Q: We have a bit of a conundrum here at the office. A memo went out telling everyone to answer their phone each time it rings, no matter who is meeting with you in your office. Our business is always flooded with phone calls, so I generally try to answer the phone and quickly take a call-back number if possible. Looking at the flip side, however, I know I’d be offended if I scheduled a meeting and the person I was meeting with kept interrupting our conversation to answer the phone. I feel as if the person in front of me is most important, since he or she has invested time to come see me. Is it proper client etiquette to interrupt meetings by answering incoming calls in this way.
A: In a word, no it isn’t. It sounds like there’s a problem with calls going unanswered in your office, which translates into lost business for your company. That is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. However, the solution is not to require everybody in the office to be rude to people who are there in person. Other solutions could include scheduling different people to cover the phones so that no calls are missed, or hiring a receptionist to answer the phones, or installing an automated voice system. While I favor having a live voice answer the phone, I understand the economics that drive some businesses to opt for a phone answering system. The way you feel about current policy is the way people visiting your offices will feel. To minimize discomfort, explain up front that you’ll need to answer any calls that come in, and that you’ll be as brief as possible. When someone calls, simply ask for a call-back number and then politely end the call by saying, “Mr. Smith, thank you for calling. I’m meeting with someone now, but I’ll get back to you right after the meeting.” Then be sure to return the call.