The lost art of saying hello

Answering the phone was always a ritual when I was growing up, and indeed it was also a ritual at work and beyond. You had to be polite and clearly identify who you were and who you represented.

“Hello it’s Lance Wiggs speaking” was the norm at home, and “Hello, BigCompany, Joe Smith speaking, can I help you” was the sort of thing common at work.

At work you’d then have to handle the mis-directed calls and transfer calls to the right person. That meant waiting until the person you transferred the call to answered, and taking a message or trying to help if they didn’t. This was a downside of the advances of DDI (Direct Dial In), which was revolutionary technology that gave each person their very own external number rather than an extension. Along the way it meant the passing of the switchboard, with their standardised corporate greeting, and the continued the demise of the secretary/assistant that also took care of the corporate face.

It worked the other way as well – when you called someone in the past you waited until the answerer identified yourself and then replied something like “Hi Fred, it’s Lance Wiggs from BigCompany here…”

These days everyone is the corporate face – and everyone can be contacted in a variety of ways. These days, for me at least, it’s almost always on mobile phone. That means I see who is calling, and I expect that many people that I call will have my name appearing on their phone.

So I was surprised when I caught myself calling someone else on their mobile, and our greeting exchange was abbreviated to “hey”…”hey”. I knew the caller – their ID was in my phone, but was my ID in their phone?  After the heys was a classic Kiwi back and forth – “hi” – “how is it going”, “hey”” – and so on. It was awkward, and it made the rest of the conversation a little stilted.

So while caller ID and address books mean that we know who is calling, and we can in theory reduce time by dispensing with the clunky pleasantries, in practise it can just feel wrong.

So I am contending that a good telephone greeting is still required, and that it it still has important purposes, even if between good friends on mobile phones. Here are five reasons why:

  1. It gives extra confidence to the person calling that you are the one they want to speak to
  2. It sets the conversation up in a professional, friendly manner – it makes it really easy to know what to say next and so it starts the conversation in a good place.
  3. It avoids the normal geeky Kiwi awkwardness saying hello
  4. It saves time – we follow a quick “Hello” formula and move on to the weighty matters.
  5. It is elegant, answering the phone ‘properly’ gives respect to the other person and just feels right.

What do you think? Hello? Hello?

Published by Lance Wiggs


7 replies on “The lost art of saying hello”

  1. I’m all in favour of at least saying “Hello this is Thomas”. This is for the reasons you give, but also because I find that the first couple of seconds of a conversation often seem to have crappy sound quality – and the greeting gets you through it.

    Also saves embarrassment when the wrong person answers the right phone.


  2. I often answer caller id calls with the caller’s name. Something like “Hi Jon, what’s up”. Unknown numbers get different answers based on time of day and mood. (But the work phone ddi is always answered with the company name and my name.)


  3. Oddest and most irritating one I’ve had was the man who I think was trying to portray himself as a hotshot with a busy schedule. He picked up the phone and said “Go!”

    Many years ago I was once talking with someone in the telephony department of the old UK Post Office. He answered with “Telephone”.

    Alexander Graham Bell apparently suggested “Ahoy!” as an appropriate introduction; and I was surprised to be greeted that way (actually “Ahoj”) by a Czech on a text-chat channel. A usual greeting in that language, apparently.

    But with text-chat the person’s identifier appears anyway.


  4. Yeah I generally agree. At work I answer with the company name then “This Bryan” , so that the last thing the person hears is my name to make it easier to remember.

    At home however I generally let calls go to answerphone unless I happen to be within arms length of the phone and then I call screen. If the number is hidden I ignore it as it is almost always telemarketing. I generally only answer the home phone if it is my wifes mobile or my parents.

    On my mobile I simply say this “This is Bryan” unless it is my wifes mobile.


  5. Hi Lance, Tom here…

    I concur wholeheartedly…

    I had a great-aunt who presumably lived through the introduction of the telephone to New Zealand society. To her dying days in the early 21st Century, she always answered the phone with a hint of disbelief – she would always begin with:

    “Are you there?”….


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