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I recently graduated from college and started working. Before starting work, I had almost never received any calls from anyone I did not know personally - and when I did it was usually just a wrong number. So my usual greeting was just a simple

"Hallo", "Yo", "Whatsup"

or some such casual phrase.

Since starting work I've started getting all kinds of phone calls from clients, companies for whom I opened accounts, banks etc. and I've noticed that my usual greeting does not do the 'trick'. It usually starts with some confusion as I verify I am who the caller wants to speak to.

Below is an example of how such a call usually starts

Me: "Hallo"

Caller: "Good day, can I please speak to Carel Nel?"

Me: "Yes?"

(awkward silence for a moment)

Me: "err.. Yes, that is me?"

(both sides start saying something at the same time)

Me: "Yes. I am Carel Nel"

and then the call continues as usual. The thing is, I'm a little awkward in my vocal communication skills and think it would be easier on myself to work out a greeting now and memorize it for use. I've been thinking something along the lines of:

"Good day, this is Carel Nel speaking, how may I assist you?"

This, however, sounds ridiculous to me: like I'm a person at a call center.

Any suggestions? If it makes any difference, I work as a software developer.

Edit:

As requested, I now add my current country of residence: South Africa. I'll also add that I work in a government organization in Cape Town. As such, most of the 'clients' I interact with are within the organization, across different departments etc.

  • Does the organization have a standard protocol for answering the phone? Many do. – tomjedrz Sep 11 '14 at 17:43
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    Just curious, have you ever called a company on the phone and paid attention to how they answer? Do you sit next to someone at work where you can hear them answer the phone? Location, industry and company preference are going to be biggest factors. Don't rely on movies or you'll be saying, "This is Buddy, what's your favorite color." – user8365 Feb 8 '15 at 15:23
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How to convey that you are the person they are asking for

I think the main reason for the confusion is not the initial greeting, but the "Yes?" It's unclear whether you mean "Yes, go ahead" or "Yes, I'll just go get him for you," which is why you're getting that split-second hesitation as they try to work out what you meant.

The normal way of replying when they have asked to speak to you is to say, "Speaking."

This can be short:

"Can I speak to John Smith, please?"
"Speaking."
"Ah, hi John. Can you help me with...?"

Or longer:

"Can I speak to John Smith, please?"
"John Smith speaking. How can I help you?"
"I was actually looking for information about..."

You could also substitute in

This is John Smith.

or

You've reached John Smith.

instead of the "John Smith speaking." above.

How to answer the phone professionally

As to your actual question, a common way of answering the phone in a professional environment would be:

Good morning/afternoon. ABC Systems, John speaking. How can I help?

Sometimes people just say

Good morning/afternoon. ABC Systems.

and this is also acceptable, but the "How can I help?" sounds more approachable to the customer in my opinion.

If you are a bigger company with lots of branches you might also add the location:

Good afternoon. ABC Systems Edinburgh. How can I help?

You could substitute Hi instead of "Good morning" if you are more comfortable with that; sounding comfortable and friendly is most important.

Bear in mind that even if you say "John speaking" or "John Smith speaking", they might not catch your name and will still ask to speak to John Smith. Then you just follow the advice in my first section.

Answering the phone on a direct line

From the fact that you said people were asking for you by name I assumed you were answering the main phones. In this instance, you are the face of the company and need to be more formal and accommodating.

If, however, you're answering a direct line to you only, you can answer a bit differently.

For an external call, I'd still use the company name and your name - it's a way of letting the caller know they've reached the right place (or the wrong one!). You could drop the time-of-day greeting and the "How can I help?" though if you prefer. As I mentioned, those are more for when you are the "face of the company".

So, instead:

ABC Systems, John speaking.

or even simply

Hello, this is John.

For an internal call (which usually have a different ringing sound - ask someone if you don't know the difference between the different phone tones), you obviously wouldn't use the company name. "Hello?" would probably be fine for an internal call as well, especially in a small company.

