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Answering the phone in English.

Dealing with telephone calls in English at work. Useful expressions and protocol.

Introduction.

Answering the phone in English as a receptionist in an international company may be a cause for worry and stress. If your work consists of little more than putting through calls, the language that you will need is limited and easy to learn. What is difficult is if the person calling deviates from the typical conversation you expected. In other words, what happens when the caller begins to ask questions or ask for information by phone? In this case, your ability to reply to that person will depend more on your acquired English knowledge, listening and speaking skills than having memorised a few set phrases for answering the phone. A receptionist, therefore, speaking on the phone in English may require a similar language level as that needed for any other type of business English dialogue such as in meetings or negotiating. A receptionist, who is required to present a professional image in the firm should not be a beginner in English even though on most occasions he/she only has to repeat two or three phrases.

On the other hand, the receptionist may have a good level of English but is unaware of the linguistic protocol for speaking on the telephone in English. This rather limited and conventional language is even more important if you speak to native people from Great Britain, the United States, Australia, etc.

With the profile of the receptionist mentioned above in mind, we will now study some protocol and expressions and the impressions they may cause. This is also a listening exercise so you can practise the expressions aloud

Beginning the phone call - greetings (listen and repeat).

The company where you work may tell you how they want you to answer the phone; how you should say the company name and the greeting to use. Here we have some suggestions:

"Good morning, English Spanish Link. Can I help you?" ...

"Good afternoon," ...

"Good evening," ...

(Do not worry about using a greeting to coincide with the time zone of the caller's country. Everyone is aware there are time differences. Trying to please a client by adapting the greeting will only lead to confusion.)

"Can I help you?" is not the only way to answer, we can also say, "How can I help you?". An angry may reply sarcastically to the first option by saying, "I don't know! Can you?" or "No, I don't think you can!" If you say the second option, you are using an open question and thereby avoid problems from clients who are looking for an argument.

Companies that place much emphasis on an impeccable image towards the client as in the case of British Airways in the United Kingdom (where I worked many years ago), will answer the phone in the following manner:

"Good morning, British Airways. This is John speaking. How can I help you?" ...

o,

"Good afternoon, British Airways. This is John speaking. Merry Christmas! How can I help you?" ...

o,

"Good evening, British Airways. This is John speaking. Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year! How can I help you?" ...

I remember that such long greetings (compulsory in those days) often confused callers and frequently the reply was:

"Is that British Airways?!" ...

However, the option of mentioning your name will cause a good impression.

 

Taking action (listen and repeat).

The typical reply after the greeting should be something like:

"My name is Jack Jones from London PC Services. Could you put me through to extension 321, please?" ...

or,

"My name is* Jack Jones from London PC Services. I'd like to speak to** Jean Langdon in Sales, please?" ...

You answer:

"Certainly, Mr*** Jones. I'll just put you through." ...

or,

"Of course, Mr Jones. I'll just see if she's available. Please, hold the line." ...

If the person who is about to receive the call is also English speaking, when he/she answers the phone, you say:

"Mrs Langdon? I've got a Mr Jack Jones on the line for you from London PC Services. Will you take the call?" ...

"Yes, please put him though." ...

"Mr Jones? Thank you for holding. I'm just putting you through to Mrs Langdon." ...

If the caller has not given you his name, you say:

"May I have your name, please?" ...

It is well-known protocol to use the word "caller" if you do not know the name:

"Hello, caller. Could I have your name, please?" ...

You may use the very formal address, "madam" ... or "sir" ... if you believe the company profile corresponds accordingly:

"Excuse me, sir. Could you tell me your name, please?" ...

"Yes, it's Jack Jones." ...

"Thank you." ...

"And where are you calling from, Mr Jones?" ...

"I'm calling from London PC Services in the UK." ...

If there is something you do not understand, you can say:

"Sorry, I didn't quite catch that. Could you say your name again, please?" ...

And if you still fail to understand:

"I'm so sorry. The line is very bad this end. Could I ask you to repeat your name, please?" ...

It is very useful to ask the caller to spell an Anglo Saxon name with difficult phonetics:

"Could I ask you to spell your surname for me, please?" ...

If good spelling is essential or to help you write down an incomprehensible spoken word, you can use a phonetic spelling code recognised in all Anglo Saxon countries and thereby avoid errors. See and listen to complete International phonetic spelling alphabet...

"Yes. That's: J - O - N - E - S." ...

"So that's: J Juliet, O Oscar, N November, E Echo, S Sierra. Is that correct?" ...

"That's correct." ...

If Mrs Langdon is not available, you should tell Mr Jones what the reason is:

"I'm afraid Mrs Langdon is unavailable at the moment..." ...

"I'm afraid Mrs Langdon is in a meeting until 2 o'clock..." ...

"I'm afraid Mrs Langdon isn't in the office this morning..." ...

"I'm sorry but Mrs Langdon is away on business until Thursday..." ...

And then the action you suggest:

"Could I ask you to call back later?" ...

"Would you like to leave a message? I'll make sure she gets it as soon as she comes in" ...

"Would you like to leave a message? I'll forward it to her by email straight away?" ...

"Would you like her mobile phone number?" ... (Am. Eng. "cellphone number")

"Is there anyone else you would like to speak to?" ...

"If you'd like to give me your number, I'll ask her to call you back." ...

In English-speaking countries, telephone numbers are usually said one number at a time or using the word "double":

"Yes, thank you. My number is: seven, six, eight, double seven, one, two, double two" ... (768 77 12 22)

"The country code for the UK is double four. The area code is 0, three, five, nine." ... (Am. Eng. 0 is said: zero)

 

Finishing a telephone call (listen and repeat).

When you have a caller who you have not been able to transfer and when you have the information you need, you should use a phrase to indicate that the call is now terminated:

"Is there anything else I can help you with, Mr Jones?" ...

"No, that's all, thank you. Thank you very much, you've been very helpful." ...

"Thank you for calling, Mr Jones. Good bye." ...

At British Airways we used to say:

"Thank you for calling British Airways. Have a nice day!" ...

But, well, perhaps you may prefer to avoid such sentimentalities!

Notes.

*A person who identifies himself/herself by phone can say: "My name is...", "This is..." or "It's...", but never: "I'm...". (back...)

**(Note: Br. Eng. "speak to", Am. Eng. "speak with".) (back...)

***If the caller is a woman and she doesn't mention her title ie. she says: "It's Mary Smith here", use the Ms title (this is a neutral alternative for Miss and Mrs):

"Yes, Ms Smith. I'll just put you through." ...

Otherwise, use the title given.

"Yes, Miss Smith. I'll just put you through." ...

"Yes, Mrs Smith. I'll just put you through." ... (back...)

Listen to the International Phonetic Spelling Alphabet for spelling in English.

Listen: A to G ... / H to N ... / O to T ... / U to Z ...

A ALPHA

H HOTEL

O OSCAR

U UNIFORM

B BETA

I INDIA

P PAPA

V VICTOR

C CHARLIE

J JULIET

Q QUEBEC

W WHISKY

D DELTA

K KILO

R ROMEO

X X-RAY

E ECHO

L LIMA

S SIERRA

Y YANKEE

F FOXTROT

M MIKE

T TANGO

Z ZULU

G GOLF

N NOVEMBER

 

 

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