Telephone Manners

10/22/2011 11:01 am ET | Updated Dec 22, 2011
  • Ira Neimark Former chairman and CEO, Bergdorf Goodman

Have you noticed that as dress codes eroded over the past few years, telephone manners have deteriorated as well? One of the telltale signs of rudeness is made by someone who does not respond after a reasonable length of time to a phone message awaiting a reply. This usually indicates how important or unimportant the recipient feels about the caller. This would rarely happen in a person-to-person meeting, which would be considered a snub. Bad form.

Another bad habit has developed. A secretary or a receptionist, when asking you," Who is calling?" and you respond with your name, replies, "One moment, please," using your first name. When that occurs, I ask the receptionist or the secretary, "Do I know you?" the usual reply is a hesitant "Sorry," or some other weak excuse, as he or she likely has not been trained properly or doesn't know any better.

As progress moves far ahead, Alexander Graham Bell would never have dreamed of cell phones or the misuse of them when he made that first, famous phone call to Mr. Watson. There is no question cell phones are as necessary for communication as cars are to transportation. However, it is bad form, and in some cities, illegal, to blow the car horn, annoying other drivers, pedestrians, and neighborhoods. Again, using a cell phone in an area disturbing to others telegraphs a lack of manners, possibly reflecting a poor upbringing, and displaying indifference to the immediate surroundings.

No one wants to be thought of as having a poor upbringing. However, there are those who show that lack loud and clear (no pun intended) by displaying little or no consideration for the people within their hearing range.

Possibly not considered bad telephone manners, but just as irritating, is hearing the answering machine at the other end requiring the caller to "Press one, two, three," and so on to reach the designated party. It would seem that successful businesspeople of yore understood the importance of their customers by employing telephone operators making connections to people or departments in that business. Today, unfortunately, too many financial people wield their influence by cutting costs and salaries by having computer programs and computer-generated voices do the work. Thus, the disconnect to customers many times over. In the process, not only did the professional salespeople disappear but courteous telephone operators also became a vanished breed as well.

It is puzzling that successful businesses spend millions and millions of advertising dollars to develop favorable and identifiable images. They then throw much of that away, frustrating and angering their customers by forcing them to run through an endless loop of pushing buttons to discourage them from speaking with a person and the company harboring the added "expense" that entails.

Customers who are valued assets should be greeted by a person at the other end who reflects the company's desired image.

Lessons Learned:

  • To greet customers by their (proper) name has many advantages.
  • In the past and today, most people in our society attempt to show considerations in social situations. However, there are those among us who unfortunately have not been taught at home or at school that certain social situations require good manners. The same applies to businesses that have forgotten the importance of the human touch.
To read more from Ira Neimark, check out The Rise of Fashion and Lessons Learned at Bergdorf Goodman (Fairchild Books).