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#172: Phone Etiquette

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Sometimes I need to take a cell phone call during a client meeting. Isn't this OK if I announce in advance that I am expecting an important call?

In some situations, some consultants (wrongly) feel that disclosure alone is enough to absolve you of unethical behavior. In the same way, saying you have an important call does not make it right. The message you are sending, although probably unintended, is very simple - "Taking this call is more important to me than the discussion we are currently having, so I need to interrupt our discussion right this minute so that I can take it." How would you feel if someone who was supposed to be advising you couldn't be bothered to stay focused on your issues?

Tip: Silence your cell phone (or set it to vibrate, if necessary) prior to going into a meeting. If you are expecting a phone call that you must absolutely take, inform the caller ahead of time that you will note when he or she calls and get back to them when you take a break. This shouldn't be more than an hour. When you are afforded a break, politely excuse yourself and handle the call as quickly as possible.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  goodwill 

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Comments on this post...

Alan Headbloom says...
Posted Monday, November 16, 2009
I wouldn't feel offended in any way if someone said they were expecting a call. But, I like your advice to silence your phone making note of when they call and getting back to them as soon as possible.

Unless it's an emergency, if you are with a client, that person should be your total focus. Plain & simple, it's an interruption that is imposed on your client. When you 'take' a call while meeting with a client - the cost of the call is doubled to your client - you have wasted client time & focus (cost/financial value of his time plus what he is paying you). Also, if you are waiting for a call, part of your brain sits in reserve listening/feeling for the upcoming call - which means that your mind is not totally engaged in the moment with your client.

Better to let the "caller(s)" know in advance or on your message that you will return the call immediately after your meeting.

One last thought, if you ask the client if they mind if you take a call during the meeting, rarely will they say "no" but you never know if that becomes a mark against you in their mental black book. I have worked with clients who have made comments to me about other’s actions or lack of professionalism but they do not voice that to the person directly (believe me: I hear a lot being a time management & organizing professional). So, it's something to think about -
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Alan Headbloom says...
Posted Monday, November 16, 2009
These comments, both above and below, are from members of my local LinkedIn group. As you'll see, people have passionate opinions. Alan
Taking a call in the middle of a meeting with a client interrupts your train of thought. It puts your mind on a different path. When you get back to your client, you must get back onto another path of discussion. It can be difficult stay on track and not forget where your were and what information you have given your client. No matter how good your intentions, you are in a meeting and should take calls after the meeting. This could be different with drop-in clients, but you should give them your full attention, too, if at all possible.
To me, that is not an option. It is your client's time not yours.
This question reminds me of why I don't like Call Waiting. Someone is going to be the runner-up in the People's Choice Award.

There is not a clear cut answer since ultimately the choice is contingent on so may variables.

In most cases, I prefer not to take a call when meeting with others.

Part of this logic comes from the fact that I came into the era of cell phones and computers via land lines and typewriters. I appreciate face time so much more and when I get it with a client, I respect our time together. People can learn to slow down again...and still make a living. The planet has done it for years and we made it this far. LOL

Again, it really does depend.
It depends on the nature of the call. If it's a personal emergency -- a real emergency -- then I would say it's a call most clients would understand. However, every other kind of call can wait. If you have another call that can't wait, postpone your client meeting until you resolve the more important issue.
When a sales person takes a call while they're talking to me, they lose the sale. Period. If my business is so trivial to you that you feel you can interrupt me with anything else that comes along then you don't deserve my business. I don't care if its at a retail counter or in an executive business meeting, if you want your client's business then you must have absolute respect for your client's time, which means your cell phone is off while you are in a meeting with your client.
No excuses.
My first reaction to this question is absolutely not to take the call. The client you are in front of is the most important client at that time - especially a potential new client. However, there are circumstances that are deemed critical. In the IT services world our phones ring constantly. Some of our clients cannot operate their businesses when their systems are down - this situation would be considered critical. So definitely warning a client a call may come in because it is critical is a must. We try to explain the situation a little - this informs our clients if they were in the same situation this is how they would be treated.

Non-Critical calls should go to voice mail (or the client should have a backup number to call)
This problem is no different than those annoying phone systems that beep calls into an office extension immediately interrupting a meeting or discussion or whatever may be going on. Suddenly the phone becomes the top priority in the room. This is incredibly rude but people have put up with it for years. If a loved one is dying or about to give birth, you shouldn't be in a meeting anyway. Simply turn your phone off and turn your total attention to your client. Handle calls during breaks or after the meeting ends. Pretty simple.
No...definitely not!
No, that's what voice mail and a return call (at a later time) are for.
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