Our phone skills can make or break internal and external customer relations explains Kemetia Foley
With the availability of multi-generational methods of communications, telephone calls are becoming the lesser used method of contacting people. I hear many first-time in the workforce employees say how much they hate having to call people on the phone, or talk to people on the phone.
My daughter laments having to actually dial another human – or worse, leave a voicemail. Come to think of it, so do most of my nieces and nephews. Texting or using IM (instant messenger) are the preferred communication methods for some of the iPhone generation. Why? Well, a good part of that is dictated by generational norms. Ask them to reach out and call their university regarding a course credit, and you’re likely to be met with the look of death.
In the administrative profession, we truly cannot do our job without speaking on the phone to another human being. We are the primary liaison for scheduling and for confirming travel logistics for our supervisors and others. Our phone skills can make or break internal and external customer relations.
Stop being ‘hung-up’ on having to talk to others! (See what I did there?) Phone skills are just like any other skill that is vital in our profession. We need to understand these skills, learn them, and practice them.
Here are some suggestions for making phone communication less of a chore:
Understand Your Company’s Phone Culture
In a more traditional workplace, telephone calls are going to be a norm. It doesn’t have to be from a desk phone, but calling is expected when dealing with clients and customers—particularly for sales and customer-based services. You also need to think about the kind of organization you are contacting (law firm, resort, caterer, etc.). If you are calling an entrepreneur, odds are they won’t respond to a phone number they do not recognize. Does your company require you to document phone calls? Does your company have you establish multiple voicemail messages for varying away-from-desk reasons? The level of formality will generally apply to all facets of communication in an organization, including those done by phone.
Write It Out
Using scripts for your conversations are great, but how well does it convey warmth? It doesn’t.
Scripts are incredibly helpful for difficult calls, those that might not have simple conclusions. Scripts are also helpful when you have to reach out to multiple customers or stakeholders regarding the same issue. Still it takes practice to make a script NOT sound like a script.
(Me) Good morning/afternoon/evening. This is Kem from Ms. Hite’s office.
Provide the background for the call
I’m calling regarding the August 30 meeting with the marketing team. Do you have a few minutes to discuss the meeting timing? Ms. Hite has several meetings that same day and does not want to have to miss any of the meeting. Would Ms. Lionsworth be able to accommodate a change of date for their meeting?
Would [select two alternate dates/times that could work] be an option?
Thank you for your time or Thank you for your membership with [company].
Time Zone Knowledge
Provide the caller with the time zone or a time zone chart so they are not calling a customer’s cell phone in California at 6:30am because they are calling from Maryland at 9:30am. The same goes for all calls: be sure to check your time zone before placing your call. www.timeanddate.com is a great site to bookmark for this purpose.
The more practice you have at making phone calls, the better. One way to practice is by leaving a voicemail message. Encourage the callers to practice the script by leaving voicemails on their own phone. This allows them to hear how their tone and speed come across.
Another option is to practice one on one calls with a coworker. This is especially helpful if there are potential and multi-situational responses from the client. Those responses could range from asking for more information than the caller has at their fingertips, to an angry outburst. Multi-scenario scripts would be helpful here. Think about the person new to your organization. Perhaps they don’t have as much time to ramp up to learn about the organization prior to having to make phone calls. Give them ways to be successful.
The old mirror at the desk trick
Put a mirror at the desk so you can see your face while you are speaking (if you don’t need to look at the script!). This allows you to ensure that your anxiety or unhappiness about calling is not coming through. In fact, if you just add a smile on, it improves the delivery of the call.
Get some intel
If you know this person is from San Francisco – and you’ve been to the Ghiradelli factory- find a way to weave that into the conversation. It’s all about building networks, right? Or, if you have visited their city, mention a spot that you liked in their city. I use LinkedIn for this purpose all the time!
Establishing the ability to communicate by phone improves other communication forms
Once a certain comfort level with phone conversation is established, the lessons learned can be applied to video calls, presenting, speaking up at staff meetings—pretty much any opportunity to network and build a personal brand. I’m always amazed at how many customers remember me from my role as receptionist, and it is fun to see that ah-a! moment when they meet me in my current coordinator role.
The distaste of using the phone for communicating can be overcome! Or, at least lessened using this approach.
- Understand your company’s culture (style expectations: formal or informal)
- Think about the organization you are contacting and the role of the person you are contacting
- Script it out!
- Know your time zones
- Practice — Practice with colleagues or with leaving yourself a voicemail
- Get visuals- Use a mirror at your desk when calling until you know how to smile through a call
- Get background for your call
It’s not as painful as it seems, and it does become less awkward with practice. I promise!