A FRIEND of mine, a best-selling author, refers to anyone who answers an organisation's phone as the "director of first impressions".

He is so right. How a phone is answered communicates much information to the caller.

Professionals who are charged with the responsibility of answering the phone, even if just temporarily, can take pride in their work.

Here are 10 tips on how to put your best voice forward and shine every time you answer the phone at work:

1. Remember you are the voice of your organisation.

How you answer sets the tone for the caller's impression of the whole company.

If the caller is a potential customer, he is deciding if he wants to do business with your company - and your interaction is part of that decision.

2. Answer the phone every time with focus.

If you are distracted by a conversation with a colleague or are finishing an e-mail message, stop what you are doing and focus on the call. Your listener can hear your focus - or your distraction.

3. Ensure your voice is upbeat and friendly.

Do this even if you have to fake it.

If you are having a bad day, there is no need for callers to know that. A professionally pleasant tone is always appreciated.

4. Enunciate your words.

Use "yes," not "yeah." Don't use slang, even if the caller does.

5. Respond pleasantly but briefly.

If the caller asks how you are doing, simply say, "I'm doing great. How can I help you today?"

He doesn't really want to know the details of your vacation or love life. If you have a busy call centre, you don't have the time to chat.

6. Use hold and mute appropriately.

If you must make a comment to a passing colleague, put yourself on mute so the caller doesn't hear you.

If you need to check something that will take more than a few seconds, ask the caller if you may place him on hold.

He will appreciate not having to hear you type or breathe while he waits for your response.

7. Don't make the caller repeat his story.

When a caller tells you details of why he is calling, determine who the best resource is and tell the customer that person's name and extension.

When you get the right person on the phone, recap the issues to the recipient so the caller will not have to repeat himself.

8. Stay on the line when transferring a call.

This is to make sure the customer gets connected rather than dumped into voicemail.

If the call is answered by voicemail, ask the customer if he wants to leave a message or wants you to try someone else.

9. Repeat the caller's name while taking a message.

Ask him to spell it if necessary, and get his contact number.

Include any pertinent information, such as his account number, available times for a call back or the details of the message.

Don't promise that the recipient will call him back today - you have no idea what that person's schedule is.

10. End the call politely and professionally.

"Thank you for calling XYZ Corporation. Have a great day."

This send-off cements the good impression you have made for your company.

Most people think they are good at answering the phone.

But I recently called a customer service department and was greeted with "Hello". Not "Hello, customer service, Kathy speaking. How may I help you?"

So don't assume that just because you have read the above tips, you will not make mistakes.

Have someone "mystery shop" you periodically, even if it is a friend or colleague, to tell you how you are doing. Then be open to the feedback. It is the best way to ensure that you are professional at all times.