A few more tips

A lot of this varies depending on the work environment, your company, and the type of people who ring you. You will have to use judgement as to how much of a greeting to use.

If you're still unsure, I would recommend:

  • Listening to how other people in your company answer the phone and the level of formality that they use. This helps you determine what the company culture is like and what's appropriate. You don't need to say exactly the same as them, but it should give you a rough guide if you're unsure.
  • Listening to how customers greet you on the phone. If it's mostly people you've met in person, they'll probably be more familiar than strangers you've never spoken to before. If the majority of your callers are one or the other you can adjust your phone manner accordingly.

As I mentioned in the opening section, I think it's the "Yes?" not the "Hello?" that's the problem, so if you wanted to stick with the "Hello" and simply change how you communicate that you are the person they've asked for, that would probably be fine.

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    It has always fascinated me how the way to greet people on the phone differs from country to country. In the netherlands for example up till the age of mobile phones with caller ID's it was normal to always say "Good afternoon with John Smith", whereas in the US – David Mulder Apr 29 '14 at 0:34
  • @DavidMulder Whereas in the US...? – starsplusplus Apr 29 '14 at 7:56
  • That's so weird, I am absolutely sure I did not submit that comment... oh well, wanted to say ' whereas in the US my calls are picked up with something like "Hi!" and in middle europe always with something along the lines of "Please?"' – David Mulder Apr 29 '14 at 11:54
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    At home, yes, @starsplusplus. In work, they're usually asking for someone else, so I'll say, "Can I tell them who's calling?" Then I can hand the phone to someone with a name. – TRiG Oct 21 '14 at 15:09
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    @starsplusplus When someone calls my phone and I don't recognize voice: "Hello, can I speak with [name]?" the response is always "May I ask who is calling?" If they didn't tell me who they are before asking for who they want to talk to, it's almost always a telemarketer. – nhgrif Feb 8 '15 at 15:27
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I almost always answer the phone by saying "Hi, this is Joe", or "This is Joe".

It seems to ensure the person who call me that they are indeed speaking to who they think they are.

I know people who say things such as "Company ABC Telecommunications Department, Steve speaking.", which is fine, but for me it seems a little bit too formal. If you are a customer representative or someone who is interfacing with customers of the company, then it is likely best to be more formal.

  • I never answer the phone like that. Then again my name isn't Joe... – rath Sep 7 '18 at 13:20
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I tend to be terse:

If most of the calls come from the outside, I'd say

"ABC Systems"

I usually don't append "good morning" or "good afternoon" because I have a regrettable tendency to lose track of time when I am working on something that requires my full attention.

I am guessing that you did not recognize your name "Carel Nel" because you were stressed and the reason you were stressed is that you were preoccupied about what to say next - If I have to consciously think about what my name, birth date, age, address, my mind simply goes blank :)

You definitely need to come up with a professional greeting that you are comfortable with and that does the job for you, which is to redirect errant calls away from you. I am suggesting "ABC Systems" because that's where you work, and you should be able to say where you work without over-thinking it and over-stressing about it :) After the initial greeting, just let the other party speak and take the lead - after all, they know what they want and you don't - and go with the flow :)

One more time (and you already know it) - this is not your home but your place of work. You can greet people at home any way you want but at work, you are the voice of the company when you pick up a call. Hence the necessity that your greeting be professional and representative of the company. You don't have to play receptionist if after the greeting, you can refer all incoming calls except the obviously wrong number calls to the receptionists - They are trained to take incoming calls and route them as appropriate. You are not trained and if it's any consolation to you, I am not either - In the words of my favorite actor Clint Eastwood: "...A man's got to know his limitations..." :)

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Personally, I think you're really over-thinking the issue. Be polite and friendly. For example:

Me: "Hello"

Caller: "Good day, can I please speak to Carel Nel?"

