Outgoing phone call protocol - how does it work?
January 8, 2013 7:12 AM   Subscribe

When you make a call to a service or business, say, you're calling because you have a problem or require a service -- what do /you/ say?

Do you say "Hello" and get right down to details?

Do you say "Hello, how are you today?" and then get down to details?

Do you identify yourself "Hello, my name is Frank Smith with [business name or organization]" and get down to details?

Or something else entirely?

What way have you found makes people happiest? I want to make people happier even if I have stuff they need to do for me (which usually makes people sadder, quite understandably.)
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night to Human Relations (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
"Good (time of day), my name is (insert name here) and I have a question about (topline of your question). Can you direct me to someone who can help me with that?" Smile as you're saying it - it shows up even over the phone.
posted by deadmessenger at 7:15 AM on January 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

If it is a personal call, just "Hey, how are you, this is griphus and I need fifty widgets." If it is a business call same thing but "This is griphus from Griphco Industries and we need fifty widgets." I'm on both sides of these sorts of phone calls, all day, every day, and getting to the point quickly and clearly makes everyone happy. If the person who picks up can't help you, they'll know who to transfer you to because you told them exactly what you need.
posted by griphus at 7:15 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Hi, this is OmieWise, and I'm calling because I'm having trouble with the wocket in my pocket. Can you help me?"


"Hi, this is OmieWise, I was just in the store and speaking with someone about getting a wocket for my pocket. Yes, that's me, the man with the wocketless pockets. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that the wocket you helped me select does not fit in my pocket. Can I bring it back?"


"Hi, this is OmieWise. I got your name from John Lewis. He told me you might be able to install a wocket in my pocket..."
posted by OmieWise at 7:17 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Smile as you're saying it - it shows up even over the phone.

This sounds like the stupidest thing ever, but it is completely true.
posted by griphus at 7:18 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get to the point. Nobody needs to hear your story. "Hi, my name is Bondcliff, I recently purchased a Corn Baller and I need to talk to someone in customer service..."

Say "hello", of course, because that's what polite people do.

Also, even if the Corn Baller you're calling about just severely burned your hand, remember that the person who picks up the phone probably isn't the one who designed it. No matter how pissed off you are, don't take it out on them. You can let them know you're upset and that you're expecting them to assist you, but don't be nasty to them. Right now they're the one person on earth who can help you.
posted by bondcliff at 7:18 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

If I am calling because of a problem, I give them the facts.

"Hello. This is JohnnyGunn. I was in your repair shop last week to have my gonculator replaced. This morning when I started my machine, the gonculator sputtered and failed. Can I please bring it back in this afternoon? I need to use it tomorrow."
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:20 AM on January 8, 2013

They're there to help you. So have your information ready (account number, name, whatever you need to give to the agent on the phone to help them solve your problem or schedule an appointment to come fix it) and then get down to business. Don't steam roll them with the information. Let them ask you questions after you state briefly what the nature of your call it.

"Hi, my name is Frank Smith and my computer won't boot up. I've tried shutting it down completely, but it won't come back on."

What makes an agent happiest isn't idle plesantries. Honestly, the thing that would make them happiest is to have a prepared caller with a problem they can either solve or get to a disposition that doesn't cause them to get yelled at in the most efficient manner possible.

So don't yell. They're not the company. They just work for it. If they can't or won't help you, ask politely for a supervisor. Escalate, escalate, escalate.
posted by inturnaround at 7:21 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the person says their name, I usually say: "Hey Lisa, this is Ruthless Bunny, and I was hoping you could help me. I need......"

By saying his/her name, and asking for help, I've got the person at the other end invested in my issue. I'm also the nicest, funniest, most polite person you've ever heard on the phone.

Also, if someone is super-helpful, a small note or email to a supervisor never hurt anything.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:21 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Remember their name and tell them "hello [name]" and "thanks for all your help, [name]"
posted by royalsong at 7:22 AM on January 8, 2013

I say, "Hi, I am calling with a question (about my $PRODUCT) that I hope you can help me with." And then I shut up, so they can get their script started.

