In a business setting, every phone call you take is important, whether you're speaking to a customer, client or vendor. These experiences are the basis for your business relationship, and a single bad experience is often enough to lose a customer forever. By following basic rules of telephone etiquette, you will ensure that your clients have a positive experience every time they call.

Be prepared

A good telephone contact starts with preparation. Office staff should know who is responsible for answering each phone, and whoever takes the calls should be familiar with the phone and its functions.

You should also prepare a standard greeting for the whole staff to use. Although you might want to add some individuality to your greeting, it should still include the four basic ingredients: The greeting, the person speaking, the organization they represent and asking how to help the caller. An example would be, "Hello, this is Gene with Du Bois Services. How may I help you today?"

Be upbeat

When you answer the call, be aware of your tone of voice and the speed of your words. Try to maintain a cheerful tone of voice, even if you aren't feeling particularly positive. Smiling will help, even though the caller can't see you. A smile changes the shape of the mouth, altering your inflection and tone in ways that can be heard.

Be efficient

Incoming calls should be answered promptly, generally on the second ring. Answering calls too quickly might fluster some callers, but most callers tend to hang up after three or four rings.

Before taking calls, you should become familiar with the functions of your telephone system. Familiarize yourself with how to put callers on hold (without accidentally disconnecting the caller) and how to transfer a call to another extension.

Should you need to take a message, be ready to take down thorough notes. Always ask the caller's name and who their message is for. If the caller needs to be reached in the future, ask for a return phone number. Record the message in it's entirety, and pass it along to the recipient promptly.

When returning calls, the response should occur within one business day and if possible the same day. If this is delayed, contact should be made to explain why, and estimate when a response will be made.

Be professional

Because you are representing a business, take extra care to speak like a professional. Phrases such as "What's up?" and "Just a sec" are fine for casual conversation, but not professional communications. Similarly, you should avoid using slang of any kind. Not only is it unprofessional, but many find seemingly innocuous terms to be offensive.

And don't try to eat and answer the phone at the same time. Trying to talk around a bite of food will only make you difficult to understand.

Be courteous

At the outset of every call, the person answering should ask for the caller's name and how they can be of service. If the call extends further, care should be taken to remember and (if appropriate) use the caller's name. The caller should correctly feel that they are receiving personal attention and service.

If you need to transfer a call or place a caller on hold, always ask for permission to do so. To many callers, an abrupt change from speaking to a live person to listening to hold music is irritating and rude. No caller should ever be placed on hold without a good reason. Using hold as a means of avoiding a caller is not only rude, it can lead to termination.

Always try to end calls on a positive note. Assure callers that you are giving them your best effort by reviewing the actions you have taken and will take. Always ask if there is anything else you can assist them with, and thank them for their time.