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How to answer the phone in English?

5 key information to remember

As a professional in the business world, you’ll be needing to make and answer phone calls in your day-to-day working life. There are many reasons why you might need to perfect the art of answering the phone:

  • Working as a receptionist or assistant
  • Negotiating important business deals over the phone
  • Arranging interviews
  • Scheduling meetings and clarifying information

Here are some things to think about regarding how to answer the phone professionally in English:

  • Answer the phone quickly… but not too quickly. There is a balance to be struck between answering too fast before the caller is totally ready and, on the other hand, answering too slowly which could lead to the caller becoming frustrated with the wait.
  • Use appropriate language: be courteous and professional. You may be the first point of contact between the caller and your company. Remember that first impressions count!
  • Be ready to take notes: have a pen and paper on hand to jot down a message or someone’s contact details.
  • And finally, some companies, especially larger ones, require people to use certain phrases or vocabulary. Is this the case where you work, or could it be where you work next?

Answering the phone

In this section, you will see two example phone conversations of people at work answering the phone in English. The caller in this first example wants to speak to someone specific in the company:

  1. Good morning, Company Name, this is Samantha speaking. How can I help you?

  2. Hello Samantha. This is Janet Jones from ABCD Limited. Could I speak to Ben Smith in the sales department, please?

  1. Certainly, Ms Jones. Mr Smith is available; I will put you through straight away. In case you get cut off, his direct line 01234 111211.

  2. Thank you very much for your help.

Now another example where the caller leaves a message:

  1. Company name, James Bond speaking, how may I help you?

  2. Good afternoon, I’d like to speak to Philip James in Accounts Receivable please?

  1. I’m sorry, he’s away from his desk at the moment. Can I take a message?

  2. Please. I’ve got a couple of questions about the invoice I’ve just received. Could you ask him to call me back?

  1. Of course, has he got your number?

  2. He should have, but let me give it to you, just in case. It’s 01231 111211. I’ll be available for the rest of the day.

  1. OK, thanks. I’ll pass the message on.

  2. Thank you. Goodbye.

  1. Goodbye.

Let’s move on to think about…

Making an appointment

Here is an example conversation of two people making an appointment to meet:

  1. Hi Paul, it’s Jason in Marketing.

  2. Hello Jason! What can I do for you?

  1. I’d like to arrange a meeting with you to finalise the presentation for the client meeting next week. Would tomorrow morning work for you?

  2. Sorry, I can’t make it then, I’ll be in meetings all morning. How about Wednesday afternoon? Would that be convenient for you?

  1. Sure, say 2.30?

  2. 2.30 is fine for me. Shall we meet in your office?

  1. That’s fine. See you on Wednesday at 2.30!

  2. See you then. Bye.

  1. Bye.

There are some other useful words and phrases for making appointments:

  • Available / unavailable
  • Busy / free
  • I’d like to meet up to talk about…
  • I’d like to discuss…
  • To schedule a meeting
  • To reschedule a meeting
  • To postpone a meeting
  • I need to cancel our meeting
  • Something has come up

Taking a message

If your role requires you to screen calls for someone else, you’ll probably find yourself needing to take messages. Here’s an example of how that could go:

  1. Good Morning, Simon at MegaCorp here.

  2. Hello there, I’m calling to speak with Ms Barnett, could you put me through please?

  1. I’m afraid she’s tied up in meetings all morning. Can I take a message for you?

  2. Ok, no problem. Yes, a message. Please let her know that I’ll no longer be able to make the Thursday meeting and would like to reschedule for the following week.

  1. Got it. Can I take your name please?

  2. Yes, it’s Carol Hastings. She knows how to reach me.

  1. Ok, I’ll pass that on.

  2. Excellent, thank you very much.

Taking a message can be a little tricky, because it relies on you understanding and noting down sometimes very specific and important messages all in one go. Here’s some message-related vocabulary to help you out:

  • To note something town
  • To get back to you
  • To repeat
  • To let someone know
  • To pass a message on to someone
  • A return number

Connecting someone on the phone

Sometimes you’ll need to play the role of connecting a caller with their desired recipient. Here’s an example conversation:

  1. Hi Lucina, it’s Simon calling for Anita.

  2. Hi Simon. Ok, no problem, let me put you through.

  1. Can you transfer me to her mobile line? I think she’s out of the office right now.

  2. Sure, I’ll do that. Speak later.

When it comes to connecting a call, it’s usually a fairly brief interaction. Here are synonyms to vary your dialogue each time:

  • To put someone through
  • To connect someone
  • To patch someone through
  • To pass someone over
  • To connect someone

Ending a call 

A more complicated task can be ending a call, either because the other speaker wants to keep talking, or because the call is ending on a contentious note. Let’s look at an example of how to end a phone call:

  1. … we’ll try to get you those numbers as soon as possible.