My wife launches into a lengthy diatribe/narrative, and as often as not the operator's reply is, "Um, let's start with your name."

I always start off as sweet as pie, saving Cold Steely Anger for when I need to get a manager involved. This works almost every time.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:23 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

As a customer service rep, I prefer when people people say their name and then directly address what they need done/why they're calling.

For instance, "Hi, my name is LivingLearning. I was just involved in a car accident and need to figure out the next steps." or "Hi, my name is LivingLearning. I was recently involved in a car accident and I need to file a claim."

I generally don't prefer when the information is given to me beforehand in terms of extensive details or identification numbers. As a customer service rep, there is generally a protocol in terms of asking for this information so I like taking control of the situation by asking for what's necessary first.

Also, I'd strongly recommend not calling in and asking how the rep is doing. You'll always get the same answer of "good/great thank you and yourself?" and people know this so they never bother waiting for the answer and basically say something like "Hi, my name is LivingLearning. How are you? I was involved in a car accident."

Oh, and if you want to be friendly and think the rep sounds friendly then address them by their first name as stated in the greeting. I enjoy hearing this because it generally means that the person's comfortable communicating with me over the phone.
posted by livinglearning at 7:26 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Mostly, don't get into a lot of details until you are asked. Also, specify whether you are wanting to order the product/service, or are having a problem. "I'd like to speak to someone about SuperProduct3000" can get you forwarded to the wrong person unless you specify.

I want to make people happier even if I have stuff they need to do for me (which usually makes people sadder, quite understandably.)

I don't think this is necessarily true. The vast majority of business people I have dealt with have been very happy to be helpful, even if it means they have to correct a problem. Fixing your problem makes you a happy customer, which in turn makes them happy. Approach these calls with a positive and friendly attitude, and understanding that even a complaint helps them to run a more successful business.
posted by The Deej at 7:31 AM on January 8, 2013

I do exactly what OmieWise does. Painless for all involved.
posted by mochapickle at 7:34 AM on January 8, 2013

Hi, this is sciencegeek calling from Geek industries, I have a problem with a nucleation device that we recently purchased. I'd like to talk to someone who can help me troubleshoot the device. I've got the model number and serial number ready to go.

Hi, this is sciencegeek calling from Geek industries, I have a problem with some boopity reagent I bought from you guys last week. I've got a part number and a lot number ready to go and I'd like to know if you've had other calls about this reagent.

Hi, this is sciencegeek calling from Geek industries, we ordered some stuff from you guys last week and it hasn't shown up. Can I give you our account number and the order number?

Hi, this is sciencegeek calling from Geek industries. I'd like to put in an order. Can I give you our account number?

Those are four scenarios. Basically:

Hi, this is [my name] calling from [my workplace], this is my need. I have available these identifying number things that you'll likely need to help me fulfill my need.

And at the end of every phone call I say some form of "Thank you for your help."

Although there's a completely different scenario for that one company whose machine burst into flame. Twice. Then I start off with the usual and when they try to tell me to reboot the machine, I mention the bursting into flame thing and they stop following the script and we wryly discuss the pitfalls of the design of the machine. It is very entertaining. (The second time it went on fire was actually when the technician was trying to fix it; first time I've heard a repair guy swear. They're usually super professional.)
posted by sciencegeek at 7:36 AM on January 8, 2013

If I'm calling with a complaint or request I say "good morning this is Fingers, I hope you can help me. [My issue] and so I'm calling to ask that [the solution I'm looking for.]
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:36 AM on January 8, 2013

Hello, my name is winna mcwinnerson, (if entered ID info into voice response prior) did my information come through (if no VR) what information do you need to locate my account?

Once confirmation of ID is completed, I explain my problem, including any detail that may be relevant. If I'm calling about a piece of equipment, I have the model, serial number and list all troubleshooting steps I've taken. If a service, I've read the relevant company-specific policies I can find on the issue and mention how they may apply.

If the answer is satisfactory I thank them and hang up. If not I explain that I know it's not their fault, but I am not satisfied and ask them if they are aware of any options that might resolve my concern. I then escalate to the next line of support if still not satisfied. If they can't help me, I ask for the executive customer relations mailing address.

