This article is a brief guide on how to finish telephone calls without being rude or unfriendly. For over 100 pages of stimulating practice of the most important phrases for ending calls, starting calls, putting people through, taking messages, etc, see Really Learn the Most Useful Telephoning Phrases https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/telephoning/
Ending phone calls can be surprisingly difficult even for native speakers. The most common problem is probably calls going on far too long because the speakers can’t find a way to smoothly finish, but the opposite issue of the call ending quite abruptly or even rudely is also common.
Ending calls politely and smoothly is even more difficult when there are cultural differences, because the length, stages and language of phone call endings vary a lot by country. This makes bringing calls to an end perhaps the biggest cultural difference of all in telephoning. English phone call endings stand somewhere in the middle of the possible range, because the endings of calls are fairly but not very long and are fairly but not completely regular in format and language. This article gives advice on and language for smoothly and politely finishing phone calls, along with tips on what not to do and what not to say. They are given in the same order as the ending of a typical call, from moving from the body to the ending to final greeting at the end.
How to move from the body of a phone call to the end of the call
How the receiver can move from the body of a phone call to the end of the call
Perhaps the trickiest part of finishing a call is moving smoothly from the body of the call into the final stage. The most important thing to remember is not to suddenly hit the other person with “Thanks for your call” or “Thanks for your help” without any transition stage. This is because a sudden “Thanks for…” without any warning can be understood to mean “Please stop wasting my time”, like the “Thanks for coming” that can interrupt an unsuccessful theatre audition.
Ending calls more smoothly is easiest if the receiver starts the process with a phrase like “So, is there anything else (that) I can help you with today?” or “Okay then. Was there anything else (that) you wanted to know?” Hopefully, the caller replies with something like “No, that’s all, thanks” or “No, I think we’ve covered everything, thanks” and you can finish the call with just a few more sentences. If the caller says something like “Actually, there was just one more thing”, you can simply go back to the “So, can I help you with anything else?” stage after that topic has been discussed. Don’t use the similar sounding phrase “Is that all?”, because this phrase suggests very clearly that you only expect to hear the answer “Yes”! You also need to be careful with your intonation when you use phrases like “Is there anything else that you need to know?” to make it really an open question where both answers are equally acceptable. Getting the intonation wrong is a particular danger with the short phrase “Is there anything else?”, so I recommend always using longer variations like “Is there anything else (that) you’d like to know?” The transitions phrase before that (“So,…”, “Well then,…”, “Okay then,…” etc) is also very important.
If the body of the call was taking a message to pass onto someone else, the ending usually starts with a specific phrase like:
- Receiver: “Okay, I’ll tell him that you called./ I’ll pass your message onto him./ I’ll make sure he gets your message (as soon as I can)./ I’ll stick a Post-it on his monitor.”
- Receiver: “…I’m sure he will get back to you soon.”
You can then ask one of the “Is there anything else…?” phrases above.
Other ways of moving from the body of a phone call to the end of the call
If the receiver doesn’t start the transition into ending the phone call, the caller can do something similar with “So, I think that’s covered everything, thanks” or “Great. Thanks for all your help”.
There can be times when these “Thanks…” phrases above don’t really work, for example if the conversation has already moved into small talk, if the call doesn’t have such a clear purpose that you can mention in that phrase, and/ or if there isn’t really something specific that you can thank the receiver for. In that case, the standard way of moving into the end of the call is to say something nice about the conversation, give a reason for ending the call, then talk about future contact, with phrases like:
- Caller/ Receiver: “Well, it’s been great to talk, but I have a meeting in about ten minutes. I’ll call again tomorrow.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “So, I’d love to talk more/ chat more but my client has just arrived. As I said, I’ll email you the report in the next couple of days.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “There are a couple more things I’d love to get your advice on but I have a teleconference at two. Do you have time to talk on Wednesday?”
This is such a simple and convenient way of ending calls that it is probably worth making up a fake reason for ending the call like those above even if your real reason is that the call has gone on for too long already! The other person shouldn’t mind that little white lie as long as the call hasn’t been too short and you put enough details into your lie. The amount of detail is important in your reason for ending the call, with reasons like “Well, I have something to do” or “I have an appointment” being rude. Other more specific and therefore more suitable reasons include:
- Caller/ Receiver: “I have a call on another line.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “I have to catch a train at four thirty.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “Someone has just come in.”
Other useful phrases for talking about the future contact between you include:
- Caller/ Receiver: “I’ll text you when I get there.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “I’ll check with my boss and get back to you as soon as possible.”
- Caller: “I’ll phone again as soon as I know.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “I’ll write this up and email you a copy by the end of today.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “I’ll email you the link that we discussed straightaway.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “Can I have a copy of all this in writing?”
- Caller/ Receiver: “Can you send me a copy of the report when it’s finished?”
- Receiver: “Please call again if you have any other problems/ questions.”
