Telephone Skills, Part 1

phone skills part 1 careernet nation

Written by CareerNet Nation

September 9, 2022

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CareerNet Nation Members

Professional Phone Skills -Part 1 – CareerNet Nation

Here at CareerNet Nation, we noticed something. Each generation has its own ways of speaking on the phone. While this maybe culturally interesting, perhaps we will even discuss it in an article, professional phone skills have changed little in 50 years.

In the past, we either learned from our parents or our managers how to communicate properly by phone. Now, it seems very little attention and training is offered to this vital business skill.

You may be speaking only to co-workers by phone or video conference, or you may spend half your time speaking to customers and the other half to co-workers. Either way, Communication skills on the phone are important. 

However, statistics still show that 79% of customers prefer voice calls as their primary form of contact. People, new customers, and future customers prefer phone calls to all other forms of contact when buying services or products or troubleshooting. It’s simply more efficient most of the time.

Professional phone skills remain vital business skills. Excellent phone skills can be a career difference maker.

CareerNet Nation wants you to be confident with your phone skills.

An Introduction to phone skills

In today’s fast-paced and interconnected world, effective communication skills are crucial for personal and professional success. While Generation Z, born between the late 1990s and early 2010s, is often associated with digital communication platforms and messaging apps, it is equally important for them to develop strong phone skills.

Whether it’s for conducting business calls, job interviews, or networking opportunities, mastering professional phone etiquette can greatly enhance career prospects and establish a positive impression.

Professional phone skills are a vital component of effective communication in the modern workplace. While Generation Z is no stranger to smartphones and mobile devices, the transition from casual texting to professional phone conversations can be a challenge.

Understanding the nuances of phone etiquette, projecting confidence, and effectively conveying ideas over the phone are skills that can set individuals apart in a competitive job market.

The impact of smartphone on professional phone skills

If you are a member of Generation Smartphone (that’s Gen Z), you have lived a truly connected life.

  • It’s a world where speed of response suggests the importance of the conversation to both parties.
  • It’s a social structure that relies on text messaging as the predominant form of communication among peer groups.

Don’t agree? Answer this question:

How many parties or events have you attended during your teen age or early adult years where you spend more time texting the people at the event rather than actually speaking to them?

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In these years valuable social skills may not have been developed. It may be the main reason more and more young people perceive themselves as introverts. Some may be, but in reality most have become dependent on silent communication. They have not developed the skills people have used for 10,000+ years – positive, voice-to-voice communication.

It’s the type of skill that is necessary to create and build a career.

Let’s address those skills today.

They are so important to employers that we have built a course and certification for on work place professionalism that has an entire section devoted to teaching voice-to-voice Telephone Skills.

The goal is to never worry. It’s to be confident that you are taking and initiating calls from customers and clients properly.

Phone Skill #1 – Listen.

Yes, we know, it seems counterintuitive to think about listening in a professional phone call. But even our seasoned recruiting pros have to catch themselves and think “listen first” when on a client or customer call.

This skill, known as active listening, is in fact a phone skills superpower. With distractions constantly vying for attention, it is essential to practice focused listening during phone conversations. This means:

  1. Avoiding interruptions – silence your chat widows, turn off your music or podcasts, turn off your video screens. Unless you are using your smartphone to speak with the customer, client or co-worker, switch on the silencer and place it screen down on your work desk during the call.
  1. Demonstrating genuine interest – It may come as a surprise, but virtually everyone you speak with in business is interested in hearing from you and interested in speaking with you. So, see each voice-to-voice conversation as important to the person who accepted your call. Sure, their tone may at times seem dismissive or even “nasty”, but they called you, your company, or accepted a call from you or your company. This means something! It is valuable to the marketing and growth of the company you work with.

Remember, with all the tech and apps out there that make it easy to ignore a call you do not want to take, this person either took your call, accepted your invitation to speak, or called you or your company directly. Value that and try to ignore the tone. Be interested in what the person is saying to you and respond with a positive tone, EVEN if you don’t have good news for them.

