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Talking on the telephone

Nowadays, even with e-mail

and the internet, the telephone is still probably the most common means of communication in business, and used efficiently it has two advantages.

Advantages of the telephone

It is fast It allows people to converse even

when they are unable to meet. It is a great leveler: status, physical appearance and surroundings dont show It is a great focuser: it removes the social and emotional distractions of face-to-face encounter

Telephone problems
The telephone, for all its

convenience and speed, also has the power to convey rapidly a poor impression of the efficiency of individuals and the organizations and create considerable confusion and irritation.

Certainly telephone calls seem

cheaper than sending a letter. Many organizations calculate that the average cost of sending a letter taking into account the staff time involved and the overheads as well as postage/courier, is about 25Rs, which would buy quite a lot of telephone time even at current rates.

 We have all suffered from the irritating waste of

time caused by bad telephone manners:  Trying to get a line  The person required not being available  Being left hanging on( albeit to the sounds of the latest popular classic tunes) by an operator who appears to have gone to lunch  Being passed from department to department (or even diverted from phone to phone without our knowledge!) in an effort to find someone who can answer the query

 Wrong or engaged numbers  A caller who has all the time in the world

to chat when we are busy  Of late get plugged on to CRM software who will keep on giving you instruction to keep on dialing without ever getting to a live person on the other side Any of these time-wasters can take longer than it takes to write or dictate a letter.

First impressions count

Frequently, the first contact a caller has with an organization is with the person who answers their first call.  That person, either through a lack of courtesy, lack of knowledge about the organization, or how to use the telephone itself can, however innocently, create an initial bad impression of the organization which is difficult to correct.
 But the telephone can exact other costs.

The faceless voice

Perhaps the principal cause of much of this apparent inefficiency is that although the standard telephone allows oral communication, it does not transmit visual communication (non-verbal messages like facial expressions, gestures and postures) which are important giving way to problems like:

Words are missed Words are misheard The message is misunderstood

because, the visual cues and feedback are missing The conversation somehow doesnt seem so immediate

 Not only does this lack of visual communication

cause messages to be received incorrectly, but it can also cause messages to be transmitted incorrectly by putting callers at what they feel to be a psychological disadvantage.  Many people have developed a positive dislike of the telephone because they cannot see the person to whom they are talking, with the result they lack the confidence to make and answer calls clearly and efficiently.  The proliferation of the answering machines has, for many people, made this fear even worse

Given the importance of the telephone

in modern business operations and the prevalence of bad telephone habits (of which we are all guilty at times) , it is surprising that very few books or courses on business communication offer more than a paragraph or two on the subject of telephone technique.

For this reason, this is just an

attempt at correcting the balance somewhat by: Providing guidance on making and answering calls efficiently and therefore Cutting the cost of telephoning

Picking up verbal clues

 The telephone is not merely a second-rate

communication channel  For most purposes, a telephone conversation is as effective as a face-toface meeting  Indeed, given the saving in travel time and costs and the facility of audio- and videoconferencing, it is set to replace most meetings

Being a verbal detective

 Trust your intuition when picking up clues

about the other persons personality, feelings and mood  Stay relaxed and allow ideas about the speaker to drift into your mind- unforced impressions can prove to be remarkably accurate  Look out for hesitations, self- mocking comments and other clues about the speakers state of mind.

 Check your hunches by replaying your

impressions to the caller, use reflecting back phrases like what you seem to be feeling is  Use anticipatory feedback to guide your conversation: imagine the other persons response to a statement you are about to make and then modify what you actually say to achieve the intended result

Basic telephone rules

Be brief: but not at the expense of

making yourself clearly understood and not to the extent of being abrupt and discourteous. Lack of telephone confidence often causes people to talk for longer than they would face-face conversations

Be courteous
This is specially important when telephoning to avoid creating a bad impression which is so difficult to correct. Your tone of voice is crucial in conveying a courteous, cheerful impression as the words you use Remember too, that even if you are not yet using a video phone, your facial expressions affects the tone of your voice. Smile!

Be resourceful
 Dont be clueless.  Always think of ways in which you can be

most helpful.  If you are taking a message for someone else, use your local knowledge to suggest helpful ways of getting the caller and recipient of the message in touch with one another so that the caller can judge in an informed way what they want to do.

