Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons user Eric Chan

We love blog comments, and recently received a comment on this post from our reader Joe. Joe was wondering about the best phrasing to use when you’re not able to connect a caller to the person they’re trying to reach, and we thought it might be helpful to share our response to Joe’s thoughtful question with all of our readers!

Q: What’s the best way to tell a customer that the person they are calling for isn’t “available” or is “in a meeting” or “out the office”? Any ideas of what would sound genuine?

It would be great if we could always connect customers to the people they’re trying to reach, but as you know, there are times when we simply can’t: Meetings do happen, and coworkers aren’t always by their phones. Callers typically understand this, and with the right phrasing, your callers will feel taken care of even when you can’t connect them.

As a general rule, it’s best to steer clear of saying someone is “unavailable,” because it tends to give the impression that the person is around, but doesn’t want to talk at the moment.

One great way to craft a solid response is to ask your coworkers to keep you apprised of their schedules. If you know what your coworkers are up to, you can give their callers honest replies that make sense — and often, you can let callers know when they might receive a return call. Saying, “Ms. Smith is in meetings for the rest of the day, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call tomorrow!” is much more likely to satisfy a caller than a reply like “Ms. Smith is unavailable.”

For those occasions when you don’t know a coworker’s schedule, a reply like “Ms. Smith is away from the phone at the moment, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call! May I have your number?” is solid. Sure, you aren’t giving any exact details about your coworker’s whereabouts, but you are making it clear that you’re ready to do all you can to help.

Any time you’re unable to connect a call, always come back to your caller with an offer of assistance and a guiding question. A response like “Ms. Smith is in a meeting,” feels like a dead end to a caller, but a response like “Ms. Smith is in a meeting, but I’ll be happy to ask her to return your call as soon as she’s able. What’s the best number for a return call?” is helpful, friendly, and efficient.

Do you have a question about telephone etiquette? Share your question in the comments section below, and we’ll be happy to answer it for you!

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Eric Chan