Nearly 95% of our business is conducted over the telephone. Crucial sales contacts are made via the telephone and many of us establish long-term professional relationships without ever meeting face-to-face, so using this valuable tool to the best of our advantage is imperative.
When we speak on the telephone, we draw mental pictures of the other person on the line without the benefit and clues of body language - a friendly handshake, eye contact or smile to help us. What our customers visualize is determined by what they hear. Below are some tips to help ensure that you create a positive telephone persona for every call you make:
Keep a positive attitude. The sound of your voice is profoundly affected by your thoughts. We can generally tell within 15 seconds of a call whether the person on the other end of the line is happy, sad, angry, or distracted. Make sure you clear your thoughts before making or receiving a call. View every customer call as a welcomed 'intermission' in your day, rather than an invasion. If you cannot answer the telephone, don't. Have an assistant, co-worker or voice mail pick up.
Use body language. Do not assume that because you are on the telephone, what you do with your body does not affect your voice. It does. A slouching 'I don't care' posture, frowning or fidgeting are all behaviors that easily affect the voice. Keep a mirror next to the telephone to remind yourself to smile before (not after) you pick up the telephone. Actively smiling on your face creates a smile in your voice.
Treat everyone with equal courtesy. Because you can't see the person on the other line, you never really know who you are talking to. Don't make the dangerous mistake of reserving courteous and polite behavior simply for your customers or 'important' people. Treat everyone, from CEOs to administrative assistants, with respect, kindness and courtesy.
Match the tone the other person sets. Whether the other person is matter of fact and all-business, or talkative and casual, match their tone. Never try to chat with someone who has clearly signaled they are in a hurry. Alternatively, if someone is friendly and wishes to talk, you can help to establish lasting business rapport by briefly indulging their desire for conversation.
Speak clearly and distinctly. Notice if people have to frequently ask you to repeat yourself. If so, when do they ask you? On what words? Try not to delete sounds in words. Remember that the telephone distorts sound; you will need to take extra care to pronounce every sound in a word. For example, say 'picture' rather than 'picher'. Tape record a few of your telephone conversations and notice how well you use your voice and how clearly you articulate words. Ask for feedback on your telephone voice from friends and family.
Give pertinent information. When you make a call, clearly state your name, your company name, the nature of your business and how long you estimate the call will take. ³Hi this is Jane Doe from ABC Company. I'd like to take 5 minutes to discuss your recent order.' Try to use your first and last name as much as possible it will help people remember who you are! Ask the person if this is a convenient time for them to speak. If they are busy, ask when you may call back. Make some brief notes on what you want to say before you pick up the phone to make a call.
Clear distractions. Turn off the radio, close the door, and clear your desk. People can hear in your voice when you are distracted and 'multi-tasking'. Listen carefully to the other person. Remember that they can't see that you are listening with eye contact or a nod of your head, so give verbal cues that you are listening such as 'uh-hum' 'I see what you mean' 'oh', etc. Make notes on what the customer is telling you as they are speaking so that you can be clear you understand them.
Never eat food or chew gum. Chewing on the telephone is rude and unpleasant for the other person. You may think the other person won't hear it if you just take a bite of your lunch when they are speaking. They will! You also risk getting caught having to respond to them with food in your mouth.
Signal the use of speakerphones. Avoid speakerphones whenever you can. They may be convenient for you, but they can be difficult for the other person to understand you. If you use a speaker, tell the other person at the beginning of the conversation and tell them why you are using it 'I want to be able to take notes while we are speaking'. If there are other people in the room, ask them to introduce themselves to the person on the telephone at the beginning of the conversation.
Let your recollection of how others have treated you on the telephone serve as a foundation for your own telephone communication skills. Using this powerful tool effectively will bolster and expand your customer service success.