12 + 5 Advanced Telephone Techniques.

angry man on phoneIn this article. the term ‘Client” includes both internal & external clients and we believe that all of our clients deserve to be treated respectfully and professionally.

It is important to remember that the telephone is the first and main means of communication with the company and is therefore of vital importance in ensuring that any client who calls is kept happy. In addition, the telephone is an extremely intimate method of communication: who do YOU let get close enough to you to speak into your ear…I am sure that it is only close friends and family. This psychological & physical closeness mean that using the telephone correctly is an integral part of excellent communication.

12 tips.
1.   Give a polite, and sincere greeting: “Good morning + name of organization.” or “Good morning,+ name of organization + your name + speaking.”.
By giving the salutation/greeting first, followed by the name of the company/department (and your name), It lets the caller become accustomed to your style of speaking and facilitates comprehension. In addition, it helps the listener, psychologically, by making them feel comfortable and unthreatened which increases the effectiveness of the communication. It also allows the telephone line connection to connect properly.
Importantly, it permits the caller to identify the company/department or individual which provides the caller with additional psychological security.
It is also the most important piece of information that the client wants to hear. In English (and many European languages) the most important information usually comes at the end of the sentence. This is known as “End-Weighting”. If you give the name of the company first, and then the greeting, the greeting becomes the most important piece of information!

2.     Put a smile in your voice. This is known as the “Verbal Handshake”. Since you can not see the caller and they can not see you, they will judge you, and the company by the only sensory input they have – the sound of your voice over the telephone & the way you deal with them. About 55% of the information you give or gain every day in face-to-face communication comes from non verbal communication. 7% from the actual words used and 38% from the paralinguistic input: Timbre, tone, volume, stress, intonation, etc. This means that working by telephone the participants lose 55% of the information and have to rely solely on what they hear so there is a greater sensitivity to aural input, but there is also a greater degree of psychological uncertainty about what is happening because the listener can not use his eyes to get additional information.

3.     Speak slowly” clearly, be helpful and sound friendly. If you sound friendly,  the caller will “reflect” this attitude back to the person they are speaking to. Even if you do not feel happy or friendly, you must sound friendly when speaking on the phone – especially to clients. The tone of voice is very important. As mentioned above, people are much more sensitive to aural/oral input when they can not see the person they are speaking to. Recent studies have shown that a deeper tone of voice tends to be perceived as being more attractive, professional and “caring” than a high-pitched tone. Think of Barry White’s voice: deep, throaty and very kinesthetic!

4.     Speak naturally. If you have an accent or dialect, speak slightly more slowly. If you do have an accent. do not worry about it. Accent can sound at attractive and provide the speaker with a personality. In addition, There is an old saying “You can take the person out of their country but you can’t take the country out of the person!”

5.    Research shows that after 5 rings the clients’ become more and more irritated. In addition, there is often the perception that time seems to pass more rapidly when people are “hanging on”: a one-minute wait can seem like 2-3 have passed. This is usually reflected in the caller’s attitude towards the person who (finally) answers the phone. The longer a person has to wait, the angrier they become. As a consequence, when clients are angry they do not listen to reason or act “normally”.

6.     Do not say “Just one minute, please” or ‘Hold on one minute, please”. These are meaningless phrases to the unseen caller. Where are you going? What are you doing? How long will you be? Is there a definite reason for you to be away from the phone? It is better to keep the client informed about the reasons why you have to leave them holding on. When you return, thank the caller for holding on and apologize for the time spent waiting (if appropriate).

7.    Always let the caller answer your questions. Never assume anything!  Listen carefully to the client and then consider what they have said and the implications for them and, more importantly, the company. Then feed back what the caller has said removing all the negative or emotional elements to check (and show) that you have understood what they have told you. If in doubt, ask questions to clarify!

8.    Do not interrupt the caller (especially if they are angry). If you are talking, you can not be listening. One way to make an angry client even more angry is to interrupt them, argue with them, and the greatest sin of all: try to talk over them.

9.     Never put an “open” phone down on your desk or cover the mouthpiece with your hand as some phones are more sensitive than others and frequently pick up comments which damage the individual and/or the company. Always use the mute button on the telephone.

10.     When calling outside the company, do not just ask for the secretary of Mr. Smith. Ask the switchboard operator of the company for the name of the secretary and use it when you talk to her. Psychologically, it puts you in a much more powerful position and it also creates a very professional perception of you.

11.     Do not move on to another task, or call, until you have completed the first one. Finish writing one message / report / note, etc., before you move on and deal with the next.

12.     Consider how callers feel when being bounced around from extension to extension so help them when transferring their call. For example: give the name of the person they are being transferred to, and/or their extension numbers and job titles when possible. In this way, the client knows what is happening at all times. The information about where they are being redirected to reduces uncertainty for them.

Additional tips:
–    NEVER say “Can I help you?” ALWAYS say “How may I help you?” – this answer usually tells you the caller’s preferred representation system (V.A.K.) Which tells you how to respond most appropriately to their communication.
–     NEVER hold two conversations at the same time. ALWAYS focus on the person on the other end of the phone.
–     NEVER transfer the call to someone who “may” be able to help. ALWAYS Find exactly the right person!
–     NEVER say “They are at lunch”. This phrase indicates that the whole department shuts down at lunch time which implies a lot about how the organization perceives the needs of the clients and how to meet them! ALWAYS say the person is not available at the moment and offer to have the correct  person call them back later.
–     NEVER use scraps of paper or rely on your memory when you have a message to deliver. ALWAYS have a telephone message pad beside the telephone and USE it!
–     NEVER start giving detailed information immediately you start speaking to the caller. ALWAYS give them time to get accustomed to your speaking style.
–     NEVER say that an error is not your fault or blame someone else. ALWAYS remember:  Forget blame, the caller usually wants you to provide a solution!

Dealing effectively and elegantly with people by telephone is a difficult task and requires training and dedication. Every caller is different and MUST be treated in a way which is appropriate to them.

Putting time limits on calls, have boards showing number of calls waiting, average waiting time, etc., only serve to induce stress in the people dealing with incoming calls and reduces the possibility that the caller will be dealt with in the most appropriate manner.
ALWAYS remember the famous phrase: “If you look after the client, the client will look after you!”
And the corollary: “If you DON’T look after your client, there is ALWAYS someone willing to do so!”

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain, October, 2013.

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About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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