10 Telephone Tips for a Text Message Era

Millennials prefer texting, but phone skills remain essential.

November 15, 2016

If you’re a Millennial CPA, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that boxy thing on your desk by now. It probably has a coiled cord connecting one part to another. It makes noises like your smartphone, but it’s pretty dumb otherwise. It handles little more than audio chats and messages, and there’s no way for you to install apps.

You’re stuck with an old school telephone for the foreseeable future. But if you want to succeed in business, you need to master the fading art of phone etiquette, even in 2016.

Fortunately, help is only a couple of paragraphs away.

“We’re more comfortable with emailing or texting than we are picking up a phone,” said Sarah Villalon, CPA, accounting specialist at University of Alaska Foundation in Fairbanks who earned her accounting degree at the school in 2010. “We would rather email our boss than take the 10 steps down to his office. That’s what we’re more comfortable with, it’s not that it’s right or wrong. The partners are a lot more comfortable with picking up the phone and saying, ‘Hey, can you come down to my office?’”

Text messages first outpaced voice calls way back in 2007, according to a recent Slate article. Millennials have grown up and started their careers in a world dominated by written communication via text, email, and other forms of electronic messaging.

But messaging doesn’t always get the job done. Co-workers and clients, especially older ones, may prefer to speak by phone. Email may not convey the proper tone, particularly on sensitive issues. Being a well-rounded business professional means using a traditional telephone and voicemail.

Here are some tips for handling your telephone like a pro:

  • Use voicemail. Set up your voicemail and record a professional, personalized greeting. Rachel Wagner, founder and president of Rachel Wagner Etiquette and Protocol in Tulsa, Okla., offers this and other advice in her etiquette training sessions: “Millennials are so used to texting that they forget the real working world out there uses voicemail, whether it’s on their office phone or their personal phone.”
  • Be prompt. Try to respond to calls by the end of the day or within 24 hours at the latest, Wagner said. If you’ll need to do some digging in order to answer a question, let the other person know you’re working on it.
  • Identify yourself. When calling someone or leaving a message, give your first and last name, the name of your company, a brief explanation of why you’re calling, and a callback number, Wagner said.
  • Take it slowly. Don’t speak too fast, especially when leaving a voicemail, she said. Repeat your callback number more than once.
  • Err on the formal side. Always address the other person as Mr. or Ms., Wagner advises. Let them tell you if they’d rather be on a first-name basis.
  • Say please. Wagner recommended that if someone else answers, such as a receptionist, say, “May I please speak to….”
  • Ask before going to speakerphone. Sometimes it’s necessary to put a call on speaker so multiple people can participate. But always clear it first with the person on the other end of the line. “Make the connection, then ask if they would mind being put on speaker,” said Candice Meth, CPA, partner in the not-for-profit service group of EisnerAmper LLP in New York City. “Make sure they understand who else is in the room, and they’re comfortable with that.”  
  • When in doubt, call. If it’s clear you and a client are not on the same page during an email exchange, a phone call will probably help resolve any misunderstandings faster, according to Meth.
  • Don’t hang up first. Let the client dictate when the call ends. “If you hang up first, you’ll give the client the impression that you’re trying to hurry them off the phone,” Wagner said.
  • Follow suit. A client or co-worker who usually calls you rather than sending an email probably prefers to communicate by phone. “If the client called you and left you a voicemail, return the call,” Meth said. “Don’t shoot off an email unless there’s no other option. I really try to take my cues from the client.”

Eddie Huffman is a Greensboro, N.C.-based freelance writer. To comment on this story, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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