If the caller has been put through to

your department but no one in your department knows anything about the matter, think quickly, who else in the organization might know something and be able to help? If you are really unable to help, sound sincerely concerned, not uninterested.

Speak clearly
Enunciate and articulate your words

particularly clearly to counteract both the poor acoustic quality of the telephone line and the absence of lip movements to help the listener. When giving names and numbers, if there is any ambiguity use the phonetic code used by all emergency services to clarify messages.

A for Alpha B for Bravo C for Charlie D for Delta E for Echo F for Foxtrot G for Golf

H for Hotel I for India J for Juliet K for Kilo L for Lima M for Mike N for November O for Oscar

P for Papa Q for Quebec R for Romeo S for Sierra T for Tango U for Uniform

V for victor W for Whisky X for X-ray Y for Yankee Z for Zulu Remember that

5 and 9 sound similar. Spell them.

Speak more slowly

When you are talking on the

telephone it is a good idea to slow your speech down. When your voice is being mechanically transmitted, the word seem to move together faster. That is the reason TV announcers often speak at a slower than is normal in everyday conversation

Remember too that someone may be

trying to take notes as you talk This is particularly important when talking to an answering machine. Dont rattle off your phone number at a rate of knots- remember the poor person on the end trying to write it down.

Building a positive telephone personality

Dont worry what you look like when

youre on the phone; use as much as little body language as you wish Focus your concentration on what youre saying and what is being said to you Mirror positive feelings in your facial expressions; if you smile while you speak, youll put a smile in your voice

Try to relax; stretch to loosen your

muscles and breathe evenly- tension can feed straight into your voice and create a negative image Dont use specialized language (company or professional jargon): whats jargon to you may be a foreign language to the other person

Avoid clichs that say one

thing and clearly mean something else Remember, when you tell a lie your voice rises involuntarily; on the phone this easily detected

Punctuate your conversation with

you, your and the persons name Replace some of your body language (head nods, quizzical expressions) with verbal equivalents: yes, of course, Im not sure I understand that last point. Could you

Switch board operators

Although telephone operator training

was at one time standard practice in business some organizations seem to put their least able employee on the switch board. The operator is typically regarded by callers as the representative of the whole organization.

Qualities of the switch board operator

Verbal intelligibility Speed Courtesy Accuracy Discretion Resourcefulness

These qualities are just as essential in anyone who is allowed near a business telephone

Help the operator

The good switchboard operator is

indeed an organizations ambassador: they welcome your callers, introduce you, apologize for your absence or try to get you on another line, often take messages- and are frequently blamed for your shortcomings. Seven points can help the operator

Making your system work

Understanding how the telephone

system used in your organization works. Giving the number you want( including the STD) Not disappearing immediately you have asked her to ring a number for you

Answering the phone after the first

ring( when they call you back) Acting upon the messages without delay Telling them in advance when you are likely to be absent Providing your potential callers with your direct line number so that they dont have to go through the operator

Making a call
 Before 1. Answer the six questions of effective

communication- Why? Who? Where? When? What? How? 2. Make notes of what you want to achieve, the main points/ queries you must include and any dates, facts, etc. you may need to refer to.

3. Have ready any files, correspondence, etc. which you may need in the course of the conversation; dont keep your receiver waiting while you ferret around for the relevant papers or turn your computer on and find the right screen 4. Have ready a plain piece of paper for your own notes

6. Know the name of the person to whom you need to speak; sometimes this may be impossible but, atleast, keep a personal telephone directory of names and numbers you ring regularly. 7. Dial the number carefully( or tell the operator clearly); wrong numbers are the most common cause of frustration and time- wasting, but are usually the fault of the caller.

 Give a greeting (good morning,

etc.); state your name (and organization) and the name of the person to whom you want to speak  Wait patiently to be put through; you may be put through to a secretary or the department telephone, in which case you will have to go through step 1 again

If you are cut off, replace the telephone

receiver, wait for a few seconds and ring again Keep it short: most calls can achieve their purpose in 20 seconds- 20 seconds time to run 200 yards! Time for a jet to fly 4 miles! State your subject/ query clearlyenough to put the recipient in the picture

Refer periodically to your notes Pause occasionally to get feedback

that your message is understood Spell names and addresses; repeat numbers Take notes, especially the name and number of the person to whom you are speaking

Summarize main points of a long

conversation at the end and always conclude by confirming any action required or date to be met If you have to leave a message for someone else, help the person who answered the phone to take the right message; dont just ramble on making them to get the gist of it; tell them which are the main points to write down

Be polite: thank the receiver for their

help, even if you havent got the information you wanted- fostering goodwill is not just a part of being courteous, but will help future relations. Telephone etiquette officially requires that if you are the caller you decide when the call ends but, since not every knows this, use your judgment.

