It seems so simple: you’re on the phone with a business client, and you want to end the call. So, just end it, right?
While it might sound like a really basic skill, there can be an art to ending a phone call with a business client or any other professional with whom you do business. Not executing the steps carefully could cause you to upset someone, and thus foil a potentially positive business relationship. You need to preserve your work time for being productive and getting as much done as possible, but you can’t let that person on the other end of the line think there’s anything more important than them. It’s a delicate dance, but don’t worry – with a little help, you can sign off gracefully.
Here are some tips for managing business calls – and ending them – successfully.
1. Find Out What They Need
Once in a while, you’ll get that rambling client who wants to tell you an entire backstory before they get to the point. While you shouldn’t make a point of interrupting your business connections, you can make an effort to break in at an opportune time. Ask the person directly how you can help them meet their needs or solve their problem. Saying something like "what can I do to help?" usually goes off well.
2. Address the Need
Once you’ve found out what that person needs or wants, work to address that point as clearly and quickly as you can. If you’re dealing with a rambling talker, this might take more time than you want, but keep your mind on the end goal and try to steer the conversation there whenever it goes off track.
3. Ask If You've Addressed Their Need
It might take a while, but you will eventually probably come to the point where you’ve addressed the person’s need – answering questions, giving information or resources, or sharing the next steps to whatever process you handle in your business or industry. Often, providing those next steps or the resources for the person to pursue will foster a natural break in the conversation, in which the person will get the hint that it’s time to hang up and pursue that next step.
Other times, however, you may have to say something like "Have I helped you address all your needs?" That should make it clear to the person that the conversation is nearing its end.
From there, ask the person if there is any other way that you can help them, or whether they have any other questions or concerns you can help address. If you get a "no", then you’ll have a perfect out to end the conversation and say goodbye. If the person needs more help, work toward solving the problem, and then repeat the step of asking whether you’ve addressed that person’s needs. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you’ve covered everything you can possibly cover over the phone.
4. Beg Off - Very Carefully
In spite of your best efforts, there will occasionally be those clients who just don’t seem to get the hint. You don’t want to be rude and tell them you have better things to do – but, in truth, you really do have better things to do. At that point, start off by saying something like "Your business is important to me" or "I want to make sure I’m giving you the best service possible". Without the subtle cues that are present with in-person meetings, what you say and how you say it will be the only way that the person on the other end of the line is going to know that you’re really concerned.
Following that caring statement, let the person know that you have something else to do. You might have scheduled a call with them, so it best to remind them from the start of the call that you’ve only scheduled a half-hour for the conversation. If you’re a professional who bills by the hour, the other person might be happy for you to remind them that you’re on the clock.
In any case, try to convey concern as you tell the person that you need to get to your next engagement.
5. Mention a Follow-Up
If you’ll be dealing with the person more in the future, remind them of what’s next. You might go over the details of your next phone meeting or set an agenda for your next phone call, for example. You might also remind the person of any resources you’ll be sending their way, or you might transfer the person to another phone in the office for someone else to handle. This small last step shows that you’re not trying to be dismissive and that you’ll be back to address more of the caller’s needs later on.
6. Sign Off Cordially
You’ve made it to the finish line. Now all that’s left is to say goodbye. Use any number of cordial signoffs, including "talk to you later", "I look forward to hearing from you again", or "You’ll be hearing from me Monday", for example. Once again, business calls need to incorporate that right mix of concern with professionalism. And, of course, a brief thank you for their time is always going to be appreciated.
7. Leave the Personal Stuff for the Personal Space
Once in a while, you’ll encounter the issue in which you’re doing business with a friend, and that said friend will think he can use your business time to not only catch up on business but also to find out what you’re up to over the weekend or whether you want to catch a happy hour later on. This is a bit different than your average business client, but it also requires some delicacy.
In the world of work, create your work boundaries, even with friends. Instead of diving into the particulars about your personal life at the end of that call, tell the person you’ll call them after work or that you’ll send them a social media message later in the day. When work time is precious, even time spent chatting with a friend can be time wasted.
What Not to Do
In the world of business, there are a million ways you can upset, alienate or otherwise lose a promising client. With that in mind, here are the things to remember NOT to do when you’re trying to end a business call:
- Not showing concern
- Not saying thank you
- Letting other distractions in the office (i.e.: coworkers, other phone calls, or general office chaos) be the excuse as to why you have to end that business phone call
- Not addressing the person’s needs, either right there on the phone or with some information about a follow-up
And finally, here are a couple things to do to avoid the awkward need to end the business call in the first place.
Before you even start the call, make an effort to manage your time. If you’ve planned to communicate via telephone with a business connection, it can help to set the parameters right away. When you agree on the time to talk, also agree on a length of time. This can be a subtle thing. When you confirm your telephone meeting, say something like "So, we’re set up to have our call from 10 to 10:30am, correct?" That way, the other person will be more inclined to add the 10 to 10:30 timeframe to their calendar, and thus may also have other things going on after 10:30.
Another way to manage the phone meeting before it even starts is to create an agenda for the call, much like you would for any other in-person business meeting. Send over the points that you want to cover and have the other person provide their points to add to the agenda. When it’s time for the call, you’ll have a natural "out" when you’ve covered all of the points laid out on the agenda. From there, you can simply state that you’ve covered everything and you can both go on your merry ways.
It’s not rocket science, but there can definitely be an art to ending a business call politely. Follow these tips and employ a bit of common sense, and you should have no problem passing this part of the workplace etiquette exam.