Over 154 Years of Service to the Furniture Industry
 Furniture World Logo

Golden Rules Of Retail Furniture Store Telephone Communications

Furniture World Magazine


A complete guide to the art of keeping customers on the line, calm, receptive and ready to listen to what customer service & sales associates have to say.

“…When speaking by telephone, it is extremely  important to make your voice sound cheerful and friendly.” - Raymond V. Lesikar and Marie E. Flatley, Basic Business Communication

1. Start each day before you arrive at work with positive self-talk.

2. Keep a note pad handy in order to record important information for yourself and to pass on to others.

3. Assume that every caller has value.

4. Use the telephone to build bridges, not walls between you and the caller.

5. Every telephone call is a “moment of truth”.

6. Always put a smile in your voice.

7. During every call, be mindful of the five keys identified by researcher Doctor Berry and his team that callers use to evaluate you: reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy, and tangibles, such as your voice quality.

8. If you are new on the job, and a caller asks for information or asks a question about which you are uncertain, do not excuse yourself by saying you are new on the job. Instead, say something like the following: “Let's have you talk to “person’s name” who handles matters like that. Kindly hold while I connect you to him (her). May I have your telephone number, in case we should be disconnected?”

9. Remember the words of authors Dennis Becker and Paula Borkum Becker: “The telephone is your most important business machine.”

10. Keep in mind the statement Stephin Bartolin Jr., likes to use as President of Broadmore: “We'll only be as successful as our employees allow us to be, and we live by that.”

11. Also be mindful of what author Kristin Anderson states in her book, Great Customer Service on the Telephone: “Great service is something you do with and for customers, never to them.”

12. Remember the two things Kristin Anderson says callers expect from you: “Show respect, and have a good reason for being at the end of the line.”

13. No matter how the caller starts out - with a question, a statement, or an objection - listen empathetically and non-judgmentally.

14. If the General Manager is in, an employee answering a caller whose first words are, “May I speak to the General Manager, please?” should not reply, “May I ask whose calling, please?” Instead, the caller will appreciate hearing something like the following: “Mr. “such and such” is in. Might I tell him (her) the nature of your call so that he can determine if someone else is better able to handle it?” Emphasis is on the word better. In this way you avoid leaving the caller feeling that your screening of callers is based on discrimination. Should the caller still insist on talking to the General Manager, honor the caller's insistence. However, let the General Manager know that the customer insists on talking with him (her). Naturally, the General Manager and whoever answers calls for him must have their act together beforehand.

15. Whenever you sense that you will take a moderately long time in order to get the information the caller is asking for, first let the caller know approximately how long it will take you to get the information. Then ask the caller if he or she prefers to hold or to have you call back. Of course, if the caller prefers you call back, ask for his or her telephone number.

16. Regarding the use of wireless telephone, follow these rules stated in Basic Business Communication: Skills for Empowering the Internet Generation (paraphrased).

  • Wherever it may be annoyingly disruptive to others, turn off the ringer.
  • Do not make use of your wireless telephone while you are in a meeting.
  • Keep your wireless telephone turned off and hidden at meetings.
  • Keep your wireless telephone turned off while you are working with a customer.
  • Whenever you are within the hearing distance of others, do not engage in personal conversations,  especially in conversations with a customer.
  • Keep your voice moderately low whenever you are within the hearing distance of others.

Note: Keep in mind that you should follow the same rules of courtesy when using a wireless telephone that you follow when using the company telephones.

17. Use open probes when you want to encourage the caller to elaborate on information he or she has just given you.

18. When you find yourself on the telephone with a long-winded caller that gets off-track about non-business matters, use closed probes to get the caller back to business, but do so politely. “Mr. Jones what you just brought up reminds me of the situation you are calling about. Mind repeating your main concern about shopping for your sofa?”

19. Do not mix an open with a closed probe in quick succession. When you do that, the closed probe will tend to negate the open probe, as in the following example: “What kind of information do you need? Is it about our return policy?” Simply skip the closed probe.

20. In dealing with the caller's problems, work to fix the problem, not the blame.

21. No matter how negative the caller may be, remain positive yourself.

22. Look upon your telephones as solid gold. They are!

23. Do your best to handle the caller's situation by yourself, if you can. Callers get irritated the more individuals you pass them over to.

24. When you take a call for someone else, write down all the information that someone else would appreciate having.

25. With outside callers, it is better to make your opening words “How may I help you?” rather than “May I help you?”

26. Always keep in mind that all callers are persons in need of your information and assistance.

27. Always answer your callers promptly, courteously, and enthusiastically, in a voice that communicates to the caller that you are prepared to be of service.

28. No outside call from a customer or prospect is free; each of those callers is the result of your organization's cost of and effort in having done business over the years.

29. No caller is an interruption of business; every call is the only reason your company is in business.

30. Much more than the words you use, your telephone voice - its energy, rate of speech, and pitch - announces how ready you are to be of service.

31. Always put a warm, genuine smile in your voice. Callers can hear, see, and feel that smile.

32. Listen for the emotional meaning (feelings) in your caller's words and not just the logical meaning of their words.

33. Listen with empathy, that is, keep the focus on the caller's reasons for calling you.

34. Every caller's call has feelings in it. By acknowledging those specific feelings you communicate that you really care.

35. Never interrupt the caller.

36. When customers call with a problem, make it your problem. Callers tend to think of their problem as your problem, that is, yours to fix.