A satisfactory answer doesn't always mean I get what I want, either. It means that the policy is clear, fair, and it was not an flaw or problem with the good or service that a reasonable person would find unacceptable.

I always remember that people on the phone usually have a goal of a per-customer talk time well under five minutes and that depending on the company the phone people are just as powerless as I am, but they often know ways to bend policies if you're polite, understanding of their position and listen to what they tell you. I talk to them as if they are intelligent professional human beings, even if they have an accent which may be very different from my own. The odds are excellent that their educational attainment is as great as or higher than my own. I do not get angry - anger is counter-productive. If someone is rude I tell them I want to speak to their supervisor politely and mention the issue to that person.

The most important thing is to remember that they are a person just doing their extremely hard and thankless job and treat them with the respect you would want in their shoes. Think about what you would want from the customer if you were them and try to provide it.

I almost always get whatever I call about accomplished easily, even with companies other people tell me have horrible customer service. I make it easy for them to help me, and I think that makes a big difference.
posted by winna at 7:38 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ruthless Bunny, I have followed up with emails or notes to supervisors before when people have been especially helpful. Some of them seem reluctant to give out contact info, so I just go to the web site and find a general address.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2013

For me, it depends entirely on what the person answering the phone says. The more scripted they are, the quicker I launch into business.

Phone: Thank you for calling Comcast support, how can I help you today?
Me: Hello, I'm calling because [reason].


Phone: Comcast, this is Jim.
Me: Hi Jim, I'm calling because I have [problem] and someone gave me this number as a place to try to get it resolved.


Phone: Thank you for calling Comcast, how may I direct your call?
Me: I'm not sure. I have [problem], who should I talk to in regards to it?

In almost all cases, I assume the person answering the phone will ask for the information they need, and I don't give it until they ask for it.

But I do always try to acknowledge the humanity of the person answering the phone. It makes me uncomfortable when people insta-launch into their request without a greeting. I think they are just trying to be expedient, but it comes off as rude. I see this a lot at restaurants.

May I take your order?
posted by gjc at 7:42 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to make people happier even if I have stuff they need to do for me (which usually makes people sadder, quite understandably.)

Generally when I worked in phone support I just hoped I could help people and that they were not so frustrated and pissed off by whatever was wrong (or previous bad experiences) that they would be abusive assholes.

So I usually start off as a caller trying to send decent "I am not angry, let's try to fix this problem" messages. I figure even if I am really pissed off or whatever, the chances of acting that way being the thing that solves my problem are really minimal. So I'm sort of speedy

"Hi this is Jessamyn West I need to talk to someone about getting my muffler fixed."
"Hi I'm visiting Westport and I'm having muffler trouble, would someone be able to get me in there today?"
"Hi, I was in for a muffler repair the other day and I'm still having trouble, can you help me figure out what to do?"
"Hi, you said you'd be getting back to me today about the muffler order, can you let me know the status?"

Basically focus on whatever the problem to be solved is, not whatever your emotional state is. Don't make it into a BUT YOU SAID THIS sort of argument but more "the information you gave me last time is not matching the information I'm getting this time, how do we resolve this?" As far as I'm concerned I want to spend as little time on the phone as possible and they're usually the phone professional so once I've stated my reason for calling I usually let them take over unless I'm concerned that they're trying to bamboozle me into a non-productive situation which won't solve my problem.
posted by jessamyn at 7:43 AM on January 8, 2013

I want to make people happier even if I have stuff they need to do for me (which usually makes people sadder, quite understandably.)

People who work in the service industry are happy to get your call, not sad. The reason is that people who require a service pay them the money that keeps them in business.

What I say will depend on the nature of the service. For example, if I am calling potential expert witnesses, I say, "Hello, this is Tanizaki of ABC Law Firm in Y City. I have a case in which I have an issue with ______ that requires an expert witness in _______". If it is something more mundane, I just say, "Hi, I'd like to order a pizza." (my name is not necessary for a pizza transaction, and I don't need to know my waitress's name, either).
posted by Tanizaki at 7:45 AM on January 8, 2013

I tend to assume that the person who answers the phone isn't the person who will be able to help me. Therefore, the thing I need from that person is not actually a solution to my problem, but a transfer to the right person.

