There’s an absolute art to answering business phone calls properly. By now, most of us with any work experience at all know we can’t answer a professional call the way we would our friends and family. “Yeah, what’s up” just won’t cut it, if you’re looking to project a professional image.
So, how then should business phone calls with customers be handled? Let’s dive into a few of the more important points in professional phone call answering etiquette we all need to be mindful of.
Maintain Control of the call at all times
As much as you need to be a servant to callers at all times, there’s an art to it whereby you always keep control of the call. Time is money and neither you, nor (most times) the customer want to stay on the line longer than necessary. Make sure to keep callers on point and focused on the reason they’re calling, and making quick decisions to help them solve their issue or get their message across.
Keep them on point and don’t feel compelled to engage in overly personal conversations.
If the call drifts in that direction, politely bring things back to the purpose of the call. Once you’ve answered their question, taken a message, made the sale, etc., warmly and politely ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with. This is a well-known, veiled phrase that essentially means “If there’s nothing else, we both have other things to do, and should thus end this call.”
Never interrupt the customer while they’re talking
Interrupt anyone while they’re talking and you risk annoying and/or alienating them. Interrupt a customer and you risk raising their anger level, or losing them as a lead because they naturally assume you don’t know how to listen.
Regardless the situation and nature of the conversation — unless you have a serious rapport and feel it pertinent to stop a particular train of thought a client is having, never interrupt them. When and if you do, prepare for the consequences!
Maintain a level, calm manner of speaking
“Never let them see you sweat” is a phrase we’ve all heard a dozen or more times. This is a saying that isn’t meant to be taken literally in most cases, but rather a cautionary quote telling us to not let people see our anger or discomfort. It’s very relevant in sales and customer service, particularly when there’s nothing but a phone connecting you and the customer.
The very best in the call answering game will take whatever emotions or other pressures customers are tossing their way and never let it show. Anger is an easy example — anger is like a forest fire during a drought. If a customer hears a change in your voice during a negative interaction, it just adds fuel to the fire. Even a seemingly pleasant conversation (Eg., speaking with chatty customers who love to talk, too much), can take a negative turn if the customer perceives you to be bored, annoyed, etc.
Exercise patience using empathy as your guide
Remaining calm is key to keeping the call moving in a positive direction. However, you need to use the empathy game to your advantage. Let’s be honest, regardless of the role you have in your company, it’s very likely you’ve only got so much room in your heart to feel true compassion for each and every caller. This is entirely normal, and if you’re like most people, the very start of the day and perhaps near the end are when you’ll be most truly empathetic (especially if you take a lot of calls).
However, staying patient and not letting the customer draw you into a negative mindset, while doing your very best to put yourself in their position is how strong bonds are achieved. Regardless of the nature of the call; empathy overcomes anger just as well as it overcomes objections to a sale. Be mindful that you’re there for the customer — and you have to care about them — they don’t have to give a darned about you and whatever is going on in your life!
Summarize the key points of the call before it ends
The very best service people out there all do one thing very well. They let the people they speak with know they’re listening by offering feedback throughout a conversation, and before parting ways. This goes a long way toward keeping even the most angry customer calm, and gaining trust from prospects by conveying that you’re the type of person they’re going to trust their hard-earned money to.
A simple script for summarizing key points of a call would go something like this:
“Mr/Ms. Johnson, to make sure I’ve got all the facts right, you were unhappy with the technician who came to your home and your (fill in the blank) still isn’t working. I’ve set a new appointment for this coming Thursday at 3:10pm. Our company is truly sorry for the way you felt treated, and I’ll be following up with you after the appointment to make sure you’re 100% satisfied.”
Always let the customer hang up first
If you’ve ever spoken to someone working in a professional call center (who hasn’t?) you’ve likely noticed they stay on the line even after saying goodbye, as it’s a serious rule they’re expected to follow that you must hang up first. This isn’t a be-all, end-all sort of rule.
However, it’s generally considered good practice to let the caller be the first to hang up the phone. Even when goodbyes and pleasantries have been exchanged, allowing the customer to hang up first is a sign of respect, and also lets them know that you’re going to be there to the very ends of the Earth for them (Ie., you’re in no rush to get off the phone with them).
Follow the call answering etiquette suggested above and you’ll find your customers will be happier, more deals will get signed, and your time spent on the phone will be much less stressful.