- Receiver: “Please let me know if you have any trouble…”
The receiver then usually replies with a phrase politely letting the caller go such as “Okay, I’ll let you get on then” or “Okay, I won’t keep you any longer, then”. You are then probably finally ready for “Thanks for your help”/ “Thanks for your call”. Some people also use “I’ll let you get on”, “I won’t keep you any longer” and variations like “I’ll let you get back to work” as reasons for ending the call, but they are clearly insincere and obviously mean “Please let me get back to work”. I therefore think making up a fake reason is almost always better.
Final lines in phone calls
As well as the standard “Thanks for (all) your help”/ “Thanks for your call”, other possibilities for polite language with “Thank you/ Thanks…” right at the end of a call include:
- Receiver: “Thanks for calling.” (but not “Thanks for your calling” X)
- Caller: “Thanks for the information.”
- Caller: “Thanks for your (great) advice/ feedback.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Thanks for your understanding.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Thanks for your patience.”
- Caller: “Thanks for agreeing to…”
- Receiver: “Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.” (if you didn’t say this at the start)
- Caller/ Receiver: “Thanks again for…”
“Thank you for your cooperation” is not used in (face-to-face or telephone) conversations.
Although “Thanks for your help” is the most common ending for callers, make sure that you don’t use it in situations where it doesn’t make any sense to talk about “help”. For example, if you have just arranged to go for a drink together there hasn’t been any help. As long as it isn’t too informal for the situation, “Okay, thanks, bye” is sometimes a safer choice than “Thanks for your help” if the other person might think “What help??” As in face-to-face conversations, thanking the other person back is usually better than “You’re welcome”/ “Not at all”/ “It’s my pleasure”/ “No problem. Anytime”. However, if what you did was a particularly big favour, you could say something like “You’re welcome” before “Thanks for calling”.
There are also times when an apology is more suitable than thanks in the final polite phrase, for example:
- Receiver: “Sorry I couldn’t be more help”
- Receiver: “Sorry I didn’t have more time to talk”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Again, please accept our apologies for…”
There are also times when “Thanks for your call” is too formal. Saying something nice about the conversation can also be good at this point, for example:
- Receiver: “It was great to hear from you (again).”
- Receiver/ Caller: “It was great to catch up.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “It was really nice to hear about…”
Even more than with other language in this article, it is very important to use the right kind of intonation with these kinds of phrases in order to sound sincere and to make those genuine emotions come through.
Mentioning future contact is also quite common right at the end of the call. As well as the phrases like “I’ll email you tomorrow” that are used when you give reason for ending the call, you can say:
- Caller/ Receiver: “I look forward to hearing from you.”/ “I look forward to your call.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Speak to you then/ on Monday/ tomorrow/ soon/ later.”
- Caller/ Receiver: “See you then/ tomorrow/ soon/ later.”
Note that “See you…” means meeting face to face, although it could also perhaps include video conferences. “Speak to you…” should be used instead of “See…” for the next phone call. If you aren’t sure if “See…” or “Speak…” is correct in your situation, “Speak…”is the safe choice because it can also cover face to face conversations such as meetings.
There are important distinctions between the different “Speak to you…” phrases. “Speak to you later” only means later the same day. “Speak to you then” means at the time that you have just been talking about, e.g. “I’ll get back to you with a final yes or no by close of business on Friday” “Okay, speak to you then” (meaning “on Friday”). “Speak to you soon” is kind of the opposite of “Speak to you then”, because it means that no time has been arranged, and sometimes even that no future contact might be necessary. This means, rather strangely, that the “later” in “Speak to you later” is sooner than the “soon” in “Speak to you soon”. “Speak to you again sometime” is similar to “Speak to you soon”, but is more common when there is a possibility of no future contact and so sometimes really means “I won’t speak to you again!”
Other possible things to say just before “Bye” include:
- Receiver/ Caller: “Have a good evening/ day/ weekend/ holiday/ vacation/ day off.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Have fun.”/ “Have a good time.”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Good luck with…”
- Receiver/ Caller: “Take care.”/ “Bon voyage.”
“Take care” is sometimes overused, and is only usually suitable if the person is going to do something big like moving jobs and/ or you won’t communicate again (at all or for some time).
You are then ready to finally say “(Good)bye” and really end the call. “Bye for now” means something similar to “Speak to you later” and so is often used after saying “I’ll… and call you right back”. “Bye bye” is also sometimes possible, but is not very business-like and can seem childish. Just “See you” is often used right at the end of a conversation to mean “Bye” even when you won’t in fact see each other. Longer expressions like “See you then” are not used in this way as they have the meeting face to face meeting explained above.
Stimulating self-study practice, lists of useful phrases and model dialogues showing you how to start, end and take part in many different kinds of calls are available in Really Learn the Most Useful Telephoning Phrases https://www.usingenglish.com/e-books/telephoning/