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I'm often unsure what to say when answering the telephone when I am the customer; people usually say their name and then wait for me to say something before stating their business. I'm guessing there is a set phrase that people usually say at that point.

Usually it goes like:

  • Me: はい、XXです。
  • Them: XX社のXXXと申します。
  • Me: お世話になってます。 ← What I'm unsure about

Is this appropriate to say as a customer? What if I've never spoken to them before? What else could I say here?

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If you're not expecting their call, then one does wonder what exactly the 世話 could be that made them call you. If it's a company where you are a customer, I would probably wait to hear more, so

  • Me. はい、◯◯です。
  • Them. ◯◯社の◯◯と申します。
  • Me. はい。

If you want a firmer handle on the conversation, you can also ask

  • Me. どういったご用件ですか。

If in the end you did benefit from their call (i.e. it wasn't just a sales call, but they helped you fix something, set something in order, etc.), you can always say something nice later.

  • Me. お世話様でした。 (or よろしくお願いします。 or ご苦労様でした。)

(Note that お世話様でした is not a different way of saying お世話になっています. The former is said from "above" to "below", the latter is said from "below" to "above".)

  • Thanks, I have just said はい before as in your example and it seemed a little awkward like they were waiting for something more, maybe it's just my imagination though.. – Paludis Sep 16 '15 at 2:37
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If you are a customer I wouldn't care too much. お世話になってます would be a good choice. あ、どうも or even はい would work (albeit less polite, but as a customer you don't need to be polite). If you want to ask why they called you can say 何のお電話でしょう? or どうしました?.

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