Me: "Speaking. Who's this?"

Caller: Identifies self. Conversation begins.

Or if you're starting the conversation:

Me: "Hello"/"Hiya/Hi", is this [some random name]?

Them: "It is, yes" or some equivalent

Me: "Hi, how are you - this is Carel Nel, I'm calling from such and such" or if internal: "This is Carel Nel round in" such and such a department.

Remember - its your tone and intonation that will matter a lot as well. I'm not advocating saying "yo" or "whassup", but if you answer the phone by saying "Hello", "Carel Nel", "Carel Nel speaking" or some other greeting similar you'll be fine. Both of you are wanting to get to business and as a fellow Software Developer I know how busy the work can be. Don't make it awkward or difficult, just identify yourself and let the conversation begin.

One thing I would say though - although others have suggested it, and this is a purely personal opinion, I despise something along these lines "Hello, this is Carel Nel, how can I help you today?".

Perhaps it's because I work in telecommunications and have had a lot of experience dealing with call centres, but it sounds mechanic and robotic to me. Maybe it's my Irishness and the fact I want to have some personality come out, but I just despite this approach! Instead, just say "hello", don't be afraid to be yourself, always remain professional and you'll be just fine.

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    When being the one who initiated the call, in many cases it will be appropriate for you to tell the receiver who you are before you ask for who you want to talk to you. – nhgrif Feb 8 '15 at 15:30
  • I agree with @nhgrif. When I get a call and the caller doesn't identify him or herself, and immediately asks who they are talking to, I assume it's a telemarketer. – DaveG Sep 7 '18 at 13:25
  • @DaveG In cases like that, I always ask them who they are before identifying myself. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Sep 7 '18 at 16:00
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Quick point: Many telemarketers will ask "May I talk to John Smith" even though you answered the phone with "Hello, this is John Smith"... because their autodialer doesn't put a human on the line until it's reasonably sure it won't be wasting their time with an answering machine. If I hear a click followed by "May I speak to...", I do assume it's a telemarketer and respond with "May I ask who is calling" -- they should have identified themselves before asking to speak to me anyway. This gives me a chance to find out who they are before confirming my identity, and hang up on them.

(In fact, I've been tempted to program up an answering machine which automates this sequence, since it's a reliable enough pattern that I think it actually could be made into a successful filter.)

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    I never answer my cell with anything other than "Hello" unless I know exactly who is on the other end. Actually, it's rare I answer my cell at all unless I know who it is. I really don't like cold calls. – NotMe Feb 7 '15 at 22:21
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    Yeah, I've got a telemarketer who's called me several times this week with that same pattern. I think next time after I give my name, and then they ask for me by that very same name, I'll say, "Ok, I'll go get him", and then put down the phone and go get coffee. – Jay Jul 22 '15 at 13:26
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I always answer the phone by giving my name, like, "Hello, this is John Smith" or "Hello, John Smith speaking". If I'm using a phone with caller ID and it's someone I know calling, I'll often just give my first name.

If the person didn't catch my name and asks for me, I'll repeat my name. I've had plenty of conversations that go something like this:

"Hello, John Smith speaking."

"Can I speak to John Smith please."

"Yes, John Smith speaking."

I rarely get calls from clients, but if I'm answering a work phone and I know it's an outside call or it might be an outside call, I'll say, "XYZ Company, John Smith speaking."

Some companies have long scripts they expect someone to follow when answering the phone, like, "Hello, XYZ Company, your source for all the best widgets and foobars, open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with service throughout the greater metropolitan area. This call may be recorded for training purposes. My name is John Smith, and I will be happy to serve you in any way possible. What is the purpose of your call today?" Personally these annoy the heck out of me when I have to listen to them. I've had a few times the company has given me such a script, and I've always ignored it and nobody cares. But I'm sure there are jobs where you could be fired for not following the script.

protected by mcknz Sep 7 '18 at 16:27

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