"Hi, I'm calling about my immersion blender. Who do I need to talk to, to get a new blade under warranty?"

It may turn out that their answer is "yes, I can help you with that", or they may need specific information from me, and start asking the relevant quesitons. In any case, my goal in my first line is not to describe my problem, but to state the topic as clearly as possible.
posted by aimedwander at 7:46 AM on January 8, 2013

Here's how I like it...
"Acme Customer Service this is Larry, how can I help you today?"
"Larry, my name is No Shmoobles and I hoping you can help me today."

My standard is to always jot down the person's name that I am calling as soon as they identify themselves. I refer back to them by name immediately, at least once during the conversation, and especially when I terminate the call. Having been a phone customer service guy I can tell you that simply being acknowledged by name by a customer makes a huge difference in my attitude towards them. Most people don't even bother or care who they are calling, they just focus on what they are trying to accomplish.

In my example above I am acknowledging Rasheed, identifying myself by name and politely requesting help. We know who each other are, I am inferring to Rasheed that I know he will need more information from me to progress the situation, and indicating to him that I would please like him to do so. All succinctly and quickly so that he may acknowledge me back and get on with it.

(I personally cannot stand "How are you?". I try real hard not to ask it and when someone asks it of me I usually ignore it and inquire what they want immediately... especially with familiars as they seem to ask it every single time.)
posted by No Shmoobles at 7:53 AM on January 8, 2013

Unless it's someone who will already know who I am, I never open with my name because I feel it's much harder for people to parse an unfamiliar name from a cold start than it is when they're ready. But I am both friendly and brief.

So (like many others above) I start with something more like: "Hi, I'm calling with a question about [X] that I hope you can help me with" or "Hi, I'm calling because I have a problem with [Y] that I hope, etc." or "Hi, I'm calling to place an order." Then I shut up and let them ask my name or whatever else they want.
posted by redfoxtail at 7:54 AM on January 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

In almost all cases, I assume the person answering the phone will ask for the information they need, and I don't give it until they ask for it.


I answer phones... sometimes I need your info to answer your question sometimes I don't. I won't waste your time asking for it unless I need it.
posted by Jahaza at 7:56 AM on January 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I want to make people happier even if I have stuff they need to do for me (which usually makes people sadder, quite understandably.)

I usually use the smile + good [time of day] approach advocated above.

"Smog center, how can I help you?"

"Good morning. I was in your shop yesterday and..."
posted by colin_l at 7:56 AM on January 8, 2013

Try to pare the reason for your call down to an absolute bare minimum of words; my instinct when calling customer service is to front load as many details as I can (thinking it might help get right down to business), but it rarely works that way. For example, if I start off by saying,

"Good morning, I'm calling because I have a Widgetmaster 4000 and when I put the Frob setting to 'medium' flames shoot out the side, but only when I'm holding it upside down," the nonplussed customer service rep will almost always take it back to square one and ask, "So you're having trouble with your Widgetmaster 4000?" and right off the bat I feel awkward and like I might have annoyed them.

So I've been trying to start with the basics:

"Good morning, I'm calling because I'm having some trouble with my Widgetmaster 4000."

and it's definitely smoother sailing.
posted by usonian at 8:04 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I just favorited everyone who said, essentially, say as little as possible in politely describing the reason you are calling, and then let them ask you what they need to know, in the order they need to hear it, in order to help you. So I say "Hi, I have a question about X." Or "Hi, I'd like to order an X please." Or "Hi, I'm calling because my X is broken." If it's something complicated or I don't know if I have the right department I'll say something like "Hi, I'm not sure if you are the person I need to talk to, but my X is being all Y and Z, can you help me with that?"

I only tell them my name upfront if they know me and my calling them is a regular thing, or if I'm calling in some kind of professional capacity.

