Pestering Phones: Should they be answered during a meeting?

by epi on September 27, 2012

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.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry September 27, 2012 at 9:54 am

This is a problem that will resolve itself. One of a few things will happen:

1. The constant phone calls will interrupt client meetings, clients will get frustrated and leave, and the business will reevaluate its priorities. (I know I walk out of stores where the salesperson interrupts a discussion with me to pick up the phone.)

2. The constant phone calls will make staff meetings so unproductive that the business will quickly reverse its policy. (I know I turned down a job offer because the interviewer took a phone call during an interview.)

Oh, if the OP feels secure enough in her job, I’d consider ignoring the memo.


Jody September 27, 2012 at 10:51 am

I agree with Jerry’s last line.

If I were a client of this company, I would be highly offended at this policy. Even if the other person were taking a minute here or there to get a callback number, that’s that much less time he has to pay attention to me and my requests. I would be inclined to take my business elsewhere (assuming there’s a choice of companies) and let management know the reason. I would hope that management realizes the policy is the reason for losing business and not the company’s people.


Melanie October 8, 2012 at 10:57 am

No, it’s rude.. not to mention disruptive to both myself and others in the meeting. I ley any calls during meetings go to my answering service (FYI I use ). I would recommend getting an answering service to take a message – it’s more professional than voicemail.



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