  1. Engaging with the speaker through appropriate responses – Active listening not only helps you to comprehend information accurately but also shows respect and attentiveness, fostering positive relationships and effective collaboration.

Phone Skill #2 – Using Your True Voice

Or, How do you sound?

We hear lots of people say, “I hate the way my voice sounds.”  For many it takes some getting used to.  Your voice sounds differently to your own ear as it is directly or relatively connected to your speaking parts – jaw, lips, tongue.  Some complain their recorded voice is too high, too soft, too loud, too deep.  In truth you have naturally developed your voice over your lifetime to get the best responses from the people you want to communicate with. It is uniquely you. The unique you that brings value to their lives is what people want.  Take pride in the sound of your voice.

However, if you are still unhappy with the way you sound, there is a simple way to fix the sound of your voice. Simply use an earpiece and a microphone set up when you are speaking on the phone. Over time, you will naturally change your voice to make it sound the way you like it. You’ll be surprised to find that after a few weeks of speaking only through a microphone enabled headset, your recorded voice sounds nearly the same to you as your voice does when speaking.

How your voice sounds to you and others is crucial in a business setting and brings us to a 3rd important skill needed in any business environment, meeting, interview, negotiation and phone conversation. Your Tone.

Phone Skill #3 – Have a positive tone.

This may seem simple and perhaps a little obvious.  We promise you it is not to most people.

There is some concept in business so prevalent it has appeared in novels and stories since the beginning of writing. More recently it has appeared in film.  That concept is:

“you must always use a serious tone in business so that others will take you seriously”.

We all know when a businessperson uses that serious tone. And we agree, there is a time and place for that tone.  But it is not at all when you pick up a customer or client call. Ever.

What you need to use is your natural voice that says, “I’m happy to be here and glad to be speaking with you”.  The good thing is you already know how to use this voice. It’s the voice you might use with an acquaintance who you are seeking to make a friend.

It’s unique to you and tells the person on the other side of the phone that you are genuinely glad to be speaking with them. This brings trust and openness to the conversation which allows you to ask more difficult questions or deal with more difficult problems as they inevitably come in assisting a customer or client over time.

People want to feel at ease with you in business. That comes from trust which, in great part, comes from you being genuine and positive with them.  This is great skill which may be practiced in private or with friends or family for a few days before applying it to a business call.  Use a positive tone and notice how people close to you react. You may never switch back to your old tone.

Phone Skill #4 – Speak normally, but not too fast and not to slow.

How many times have you been on a call with a customer service rep and you can’t keep up with them or with their solutions to your problems?  We all have.  That’s because over time they have been told to increase their call numbers (that’s the amount of customers they speak to) and the easy way they do this is by speaking quickly. What impression does this give you about the service and company?

For us it says we are just a number, a problem to solve so that they may continue to charge us for their services.

Do you ever feel that way when speaking to a customer service representative?

This is not the way you want to be perceived in business. In fact, it is the opposite way you want to be perceived. The best solution is to speak at a normal speed. Like you might when you answered questions in a classroom.

What was your objective when answering a question in class?

For us it was to answer a question carefully, thoughtfully so the Teacher could understand us.

An appropriate speaking pace creates a better opportunity for clear and concise communication.  Gen Z is known for their fluency in digital communication. That’s great! Now think about adapting the text and writing skills (proper grammar and spell checked!) to the spoken word. Think about it, you have likely learned through years of texting how to get your point across quickly and clearly in 2 to 3 short sentences.

This involves articulating thoughts clearly, avoiding jargon, and speaking at an appropriate pace. By using concise language, maintaining a professional tone, and expressing ideas effectively, individuals can convey their message clearly and leave a lasting impression on the other end of the line.

Phone Skill #5 – Speed does not equal Efficiency.

To be clear, there are certain phone-based cultures that value speedy talk as long as it is accurate – stocks and bonds trading as an example where speed in a specific phone call can make a difference in price.

