Category Archives: Phone Skills Training

9 Tips to Improve your Listening Skills

Having the ability to listen is one of the most important skills that you can learn in business as companies love to hire employees who have good listening and communication skills.  In fact, poor listening on behalf on an employee can end up causing organizations huge losses each year due to mistakes caused by employees who didn’t get the facts right.

There are many reasons to become a good listener as doing so allows you to become more efficient and productive, gives you the ability to demonstrate empathy and build better relationships with customers and co-workers.

Active ListeningThere are many distractions that can impact your ability to carefully listen to your customer such as side conversations, background noise, up and coming meetings, your supervisor waiting to talk to you, a previous rude customer, social media, email notifications, data entry, etc. These distractions can be easily overcome by following some guidelines on how to actively listen while on a customer call.

Actively listening and actually comprehending what the customer is saying is a skill that can be developed with proper training and practice.  Below are some tips that you can practice on a daily basis to help improve your listening skills:

  1. Focus: Stay focused on the purpose of call and listen for the facts or ideas being presented. Pay attention to the callers tone of voice and try to understand the message the caller is telling you from their point of view.
  2. Take Notes: Take notes as you listen to capture key points that you can refer to later.
  3. Eliminate Distractions: Try to prevent yourself from becoming distracted by colleagues and side conversations. Listen carefully and do not multi-task by checking emails, texts, Facebook or continuing to do data entry. Remember the caller deserves your undivided attention.
  4. Demonstrate Empathy: Listen to the emotion in your caller’s voice. Adjust your own tone of voice accordingly by showing empathy and interest in what the caller is saying.
  5. Don’t interrupt: You listen more effectively when you’re not talking, so refrain from interrupting your caller. Listen objectively and let them finish what they are saying as interruptions may break their train of thought.
  6. Ask questions: When in doubt as to what your caller is saying, ask patient, relevant questions to gain more information on points you need to clarify. This shows the customer that you are interested in what they are saying and that you are taking responsibility for the call.
  7. Stay Positive:  If you encounter an assertive, angry, upset customer, don’t allow your attitude to slip and become negative. Take a moment to reflect on how this impacts your attitude and then make a choice to retain a positive attitude as this will make the rest of your day much happier.
  8. Confirm and Summarize: Let the customer know you understand what they are saying by summarizing the conversation. Use statements such as “I understand”, “I agree”, “I see”, “You’re right”. These are all great ways to reflect back and summarize. Refer back on your notes by asking questions such as “It’s my understanding that we will be installing on…” or “May I take a moment to confirm what you’ve said?”. If your customer is upset, emphasize with them by saying statements such as “I understand how you are feeling right now. I will get this resolved as soon as possible.”
  9. Ask the Customer to Repeat Some Information: While it’s not good to ask callers to constantly repeat information, if you are having difficulty listening, you could say, “I’m sorry I missed what you just said. Could you please repeat that for me?.

Improve your Active Listening skills by taking an Active Listening E-Learning course offered on officeskills.org.

6 Tips to Properly Answering the Telephone

Having basic phone skills such as answering the phone in a professional manner and greeting the customer is important,  but knowing how to speak properly, listen to your customers, express empathy and maintain a positive attitude through-out the day will be key to your success as a Customer Service Representative or Office Professional.  Below are 6 basic skills that will help ensure your caller is completely satisfied with the service they receive and that they hang up with a positive impression of your company.

1.  Prepare for the Call

It’s important that you learn the features of your office phone system prior to handling calls as you do not want to practice on the customer. Most companies will provide basic training on how to use their phone system or pair you up with a more experienced person who can explain the features to you. It’s important to practice these features until they become second nature to you.  If you’re using a microphone, hold it directly in front of your mouth.  Save your eating and drinking, except for water, for break-time so you’re focused only on answering the call.  Make sure you are sitting comfortably and have a note pad handy so you can take notes as you listen, to capture key points of the call.

2.  Greet the Caller

Customer Service SkillsYou only get one chance to make a good impression, so formulating your initial greeting when answering the company telephone is critical. Remember, you are the first voice they hear when they contact your company. If your greeting is friendly and professional, the caller will begin to form a favorable and positive opinion of the company. If your greeting is unpolished and unfriendly, callers will form a negative opinion of your company.

Experts agree that the following initial greeting will make your customers feel welcome and appreciated:

  1. Greet the caller in a friendly and enthusiastic manner such as “Good morning or good afternoon”.
  2. State your company name.  For example, “This is Office Skills Training”.
  3. Introduce yourself to the caller.  For example  “This is Mae Smith”.
  4. Offer your help.  For example, “how may I help you”

Example”  “Good morning.  This is Office Skills Training, Mae Smith speaking.  How may I help you?”

Don’t forget to smile before you answer the phone as this will be reflected in your tone of voice and will be great for maintaining a positive attitude, not only during the call but through-out the whole day.

3.  Listen Carefully

Actively listening and actually comprehending what the customer is saying is a skill that can be developed with proper training and practice.  Give your full attention to what the customer is saying.  Take the time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate. Do not interrupt the caller at inappropriate times.

