Time-Management Tips for Incoming Phone Calls

businesswoman on the phone multitasking
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Inbound phone calls can eat up a lot of time and seriously decrease your productivity by pulling you away from other tasks. But just as there are ways of handling outgoing phone calls that will improve your time management, there are ways to trim the amount of time you spend on incoming calls. And you can do it without being rude to the person who's called you. These phone answering tips will make you more efficient and productive.

Answer With a Proper Business Phone Greeting

For instance, when answering the phone say something such as, "Cypress Technologies, Susan speaking. How may I help you?" This not only lets the caller know that they've reached a business but puts the onus on them to answer the question, saving time on idle chit-chat or exploratory questions such as, "Is this Cypress Technologies?"

Think and Prioritize as You Speak

Is the call best handled right now or later? Many of the phone calls businesses receive are quick inquiries that are easily answered, such as, "How late are you open?" But others involve more complex and time-consuming answers. If that's the case, tell the caller so, and ask when it would be convenient to call them back to discuss it.

Use Paraphrasing and Summarizing

If you're speaking to someone on the phone who seems to want to chat or stray from the point, say something such as, "So what I hear you saying is..." or "So the key points are..." or "Is (insert summary) a fair summary of what you were saying?" It's hard to be chatty with someone who refuses to chat.

Close Each Call With an Action Summary

While this will only take seconds in most cases, it can save you a lot of time by avoiding errors and the need to double-check. For instance, after a conversation during which you arranged a meeting with a client, you might say, "Good. I'll meet with you at your office at (insert location) at 10 a.m. tomorrow and we'll go over the samples together."

Keep a Message Pad by the Phones

This is not only good for time management and staying focused during the call, but also helpful for time management later if you need to find or review the details of a particular conversation.

Give Clients and Customers the Email Option

Given the option, any customers will choose an email over a phone call. Ensure that your company's email address is prominent on your business cards and on your website. If you have their email addresses, send email to your current clients and customers, mentioning the email option and presenting it as a way to improve communication.

Use Technology to Manage Your Phone Time

As a minimum, your business should have a voicemail. Set these up with appropriate business scripts, and use them to answer the telephone for you when you're out of the office or need to work on something uninterrupted. Then schedule a time to answer these phone messages each day. You'll gain valuable time by grouping phone calls together.

Have a Person Answer the Phone

Having said that, it's important not to rely too heavily on technology. Getting a machine—or worse, an automated interactive voice response (IVR) system—all the time is a real turn off that will cost you business when people don't bother to leave messages or call back. If answering incoming phone calls is taking up too much time during your day, consider hiring a receptionist or a professional answering service to answer the phone for you. The cost of having someone else do it may be more than offset by the increase in your productivity and better sales.

Get a Separate Business Line at Home

If you're operating a home-based business, you need to have a second business-only telephone with its own voicemail. Not only is this more professional, but it will save you the time it takes to wade through messages and determine which ones are business-related.

Keep a Written Script for Frequently Asked Questions

Have a short FAQ document handy for the most common questions you get on the phone. It saves you and your employees time if they don't have to search for answers or think about how to answer a particular request.

Master Your Phone

Remember, the phone is supposed to be a business tool, not an intrusive time-waster that rules your working day. Handling your inbound phone calls according to these time management tips will help you be more efficient, improve your productivity, and put your telephone back in its proper place—helping you run your business rather than running you ragged.