Harvey Mackay: Your phone skills will pay the bills

The world is getting smaller every day.

Thanks to advances in technology, we can be connected to points around the globe in seconds through our computers and telephones. We can even be on the other side of the world almost in person in a matter of seconds. Businesses can easily reach people and places that were inaccessible just a few years ago.

This is why I say the phone is one of the most awesome tools available. We’ve all had years and years of experience using a phone, so why are so many people bad at it?

Here are some of the techniques that I use.

First, when your call is answered, always ask if this is a good time to talk. This simple step can add years to your life — and your career.


Get the assistant’s name if he or she answers the phone. And use their names when you talk to them. They are very important in getting your message across.

Obviously, you want to answer the phone on the second or third ring. Speak slowly and project so people can understand. When I switch to speakerphone, I want to make sure the connection is still acceptable. Try not to interrupt. Don’t get distracted when you are on the phone. Focus on the caller. Listen to what they have to say. Turn your cellphone ringer off on important calls when talking on your office line. Be sensitive to the tone of your voice. Don’t eat, chew gum or shuffle papers.

When someone calls you on the telephone, you should always greet the person pleasantly. Your pleasure at talking to this person must be evident in your voice. I ask our employees at MackayMitchell Envelope Company to answer the telephone with a smile because you can hear it in a voice. You want every customer to feel like they are your most important customer and virtually the only customer you have.

Try to start every phone conversation with good news, even when you have bad news to report. Also, have a good close. Have an agenda of what you want to accomplish. Every crucial phone call should have clarity of focus and clarity of purpose. Think through what you want to say and discuss before you even make a call. That’s how you build a network.

Start early in your career to keep track of the 100 to 300 most important people in your network. Find out their birthdays and call them every year on their special day. If you work in sales, make sure to call your customers on their birthdays. You won’t believe how much business you will write up.

I was one of the first people to get a car phone, and now it is hands-free. Driving is every salesperson’s biggest time-waster. I’ll do anything to make the time more productive, so I stopped making cold calls. I called ahead to make sure the buyer was in.

I never leave my name for a return phone call without a designated time I can be reached. Don’t risk playing telephone tag. I don’t care to squander my time any more than the other person cares to squander his or hers.

And this is especially crucial: If my assistant or gatekeeper answers the call, I make sure they say, "Mr. Mackay is expecting your call." This makes the caller feel special.


Can’t get a call back? Leave a message no one can ignore. I picked up this tip from my Florida Realtor. Start with your name, day, date and time, and then a pledge: "Leave your name and number, and I guarantee I will call you back within 24 hours. If I fail to do so, I will make a $100 contribution to your favorite charity — as long as the charity is not you."

Keep to a schedule whenever possible. Minimize interruptions by returning phone calls at a specific time of day. For me, it’s usually the end of the day. Of course, you will need to take some calls, but those that aren’t urgent, you can return when you have time to best deal with them.

I’ll let you make the call: How important are your phone skills to your career?

Mackay’s Moral: Don’t let your phone skills be a hang-up.

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