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Telephone etiquette

For some (even most) this area would too basic. I will probably be slated to raise this thread.

My staff has been on leave for the past few days and I have been answering the phone. I think I have turned away 2 potential clients through my poor telephone etiquette. First impressions as we all know are so important. Both the callers said they were looking for an accountant. Promised to call back, both the calls were not returned.

Like many I get more than my fair share of spam calls. So the next call I get I don't sound pleasant. I interrupt the callers while they are talking.

For an accountancy practice

  • What is good telephone etiquette?
  • At what stage should I take client contact details? Name, contact number, email and address

Just bear in mind I used to have a PA who use to take my calls.


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31st Aug 2011 21:39


Actually the attribute that is most useful in these circs is the ability to think on your feet.  Some possible clients want a very formal, square-cornered, business-like approach, some want a laidback, yeah-whatever casual approach and many stages in between.  It's a matter of matching up the verbal cues from the would-be client, to intuit what sort of person they are.  There is no such thing as standard telephone etiquette.

I'd say we have a conversion rate from phone enquiry to them verbally agreeing to become a client of around 80-90%, but then every nearly every phone call is as a result of a word-of-mouth recommendation.  We chat, I tell them how wonderful we are and then take a name and address to send out stuff, questionnaires, etc.  Very important to get a contact number so that you can follow up.

These days the world is phone-phobic.  No-one picks up a phone when they can put a barrier to real human contact in the form of a text or an email.  So like as not they'll be nervous as well as you.  So practice the old trick of smiling while you're talking to put yourself in a good mood and be more amiable.  Daft, but effective.


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31st Aug 2011 22:25


Listen very carefully to how they introduce themselves - if they are "formal" or "casual" gives you a clue. 

Be prepared to discuss their business problems, or how the local football team went on at the weekend.

Take time - half hour conversations with new prospects are not unusual (for me anyway).

Do NOT tell them how great you are, it sounds pretentious and frankly, desparate.  They want to know what you can do for them, they don't care what you do for others.

And above all, be yourself. If you give them a false impression they will only catch you out later, and probably leave.

And above all - relax. They called you. They therefore need an accountant, probably more than you need another client.

When I take calls like this I grab a coffee, light a cigarrette, put my feet up on the desk, and relax while we chat. The only notes I nake are their name, address, phone number.  The idea is to get to know them, and arrange for them to come in (or you go to them) to sign them up.




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01st Sep 2011 08:46

Just have a normal conversation!

Remember, people hate ringing a new accountant so be nice and friendly and you will already exceed their expectations. Like Spartacus, this first call might last 30 minutes with me too (provided the client wants to talk of course)! Get them to talk and understand what their motivation is. Don't get hooked up on whether they are a time waster or not ... that will become clear when you give them the time to talk.

Sure I might have wasted a bit of time over the years and possibly discussed things in a greater depth than is advisable but I have also converted 90%+ of everyone I have ever spoken to in to a client.

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01st Sep 2011 10:26

Prospect calls to you

I have every sympathy with you. It may not be your telephone technique at all that is to blame.

Recently 2 such prospects have wasted vast tracts of my time. In retrospect I can only assume that one was a disguised timewaster. The other one probably had undisclosed issues with a fellow director that could only have been covered by me discussing things direct with the other person.

In all other respects at the time of the discussions I thought there would have been a good relationship going forward and that these would have been of the same high calibre as all my other tried and trusted clients.

In conclusion, there are prospects who don't really want to make a change, that hide facts that would help you to persuade them and no matter how good your technique you are on a hiding to nothing. There are often interpersonal issues between directors that you only get to know about when you're actually working for the company.

If you really are concerned about your telephone technique, get another PA - it could work out to be very cost-effective from what you've said.




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By Old Greying Accountant
01st Sep 2011 11:00

Always answer ...

... Ahoy hoy.

If they don't understand they do not watch the Simpsons and therefore do not deserve to be your client.


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07th Sep 2011 13:09


Old Greying Accountant wrote:
... Ahoy hoy.

If they don't understand they do not watch the Simpsons and therefore do not deserve to be your client.

...or don't know their history :) Alexander Graham Bell - inventor of said device - initially used Ahoy (as used on ships) as a greeting.

For aside fun (amused me anyway) see also:

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By Old Greying Accountant
07th Sep 2011 13:50

Which is the whole point of Mr Burns using it

richardpoulter wrote:

Old Greying Accountant wrote:
... Ahoy hoy.

If they don't understand they do not watch the Simpsons and therefore do not deserve to be your client.

...or don't know their history :) Alexander Graham Bell - inventor of said device - initially used Ahoy (as used on ships) as a greeting.

For aside fun (amused me anyway) see also:


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01st Sep 2011 15:48

Call answering

Why not use a call answering service to take calls on your behalf. They can ask relevant questions and you will get an email/ message from which you can assess which calls are worth acting on.

I use JAM to take calls when I am not around and it really does help my business.


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07th Sep 2011 13:45

Return calls

Why do you need to return calls? Once the phone has interrupted me I usually chat to establish whether it is worth meeting with them. I never quote fees on the phone and people understand that a builder won't quote without seeing the work. People seem to value the time I spend with them in a meeting more than they value the accounts so I aim to make an appointment.

The only exception to quoting fees is if I suspect that somebody is a timewaster and I want to get them off the phone quickly.

Formal or informal is dictated by the way callers introduce themselves as the others have said. Always keep it professional. I have a similar conversion rate so it seems to work.

You mention failing to return calls. This is a cardinal sin in my books and I aim to return all calls within 2 hours even if just to say that I'll ring them at X o'clock to discuss something properly.

I use Answer It who can take messages or intercept any coldcallers. Clients have complimented me on how professional my new "receptionist" is. You can use them for holiday cover when your usual PA is away.

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14th Sep 2011 11:51

Cold Callers

I find it easy to spot the cold callers;

 - when you answer listen for background hubub

 - sometimes there is a short delay before they start talking

 - caller ID is normally withheld

Any or all of these can indicate that they are calling from a call centre.  My abrupt response is that I do not take sales calls, don't call again and please remove my number from their database.  Calls normally last 10 seconds, maximum.  But then again I can be a grumpy sod....


The failure of potential clients to call back?  Don't beat yourself up about it, this could be due to any number of factors, I suspect that your telephone manner is unlikely to be the problem.  Most potential clients calling in are on a trawl through Google (or Yellow Pages - but does anyone still use Yellow Pages, or more to the point would good quality clients use Yellow Pages?)  so you will be one of a few calls that they are making.  Perhaps you have just been unlucky with those two.



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