Immediately, before you forget:  Fill in your notes so that they will be comprehensible at a later date.  Date the note and file it  Put any relevant dates for future action or follow- up in your diary  Pass on the results of your call to any one concerned with he matter

Controlling the flow of conversation

Be sure you understand exactly what

you want the call to achieve. Take the initiative; this gives the right to take the lead and choose when to the end the call Begin every call with a verbal handshake by telling who you are and why you are calling

Mirror the conversational style and

vocabulary of the other person to generate rapport Keep your line of argument simple: state your case and persist until the message gets through Keep the conversation flowing by asking plenty of questions, but also be generous with information of your own

Search for the areas of agreement

rather than points of difference Use silence for emphasis and to prompt the person to respond Use alternatives when seeking agreement

Gathering information by telephone

 In gathering information for the

preparation of a report, or merely as a part of your day to job, you may need to contact original or primary sources of information, or someone else who has access to secondary information you need. Telephone calls are widely used by business and industrial firms who may need certain information very quickly, and made correctly these calls can be very effective.

1. Work out exactly what information

you need 2. Frame a series of increasingly specific questions which will give you what you want to know, e.g. do you have the unemployment figures for the Bristol area over the last six months? does this include a breakdown by age groups and sex?

can you tell me the unemployment figures for girls aged 16 to 25 for each month since June? ..and so on, to the level of details you need. 3. Decide which firm, individual, office, government agency, organization or business might possibly have at hand the information you need.

When you get through, be polite but

specific. Dont say: I wonder if you happen to have anyone there who knows something about unemployment etc. instead say: I need some information concerning the unemployment figures for the Bristol area over the last six months. Can you help me? (Remember politeness and courtesy can be conveyed in your tone of voice.)

Then, depending on the response, go on

to ask more specific question. If they cant help say: could you please give me the name of someone who can? Dont be discouraged if the first place you try cant help you; try another place- you will eventually get what you want if you keep trying (providing that it is not your telephone technique which is putting them off!)

Make sure you are talking to the right

person; ask to speak to the personnel manager or the person in charge of buying or whatever is appropriate. Write down the information immediately- dont rely on your memory; read it back to the person you are questioning. Remember to say thank you.

Answering the telephone

In some organizations the job of

answering the telephone is given to the most junior employee. This is unwise as far as the organization or department is concerned, and unfair on the junior, who through lack of confidence and lack of experience in the organization usually creates a poor impression

However, more senior employees

may be just as guilty: through laziness, apathy or thoughtlessness they can create equally poor impression Anyone who answers a telephone anywhere must be courteous, helpful and efficient

Know how the telephone

system in your organization works, especially how to transfer a call. (being cut off is probably one of the most frustrating experiences- it wastes time and creates a bad impression)

Never answer a telephone without a

pencil and a paper Keep near your own telephone: A pencil and a pad An internal telephone directory An appointment directory (if appropriate) Stop talking to anyone else and reduce any other noise before picking up the telephone receiver

Think about the needs of the receiver

and give them (as fast as possible) every thing they need to know, e.g. Announce your name and department or section (in a cheerful voice!) If the call has come through the operator, the receiver will already have been given the name of your organization

If the call is directly from outside, announce the name of your organization first, and then your name and the department (if relevant)  A common fault is to start speaking a second or two before picking up the receiver or, more commonly on the switch board, before pressing the button on the console. I have heard half the name of more organizations that I can remember e.g..oyce ltd. Good morning ons ltd...

of greeting a caller- know your house rules, e.g. Simmons, Personnel manager, speaking, Mrs. Gandhis secretary speaking, Dont rush this greeting. Because you have to say it so often it is tempting to rattle it off, with the result that at best it sounds completely insincere and monotonous or at worst it is incomprehensible to an outsider and there fore pointless

 Many organizations have a standard practice

Many people are amused or even

irritated by the common greeting: Whittaker and company. Tracy speaking. How may I help you? make it sound as sincere as possible. Be prepare to answer the query, or take a message for someone who can, or transfer the call.