4.  Speak Clearly

When talking over the phone, you’re unable to rely on the nonverbal expressions that are so important in face to face conversations.  Therefore, speaking clearly and in an upbeat, positive and enthusiastic tone is extremely important at all times.  Do not speak too fast as the caller may not be able to hear you.  Remember to vary your tone of voice as this adds emphasis to what you’re trying to convey to the customer.

Your job is to be courteous, cheerful, polite, able and willing to show empathy to callers. Never argue with customers, rush them through a call or otherwise provide poor service.

5.  Keep a Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude, both in person and on the telephone, is very important in the Customer Service profession.  A positive attitude is the key to your success in your job and experts agree that maintaining a positive attitude is a choice you can make on a daily basis. While you may not have any control over many things that happen in life, you can, in fact, control your attitude by incorporating some of the following positive choices into your daily work life:

  • Dress for success and smile while talking to your customers.  Your attitude isn’t just reflected in your tone of voice but also in the way you look, stand or sit and in your facial expressions. You’ll find that your attitude towards customers may influence your own behavior as it’s hard to hide a negative attitude.
  • Be Friendly and courteous to all callers at all times. Remember that you are representing your company and first impressions count.
  • Try to reflect on your pleasant customer experiences through-out the day and not on the unpleasant, negative ones. You’ll be amazed at how much this will improve your attitude.
  • If you encounter an assertive, angry, upset customer, don’t allow your attitude to slip and become negative. Take a moment to reflect on how this impacts your attitude and then make a choice to retain a positive attitude as this will make the rest of your day much happier.

6.  End the Call Professionally

Ending the call is just as important as the initial caller greeting as this is your last opportunity to make sure the caller is completely satisfied with the service they received and that they hang up with a positive impression of your company.  Here are some tips:

  • It’s important to thank the caller for calling and provide a brief summary of the outcome of the conversation such as “Thank-you for calling Mr Rogers. Your order for overnight delivery has been placed and you can expect it to be delivered within the next 24 hours.”
  • Let the caller know you appreciate their business.  Example: “Thank-you for calling Mr Rogers. We very much appreciate your order and it has been a pleasure doing business with you.”
  • Offer to help in the future by letting the customer know how to contact you or your company. Example: If you find you need additional assistance, please call us back at 800-333-1212.
  • Say Goodbye but always let the caller hang up first. Example: “Goodbye Mr. Rogers. Thank-you for calling.”

References: Telephone Courtesy & Customer Service: Be Your Company’s Lifeline to Customers (Crisp Fifty-Minute Books)

Need to improve your telephone skills further?  Take the Essential Telephone Etiquette E-learning course offered by Phone Skills Trainer on officeskills.org.

Essential Telephone Etiquette Online Course

Beyond Borders: International Business Etiquette

How we interact with others can vary greatly depending on what situation we’re in. Personality, of course, plays a big part but there are unwritten rules which guide our actions too. While we might greet a friend with a hug and a kiss on the check, in a formal business situation a handshake is probably more appropriate. There are also other considerations we probably don’t even think about. Our body language the tone of our voice can both have a massive effect upon how we’re perceived, but they just seem to come naturally. Many of these subtle changes to our language and attitude happen based on our past experiences, but when we introduce cultural differences to the mix as well, it starts to become much more complicated.

Though a cultural faux pas while we’re on holiday may be some cause for amusement, in the world of business it could result in more than just a red face. From linguistic mistakes to asking inappropriate questions, the cultural differences from country to country could mean the difference between a productive relationship and the end of a business deal. Thankfully, international telecommunications provider Toll Free Forwarding have produced a fantastic dos and don’ts guide to some of the world’s biggest economies with advice on conversation topics, greetings and what to expect from phone calls and face to face meetings. See the graphics below, and check out their blog for even more information, here.

International Phone Etiquette

8 Steps to Deal with Tricky Customer Calls

Reprinted with permission of Matt Jones of Search Laboratory on behalf on TollFreeForwarding.com

If you’ve ever worked in a customer facing role, you’ll know it’s not all plain sailing. No matter how much you want or try to help a customer there are still other obstacles preventing you from doing so. Whether the obstacles are because of company policy, individual circumstance or even the stubbornness of a customer there are ways you can deal with these situations. With the help of select business, HR, and anger management experts, the experts at to to TollFreeForwarding.com have put together their eight top tips for dealing with tricky customer calls:

1. Look after yourself first
Before you start worrying about anything to do with your job, you have to make sure you’re looking after yourself. A call center, in particular, can be a very stressful work environment and it pays to make sure you can detach yourself from it in your home life. Anger Management Specialist at Mind and Power, Eileen Lichtenstein, believes plenty of rest and a healthy dose of mindfulness can help:
“Sleep is important – you should have 7 hours at least. It can be helpful to relax before sleep without devices. Focus on deep breathing and clearing mind and/or positive visualizations. If you’re too agitated to do this, doing a progressive muscle relaxation is helpful to release muscle tension and prepare the body to relax.”