37. When you end a call, instead of saying “If you should have any problems, please call me” say, “If you should have any questions or concerns, please call me.”

38. Never hang up on an upset or rude caller.

39. Infer a positive need in every caller's objection; by inferring that need, you tend to win the caller's agreement instead of fighting the objection.

40. Remember Harvey Mackay's words: “People [Callers] don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

41. Remember Michael Nichol's words, “All human beings yearn to be listened to.” Listen to each caller.

42. Those who listen tend to be listened to. Such is the law of reciprocity. Therefore, listen to your callers.

43. Look upon each call as an opportunity to be of service. Reflect on Ralph Waldo Emerson's words: “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man [no woman] can sincerely try to help another without helping himself [herself].

44. Use closed probes when you need the caller to respond with specific, limited information.

45. Whenever the situation calls for confirming, use a closed probe to confirm your understanding of what your customer tells you.

46. Never tell a customer you have “a customer” on hold; instead, say you have “another customer” on hold. The difference between the two is significant.

47. When you are working with a customer, and a call comes in for you, ask the customer's permission to answer the call. Customers appreciate such courtesy; they will always give you their permission to answer the other caller.

48. Ask the second caller's permission to call him or her back. Never say “I have an important call on the other line.” By saying that, the one calling you might assume that you don't consider his or her call important. Instead say something like the following: “I'm presently assisting another caller. May I please take your name and number and call you back? I promise to call you as soon as I have finished assisting the other caller.”

49. Whenever you are engaged in a telephone conversation that is non-business, do not put that person on hold if you get a call. Simply tell the non-business caller you'll call back. If you keep the non-business caller on hold, your mind will be on that person rather than on the business-caller.

50. Keep your non-business related callers to a minimum both as to number and time. Your company telephones are primarily for business.

51. Whenever you need to transfer a caller, do not use the word transfer or turn over. Instead say, “Let me connect you with …” The words transfer or turn over in this situation may sound cold and impersonal.

52. Whenever you are with a caller for information, be prepared to:

  • Get all the facts.
  • Give all the facts.
  • Understand the caller's needs.
  • Listen for the caller's feelings.
  • Check for the caller's understanding.

Write down necessary information both during and immediately following the call. Notes from a short pencil will outlast the longest memory.

Make all your follow-up calls promptly, especially in the following situations:

  • The caller has urgent need of your information.
  • You suddenly remember you gave the caller incorrect information.
  • You forgot to do something you agreed that you
    would do.

53. Never ask someone else to make an apology for you. The hurt party wants to hear from you. Asking someone else to do your job is a sign of weakness.

54. Never apologize when neither you nor your company is at fault. Empathize with the caller without assuming responsibility for something neither you nor your company did or said.

55. Always follow this highly effective principle: Under-promise, over-deliver.

56. Even though the caller may have been at fault, wait until you have solved the caller's problem and the caller has assumed responsibility for the problem. Then say something like the following: “Should a similar situation come up, please do not hesitate to call me. I'm here to help you avoid such irritations.” If you make the same plea before you have solved the customer's problem, the customer might feel scolded.

57. Nancy Friedman, the Telephone Doctor, advises you, in answer to anything the customer tells you, to omit the negative expressions, “We can't do that” or “We don't do that.” Skip those expressions and simply tell what you can do. Customers don't want to hear what you cannot or don't do.

58. Never bring up your own problems. Hank Trisler, author of “No Bull Selling” writes that 80 percent of customers aren't interested in your problems and 20 percent are actually glad!

59. Whenever you need to be assertive, raise your voice just enough to draw attention to whatever you need to emphasize, without a single trace of discourtesy or rudeness in your voice.

60. Whenever you find two or more calls waiting to be answered, attend to them according to their importance and urgency.

61. Learn to use minimal acknowledgments like “I see … I understand …Okay …Sure.” But use them prudently. Whenever the situation calls for a more specific acknowledgement, use one like the following:

  • I can see how that can be very frustrating.
  • I'd be disgusted to.
  • I can't imagine what you went through.
  • That can be very frustrating.

62. Keep your acknowledgements impersonal whenever you have never suffered the customer's serious circumstance. For example, let's say the customer tells you that your drivers broke one of the highly sentimental items in her house. Instead of saying, “I can understand your loss,” keep the word “I” out of it and say: “That has to be an irreplaceable loss that only you can understand.”

63. End every telephone call with a thank you, no matter what the customer called about.

64. Some more things not to say:

Don't say, “Who's calling?”
Say, “May I ask who's calling?”

Don't say, “She hasn't come in yet.”
Say, ”She's not in her office at the moment.”

Don't say, “He's on his coffee break.”
Say “He's away from his office at the moment.”

Don't say, “ She left a little early today.
Say “She'll be in tomorrow at eight a.m.”

Don't say, “ He's not feeling well; he went home.”
Say, “He's not in today.”

Don't say, “She'll be on vacation all week.
Say, “She'll be out of her office this week.”

Never say:

- “I believe he's in the men's room.”
- “She's at the doctor's office.”
- “He's getting a haircut.”
- “I don't know where she is.”
- “He's on a smoke break.”
- “I'm new here. I don't have that information.”
- “I just got here, so I don't know.”
- “I'm not in charge of problems like that. Try calling customer service.”

65. Finally, always use the company telephone to “reach out and touch somebody.”
Please study these “Golden Rules”  and remember that the telephone is your most important business tool.”

Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to FURNITURE WORLD at  pmarino@furninfo.com