  2. I appreciate that, but can you give me an exact date?

  1. I’m sorry, it’s almost impossible for us to be more exact. We’ll let you know as soon as possible.

  2. I understand, but it’s really frustrating on my side and -

  1. I’m sorry Simon, but there’s nothing more I can do. Can we be in touch on this?

  2. Ok, sure. I -

  1. A: I’m afraid I really have to go now, but let’s speak again soon.

Ending a phone call can require treading carefully, so it’s a good idea to choose your words carefully. A quick “gotta go” might be acceptable with friends, but we suggest something a little more tactful in the business sphere:

  • To let someone know
  • To be pushed for time
  • To stay in touch
  • To speak again soon
  • To get going

Clarifying information and asking for repetition

Conversations can move quickly and sometimes you’ll need to check what you hear. Let’s look at an example:

  1. Mr Kirby will arrive at Terminal 1 at about 11:45 but it’ll take him 30 or so minutes to pick up his bag so you should have a cab ready for 12:15 or maybe even 12:30 for a drop off in central London around 13:00. Is that ok?

  2. That sounds ok, but could we confirm the times. Did you say 12:30 for the cab?

  1. Yes, 12:30 at the airport, Terminal 1.

  2. Ok, got it. I’ll take care of it.

Here are some useful phrases for checking information:

  • Could you repeat that?
  • Sorry, say that again?
  • I wrote down … is that right?
  • Pardon?

Small talk

An essential skill in surviving phone calls is knowing how to engage in small talk. You may have already been in a conversation like this one:

  1. I’ll put you through in one minute, he’s just on his way back to the office. So, how is everything on your side?

  2. Oh, all fine here. You know, a few positions opened up here recently so we have some new faces. What about there?

  1. Oh, that’s nice. More or less the same here. We’ve been able to work outside more often than with the nice weather, so that’s something!

  2. I know what you mean, it makes such a difference...

Check out this vocabulary for generating small talk:

  • How’s things?
  • What’s new with you?
  • Are you looking forward to the holidays?
  • Have you managed to get away recently?
  • I know what you mean

Giving a reason for calling

When we make a phone call in a business context, we’re expected to announce ourselves and explain why we’re calling. Here’s an example:

  1. Hello there, it’s Stephanie here. I’m calling to speak to Simon about the event next Thursday. I’d like to confirm the guestlist with him, if possible.

  2. Hello Stephanie, thanks for calling. I’ll put you through to Simon right away.

Below is a short selection of phrases to help with this:

  • I’m just calling to…
  • I wanted to know…
  • Could you confirm whether…
  • The main reason for my call was to…
  • I’d also like to enquire as to…
  • Would it be possible to tell me...

Learning how to answer the phone in English isn’t as complicated as it may seem. It comes down to a few key things: a good foundation in grammar; varied vocabulary; and confidence. Here are our top tips for making phone calls a breeze:

  • Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: do your best!
  • Learn from your mistakes
  • Learn English vocabulary and commit key expressions to memory
  • Refresh your English grammar
  • Practice with role plays

Find out more and learn top 10 tips to stay motivated when learning English online.

On GlobalExam, we’re offering the opportunity to practice your business English skills with native TESOL-qualified English teachers through virtual lessons. If answering the phone is your goal, you’re in luck, because we host a one-hour group lesson with a maximum of six learners every week. Join us for:

  • Making a phone call - every wednesday 6pm (Paris time)

In this lesson, our trained teacher will guide you through the essentials of making and answering phone calls with the opportunity to practice through role plays and oral exercises.

All this is interesting, but how can you find out more?

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Of course, the content can be personalised making the content relevant to you and to your needs. You will learn about different:

The GlobalExam Business English programme also includes coaching sessions, by video, with our teachers as well as detailed correction and explanations for each question.

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