Telephone Skills

by Babs Moore

Using the telephone functions

Many telephone systems (and mobiles) have an increasing amount of functionality which has the potential to enhance the efficiency of their users, if only they understood the system. Part of being good at using the telephone is to understand the system, and know how to use the system.

Read the manual

This may appear to be stating the obvious, but the best way to learn about using the system is often to read the manual. Also, functions tend to be forgotten if not used, so it is usually beneficial to have a refresher read of the manual every few months.


A basic training should be provided for new hires, explaining how to get the most out of the telephone system. In addition, occasional peer-to-peer training can be useful, enabling those who use the system well to pass on their knowledge and encourage others to use the system better.

What functions work well for you or your team?

This will vary from team to team and department to department.

  • Ring back is only useful if you are likely to be there to take the call.
  • Know how to add in a third person to a call, practising with colleagues before using this facility for an important external call.
  • Use voicemail to the full (see Using voicemail).
  • Understand how to make international calls (do you need to go through the switchboard, for example) and also how to limit who can make such calls, if appropriate.
  • Divert functions can be very effective, especially to allow direct calls to go to another specific person immediately if someone is away from their desk. As with most functions, overuse can be inappropriate.
  • Juggling between calls (often part of call-waiting systems) can be useful, especially when you are waiting for an important call, but take care not to lose a call in the process or cause offence by leaving someone hanging on the line with no one to speak to.
  • Mute (or hold) functions are very useful when you need to check something off line and wish to avoid anything inappropriate being overheard. The person on the other end should be warned that they are being put on hold, so they know the line will go quiet (or to music)
  • Last number redial is a good time saver.
  • Storing regularly used numbers in the telephone or telephone system can speed up dialling and significantly reduce time wasted looking up numbers; some systems also offer speed dialling, reducing the amount of keys that need to be pressed for frequently-used numbers
  • Hands-free phones allow others to hear calls while freeing up both hands, if required. Unfortunately, there is usually an increase in the amount of background noise that is heard on the other end of the line.

Automated menu systems

More complex telephone systems can provide automated answering services where the caller listens to a series of options through multileveled menus before the call is directed to the correct person. These can greatly increase the efficiency of call answering, if used well. However, for best effects the menu systems need to be well set up, with clear instructions together with an easily audible voice. Such systems are often unpopular with callers and their use needs to be monitored carefully.