But for virtually every other profession, speed calls are the enemy. Here are a few reasons why:

When you speak faster you do not listen to the customer.

When you do not listen to the customer you cannot understand the reason they have called for assistance.

When you do not know their reason(s) for calling you may not be solving their problem.

If their problem is not solved, they will be calling your company back for more help. If each of their calls requires 5 minutes of your time or you colleagues time that means a 5-minute call becomes a 10 minute call. Now multiply that by 30 calls your business may take in a day. That’s 150 minutes of wasted time which equals nearly 2.5 hours of lost time. Does that seem efficient to you or your supervisor?

It’s important that you sound natural, project a positive tone, and speak at a normal pace. Be yourself, the calm and clear self that you can be with practice

Phone Skill #6 – Company Etiquette

Lastly, understanding phone etiquette in various professional settings is crucial.

Different industries and organizations may have specific protocols and expectations when it comes to phone conversations. We mention this above using brokers and trading professionals as an example. It is important to familiarize yourself with the norms and guidelines relevant to your respective fields.

For instance, proper phone etiquette might include identifying oneself at the beginning of the call, asking permission to put someone on hold, or using appropriate language and tone in sensitive discussions.

Adapting to these professional standards demonstrates professionalism and respect for others. The best way to apply specific protocols to your business skills is to watch and listen to your co-workers. Self-training through observation is a skill that we all have naturally.

Here is a brief list which may be applied quickly:

Do this:

  1. Introduce yourself. Even in the age of caller ID, it can be jarring to pick up the phone and jump right into a conversation.Customer service phone etiquette should start by reminding the person you’re calling who you are and why you’re reaching out. They will appreciate the courtesy even if they recognized your name and number when they picked it up.
  2. Work from a script. Prepare your own call script. A call script can provide a standard introduction and conversational platform upon which you base all your conversations. Having a plan or outline in front of you will reduce the anxiety of remembering what you want to say and the order you want to say it in. It will prepare you to communicate actively and also allow you to actively listen to a customer’s response.
  3. Repeat requests back for clarity. This is a great tool when you are not quite certain what the person is saying. But don’t overuse it. “Do you mean that you are seeking a solution to [this]?” Then listen for a response.
  4. Make the kind of call you’d like to receive. The Golden Ruleapplies to just about everything in life, but this is especially true in the business world. Treat callers the way you like to be treated on the phone. That means making easy, friendly conversation that accomplishes goals for both parties. [credit: MAP Communications]
  5. Leave clear and simple voicemails. If you get someone’s voicemail, leave a message that’s short and sweet. Include your contact information and the reason for your call. Keep it short and professional.

Don’t Do This

  1. Don’t answer the phone too casually. A “Hello!” is fine but consider including your name as you pick up a call. State the name of the business when you’re answering the phone, too.
  2. Don’t leave people on hold. If you have to put a person on hold, ask them if it’s okay to do so. At times, it may be better to take down the caller’s number and ask to call them back later. There’s no quicker way to make a person feel unimportant than by placing them on an extended hold!
  3. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Your mom probably warned you not to do this, and if you’re making important calls over your lunch hour, you might be tempted to chat as you chew. Resist the urge! There’s nothing worse than someone chewing in your ear.
  4. Don’t use slang. Unless you know the person on the other end of the line socially, it’s best to keep language professional. Swap out “hang on a sec” for “just a moment, please” and you’re sure to impress the person on the line.
  5. Don’t put people on speakerphone – especially if there’s a lot going on in the background. While convenient, employing your speakerphone can lower the quality of the call, making it more difficult for callers to understand what you’re saying. They may also feel more exposed, not knowing who might be with you listening in to the conversation.

In Part 2 of Telephone Skills, we will cover Greetings. Part 3 Customer Management, and simple ways to handle complaints.

CareerNet Nation also offers phone skills assessments for company and personal certification. 

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