: 'best wishes,' 'stay well,' all those things. Do it on the telephone, too."

AA: Nancy Friedman, dispensing advice as the Telephone Doctor, at

RS: If you have a problem the Wordmasters could cure, write to, or VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA.

AA: And, if you'd like, include your telephone number and the best time to reach you. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "The Telephone Hour"/Original Broadway cast of "Bye-Bye Birdie"