WE TEND to take the telephone for granted, but it is important that business people demonstrate courteous telephone behaviour when talking to clients and other business contacts.

Courtesy and thoughtfulness are the basic components of telephone etiquette. The knowledge of etiquette makes telephoning easier because if you creatively obey the rules, you can be confident that you will behave in the most appropriate, productive way.

Some of my telephone tips may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many times I have found that even the most basic telephone etiquette is ignored or abused.

With this in mind, here are some guidelines for polite and effective telephone usage for your receptionist, secretary and you.

1. When answering the phone in the office, immediately identify your company, department and your name.

2. When talking to customers, call them by name. By repeating the name, you are more likely to remember it the next time.

3. Know how you sound to others. You can find this out by recording your voice. Then critique your tone, manners, friendliness and vocal quality.

4. Always use the hold button if you must temporarily leave the phone. It is surprising what the person on the line can hear, and you may inadvertently embarrass yourself - or the other person.

5. Excuse yourself when leaving the line. A simple, "One minute, please, Jim," will do. Then make sure you reassure the customer every 20 to 30 seconds that you have not forgotten him.

If you must do this more than twice, it is probably better to call back when you are able to talk.

6. Listen. Allow your caller to talk and encourage her input. No one likes to be "talked at". When pauses occur, don't interrupt until the caller is finished with her thought. Listen for ideas, not just words, and take brief notes to jog your memory later.

7. Keep a notepad and pen by the phone so you can quickly write messages or notes.

8. Screen calls for the caller's name by asking: "Who's calling please?" When transferring a call, say, "Thank you, Miss Smith. I'm ringing Miss Jones now," or "Thank you Miss Smith. Miss Jones is on another line at the moment. Would you prefer to hold for a minute or have her return the call?"

If Miss Jones is unavailable, try, "Thank you, Miss Smith, Miss Jones is out of the office now and isn't expected back till 4 o'clock. Mr Robertson may be able to help you, or would you prefer that Miss Jones return your call?"

9. Let them hang up first. Have you ever concluded a conversation with someone and just as they were hanging up, you thought of one more thing to say? To avoid cutting off the caller's thoughts, let her hang up first.

10. When calling long distance, tell the secretary. People give long distance calls a higher priority than local calls. If she says, "Do you mind if I put you on hold?" be careful. Some people are not in the habit of checking back with the caller every 20 to 30 seconds.

Your best bet is to tell the secretary that you can only remain on hold a short time.

I hope that these tips will propel you into many rewarding, people-oriented experiences on the telephone.