Keep your Cool on the Phone

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Note: I wrote this for http://www.serviceuntitled.com.  Check them out!

What do you do when you work primarily on phones and have an irate caller on the line? The easy thing would be to match their annoyance level.  Get angry right back, and throw some well places obscenities in for good measure… right? Well, sure, if you want to lose your job.  I work for a virtual reception company and all day long we talk to people over the phone.  We get happy callers, angry callers, callers with crazy stories, and callers who did not dial correctly.  The happy callers are easy; they call in ready to be pleased.  The angry callers, not so much. 

A receptionist is able to tell right away who the difficult caller will be.  They are the ones who, rather than saying, “Hello, may I please speak to Joe Bloggs,” say, “JOE STILL HASN’T RETURNED MY CALL! ARE YOU EVEN DOING YOUR JOB?” The inexperienced receptionist will get flustered in this situation.  He or she will make excuses and often end up sounding worse than if they had just yelled back.  The bad receptionist will actually yell back.  In a situation like this, it is best not to match the tone of the caller.  Instead, as one seasoned receptionist told me, “I put on my preschool manners basically. By lowering my voice they have to really listen to hear me and they usually end up matching my tone.”  When someone is about to blow their top, she demonstrates the behavior she would like to see from the caller.  She speaks calmly and brings them down to her level of calm.

 

Some may think it is a good idea to agree with everything the angry caller has to say, “Yes, that is awful, I totally agree 100%.”  The problem is this can be patronizing and the caller will pick up on that.  We have found it is better the only empathize when we really do agree with the caller.  It is often easier just to get the caller on your side.  “Here is what we are going to do… Why don’t we try all of his lines, and if we are unable to reach him, we will leave him a voice mail and a written message that I will mark urgent.  That way we attack from two fronts.”  By doing this you bring them on your side, so the two of you are working together.  Then you give them a plan of action, so they know everything about the process, making them feel more in control.  Finally, by saying something like this, you are letting them know that you are doing everything in your power to get them what they want and hopefully they will stop being angry… at least with you.

 

One more trick I like to employ is just to smile.  The caller cannot see my smile, but it tends to show up in my voice.  No matter how horrible I find the caller, I just keep grinning and even if I do not succeed in cheering them up, at least I feel fine when the call is done.

 

Sometimes there is just no pleasing a caller.  They want to yell, and you are the lucky person who will receive the yelling.  Just remember to stay calm, use the tricks above, and if they don’t work, end the call politely, when you have done everything you can, and forget about them.  If you are able, walk around the block, eat something crunchy (I like carrots), and remember, they are not mad at you, they are mad at their situation and you got caught in the crossfire.

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What Not to do on the Phone

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It all started with a question, “What bugs you most on the phone?”  Maybe I should back up a bit.  I work for a virtual reception company, Ruby Receptionists.  Our company spends 13 hours a day on phones, non stop.  Our receptionists are highly trained to be polite, professional, and friendly while on the phone.  This makes them perfect scouts for unacceptable phone behavior.

 

            So back to the question, I asked them, what bugs you most on the phone?  As we are a company that deals primarily with professionals calling other professionals, one would hope the answer would be, “Not much, everyone is very well behaved.” Sadly, that was not the answer I received.  Instead, I got a litany of bad phone manners.

 

            Kicking off the list at #1 was speaker phones.  Sure, speaker phones are neat; they let you keep your hands free whilst you talk to your business contacts.  You can move around your office while conducting a conversation… at least that is the idea.  The problem though is that it is almost impossible to hear the speaker phone using party.  Yes, yours is state of the art, the highest quality available, no one ever says they cannot hear you.  Just because no one says you are hard to hear or understand, it doesn’t mean it isn’t true, the other person just doesn’t want to bring it up.  Please be kind to the person on the other end of the line and pick up your receiver.  If you absolutely must have your hands free while talking, then purchase a high end headset.  Headsets are great, the leave your hand free to type, make origami, etc, and it doesn’t sound as if you are conducting business in a wind tunnel.  Just do not use your new found hand freedom to eat while on the phone.

 

            This brings us to item #2 on the list of phone rules by which to live.  Never, ever, eat while on the phone.  Now, one would have hoped that this would be instilled at an early age, with the admonition, “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”  Sadly, for many people, the rule did not stick.  I understand you are very busy, and you want to multi-task, but think of the person on the other end of the line.  They can hear every chew, smack, and swallow, and it is not pleasant.  It makes you hard to understand, and to be honest, grosses the other person out.  To be quite frank, you may not even make it past the receptionist, other wise known as the gatekeeper, if you are eating while on the phone.  The receptionist has to protect the boss, who doesn’t want to hear what your corned beef on rye sounds like.  Keep this in mind if you plan to stop eating once you get the person you actually want to speak with on the phone.

 

            Number 3 on the list of faux pas are the mumblers.  Mumblers of the world, speak up! You have something important to say, or you would not be making this phone call.  Like my high school drama teacher always said, “Enunciate! Enunciate! Enunciate!” When you are on the phone, this is especially important, as you must use your voice to convey conviction.  If you want to be taken seriously, speak clearly.  If you want to be announced properly by the receptionist, speak clearly.  You get annoyed when you are asked to repeat yourself, the person on the other end gets annoyed when they have to ask you to repeat your name, number, etc.  It is best to cut right through and just speak as clearly as possible. 

 

            This list is getting a bit long, so let’s just name the runners up: calling someone and then immediately asking them to wait on hold.  Doing this runs the risk of coming back to an abandoned phone line.  Talking to someone else while making a call; please finish all previous conversations before attempting new ones.  Interrupting someone mid-sentence, expecting the receptionist to know who you are, or for that matter expecting your intended conversation mate to know who you are without stating your name.  Despite what Disney’s world of tomorrow may have told us, picture phones are not in every home and business… yet.  Also, please do keep in mind that the person you are calling may not have your number, and it is always a good idea to leave it if you must leave a message.

 

            I know these rules may seem harsh, and we have all been guilty of breaking them once in a while.  Just think of how easy life would be if we could just adhere to the guidelines of phone etiquette.  Feel free to post any other ideas you may have!

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