 If you are acting as a secretary you may be

expected to filter calls for your boss; know whether: They may wish to be unavailable They want some people put straight through to them( if so know who they are) They want you to deal with certain routine calls yourself( if so, know which types of calls you should deal with)

You will therefore have to ask

for the name of the caller and politely ask the purpose of the call. But use tact. Dont be over- protective or you might cause resentment in the caller and your boss

Listen carefully to what the caller has

to say and take notes; they will form the basis either of your action or of a message if you have to pass one on. Check that you have the right facts in the message- do not assume the eventual recipient of the message will know what it is all about

 Dont hesitate to ask the speaker to slow

down or spell names and addresses if they are unclear, and always read them back  Compensate for the lack of visual communication: the nods of normal conversation must be conscientiously replaced by verbal equivalents, e.g. yes, I see, fine, Ill let him know, Im not sure I agree with that, really?

 But avoid using over- familiar or slang

expressions like youre not serious!, yeah, good god!- and if the message is for someone else, avoid speaking for them, committing them or imagining negative attitudes on their behalf, unless you are authorized to do so; for instance: oh hell be over the moon about that !(said either sincerely or in a sarcastic tone of voice)

Dont be distracted by anything

going on around you, or someone else trying to attract your attention never try to hold two conversations at once. Be just as keen as your caller should be to save time and money

 Avoid asking the caller to hold the line

while you go on a paper chase; offer to call back.  If you are cut off. Put the telephone down and wait for the caller to call you back.  Before the call ends, repeat back the main points of the conversation and always read back any names, addresses, numbers, dates and times, to give the caller a chance to correct any errors or omissions

Agree what happens next, if

you are taking a message for someone else, e.g. Ill tell her that youll ring again on Thursday morning, or Ill ask him to ring you back as soon as possible.

Telephone etiquette requires that since the caller is paying, they should be the one to decide when the call ends; however, since not everyone seems to be aware of this, be prepared to use your judgment.

Dealing with difficult calls

 Things to remember

Always volunteer to help rather wait to be asked Always personalize the conversation by introducing yourself and getting the callers name Always let the caller let off steam without interruption until their anger is spent Always show you are taking a serious interest by playing back the details of the complaint in your words

 Always offer sympathy to the caller (I can

understand how annoying that must have been) but without overdoing it  Always encourage callers to voice all their complaints before starting to deal with any of them  Always finish by summarizing what you have offered- and agree it with the caller  Always call the customer if theres a further problem; dont risk angering the customer twice

Things to avoid
 Dont attempt to reason with someone

while they are still angry  Dont suggest or agree a solution (or take blame) until all the facts have emerged  Dont offer excuses or look for sympathy; dont dump the blame on some third party (the supplier let us down) or unusual circumstances (everyone had the flu) those are your problems, not the customers

 Dont take the complaint personally; be as

objective as you can and avoid getting angry yourself  Dont assume the complainer is unique (suggest that they are the only person to have had a problem)- research shows that every person who rings to complain, there are six who dont  Dont agree to do something you are not in a position to deliver; if necessary, offer to call the customer back after you have taken advice

comprehensible to you later and particularly to the recipient if have taken a message Act on notes immediately, telling anyone else who is concerned; write any letters or memos now, if possible, while the matter is clear in your mind
Fill in your notes so that they will be

If you have a message for someone

else, put the date and time of the call on the message and deliver it immediately or place it in a prominent position on the persons desk if they are out; remind when you return Update any documents necessary; write dates in your diary.

Be a good telephone listener

 Dont listen on auto pilot or while doing

something else; make a conscious effort to pour all energy into listening  Eliminate as many internal distractions as possible; ignore what is going on around you  Erase internal distractions as well; stray thoughts about other maters should be curbed as they occur

 Take notes to keep your eye on the ball;

jot down your reactions as well points of hard information  Demonstrate to the speaker that you are paying attention by making regular continuity noises; dont let them have to say: are you still there?  Keep a hold on your emotions; getting emotional interferes with your ability to listen carefully

thank you