This may be a regional difference, but I save all the pleasantries for the end of the conversation once the business has been done. (Thanks for your help, have a nice day, etc.) I mean, I try to be pleasant throughout the call, but I feel like it's a waste of their time if I start off with "How are you, how's the weather, blah blah." If they have that stuff built into their script at the start or they are just naturally like that, I will go along, but I wouldn't initiate it myself.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:33 AM on January 8, 2013

Just to add--if you have a HUGE problem that the first customer service rep won't be able to handle, I usually jump right in and say I need to speak to your boss. If I'm shaking with rage, I'll admit that I'm majorly ticked off and while I don't want to unleash my anger at them, I do require being passed up the chain of command. Usually works well with this phrase "You don't get paid enough to deal with someone like me".
posted by Ideefixe at 8:53 AM on January 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I take support calls all day long. I think others have nailed what to say initially, but when you finally get to a support person (if that's what you need) you might need an additional piece. I like it when people just fill in the blanks:

"When I tried to ____, I expected to get _____, but instead I got ______."

Following this procedure lets me know if it's a problem with your expectation (training), or if it's a physical-problem (repair or reconfiguration). We can use that as a starting point for further questions.

Spelling out the phase of the moon, what color pants you're wearing, or anything else that you might mistakenly think is relevant can wait until after you fill in those blanks.
posted by Wild_Eep at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2013

My default is to get to the point, and include just enough detail so the other person can figure out if they're able to help me: "Hi, I have a question about my butt." If I'm calling a customer service line or if I don't know the person on the other end, this is how I go.

If I think the person on the other line is a receptionist, or they answer "How may I direct your call?" I may add: "Hi, I have a question about my butt. Can you connect me to the butt department?"

If I have identifying information that will help the person on the other line: "Hi, I was in your store yesterday afternoon getting my butt fixed" or "Hi, I'm calling about butt account 24601."

If it's business-related, I'll introduce myself: "Hi, this is Metroid Baby from the Space Science Academy. I'm calling about the Academy's butt."

If I'm calling a specific person, I'll greet them: "Hey Pikachu, it's Metroid Baby. How are you?...Why, pika pika to you too! Well, I was wondering if you could help me with my butt." I generally follow the other person's lead, conversation-wise.

I always aim to be nice, but I save the conversational extras for when there's a personal relationship to be built. If I'm talking someone who answers phones for a living and start out with irrelevant chatter, they might be thinking, "ugh, who's this Murgatroyd Bagel dork? I think she's trying to butter me up to get some sort of secret discount. Come on, I've got five calls in the queue! GET. TO. THE. POINT. Shit, I knew it, she's another one of those defective-butt people. Why do they keep calling the boobs department?" I've had a few jobs answering phones full-time, and we're not looking for genuine connection with each call, we just want the day to go by without too much hassle. Be pleasant, but you don't need to take it upon yourself to brighten our day.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:05 AM on January 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've been told that I'm good at making these kinds of phone calls. I always say "Hi, my name is k8lin. I'm hoping that you can help me out with this problem/issue/question I have." Then, I tell them the problem briefly, or I answer whatever questions they have about me first (my social security number, mother's maiden name, whatever).

The smiling while I talk really helps. I also make a point to remember the person's name, and to thank them by name whether or not they gave me what I wanted or needed.

Whenever they apologize ("I'm sorry the computer is slow" or "That must be really frustrating; I'm sorry") I always say something about how it's not their fault, or that these things happen and I understand.

I think that being good at this sort of thing is mostly a matter of "don't be mean". I think about how the person on the other end of the line has to eat, and probably has to feed a family, and how awful it must be to get yelled at all day - or at least to always be concerned that the next caller will yell. So I try to treat the person on the other end like I would treat someone I worked with: with respect, decency, and a smile.
posted by k8lin at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2013

If I'm talking to someone I know personally or deal with regularly:

"Hi, it's Rebecca (+any other identifiers needed), how are you?" Followed by as much interchange of pleasantries as seems appropriate given our relationship/how busy we both are/the urgency of the issue before I get to the point of the call.

If it's someone I don't know personally:

"Hello I'm calling from and I'd like to talk to someone about/am hoping you can help me with/need you to..."
posted by *becca* at 3:26 PM on January 8, 2013

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