2. Be prepared

As much as you have a responsibility to make sure you’re ready for the job, your employer also has certain responsibilities to make sure you’re prepared for any potentially difficult situations. Business Consultant at S and E Consulting, Armando Alcaraz, explains what you should expect from your company:
“Make sure you have clear guidelines and company policies. You can also ask for appropriate training and feedback on the job. Clarity of what you need to do or who you need to ask always makes the job easier and can reduce the stress that comes with it.”

team-workers3

3. Don’t take it personally

Never lose sight of the context of the situation you’re in. This is not a personal phone call, and if you do have to deal with a difficult customer, the first thing to remember is that none of this is personal. Remember the customer isn’t annoyed specifically at you, but rather at an experience they’ve had individually. Tish Squillaro, the author of the self-help book Mindtrash, explains how she rationalizes customer anger:
“One of the frustrations for everyone else who deals with an angry person is that you think you did something to create the anger. But here’s the secret. The anger was there from the beginning, and it keeps festering. In addition, sometimes angry people may have had their feelings pent up just waiting for something to set them off, and a simple thing that the call center worker said may have been the cause.”

4. Let them vent
Some customers just need to let it out. They will already have prepared an idea of what they want to say to get it off their chest no matter how you respond, so often it’s just best to let them get if off their chest. There’s no need to interrupt and antagonize them, just make sure you’re noting what their frustrations are so you can address them all after. Customer Experience Expert, Shep Hyken, agrees that you should simply listen:
“If a customer is complaining and angry, let them vent. Most likely they aren’t mad at you personally. Ask them questions to show that you care. Don’t add to their aggravation. You might ask them to repeat the problem just to make sure you understand. Be a good listener.”

5. Bring your call back to life with C.P.R

Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a tough situation all your training can get lost. So, keep it simple. If your phone call is in cardiac arrest, Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal says just remember these three simple letters:
“I always use the C.P.R technique:
– Comprehend-what happened that made the customer upset
– Purpose-give the angry customer options on how to fix the situation
– React-once the actions have been agreed upon, react, and fix the problem. “

6. Be honest and assertive

Although you need to make sure you’re open and helpful, you also need to be assertive, especially with difficult customers. That doesn’t mean getting argumentative, but rather being clear on company policies and what you can do to help from the outset. If you start changing your mind or being unsure of yourself then the customer will sense your uncertainty. Eileen Lichtenstein expands on the importance of honesty:

“If you make a mistake on a call with a customer, it is important to admit the mistake and apologize to restore faith and confidence in you. Throughout a difficult conversation (in person or on the phone) it is important to stay in the assertive, friendly mode without being aggressive or defensive.”

7. Escalate it

If you don’t feel you can resolve the issue, then you may need to escalate the issue. Your manager is trained to deal with volatile customers and will probably have more experience. Use their experience to help both you and the customer if a situation has become too volatile. Director of Human Resources at Dupray, Pierre Tremblay, give his advice on escalation:
“It’s actually better to end the call as soon as possible to avoid escalation. The ramifications for failing to assist the customer will never outweigh the avoidance of inappropriate behavior. Escalate any information from the call to your supervisor and to HR, immediately and without hesitation. Keeping them aware of the situation will keep you out of trouble.”

8. Don’t put up with abuse

Some customers are just too difficult to handle and you don’t need to put up with abuse. If a customer starts getting verbally abusive then tackle them and let them know you will not continue the call if they continue acting in such a manner. Camille Charbonneau, Mental Performance Consultant at Peak Perform, believes the key in such situations is staying calm and professional:
“Don’t fight fire with fire. Fighting fire with fire will just get you worked up for nothing. Accept it and be non-judgmental to the correspondence. Be respectful and answer professionally otherwise you may get stressed for a silly reason.”

HALF of American office workers are SCARED of using the phone

How to make the perfect phone callThe international call forwarding service provider, TollFreeForwarding.com, recently surveyed 2000 working Americans about their phone skills and found that nearly half of office workers have reservations about using the phone as opposed to e-mail in an office environment.  The reasons they found include anxiety, giving bad news, fear of rejection,  nerves, forgetting things, miscommunication and not being able to communicate effectively.

The study revealed that one in five employees under age 24 feel anxious about every phone call they make at work.  Of the three most essential methods of communication in companies – phones, face-to-face and e-mail – phone calls were found to be the most feared option, with only 6.5% of those between 25 and 34 feeling comfortable using a phone.  This figure rises to 72% in 16-24 year olds as they’re the most fearful. This is in sharp contrast to only 35% of adults over 55 who are frightened of using the phone

The findings displayed visually here confirm that businesses are missing out on one of the most effective forms of communication.  It shows that even though over a third (38%) of employees think it’s the most effective way to communicate,  only 9% are truly comfortable using the phone in a work environment compared to 23% at home.

How to Make the Perfect Phone CallThe worry here is that this could be a potential hindrance to business and could essentially be affecting revenue.   To combat this, TollFreeForwarding.com worked with business experts and University lecturers from around the world to create this phone guide on how to Make the Perfect Professional Phone Call.  This useful guide advises business workers on how to prep for making the call, use their best voice through-out the duration of the call and how to end the call in a professional manner.