The impression a telephone caller forms when they first contact your Professional Office can have a direct influence on your success. The busy secretary or receptionist can quickly adopt attitudes and habits on the telephone that are, to say the least, discouraging to your Clients. Here we offer some core telephone skills tips and techniques to refresh your Office Team.

It often astounds me that a Professional will think nothing of spending huge amount of cash on acquiring his or her qualifications and setting up elaborate offices, and yet will be reluctant to spend an even a small amount on Telephone Skills Training for their staff. In my capacity as a Telephone Skills consultant and trainer, I have seen offices increase their revenue by 30% or more by introducing some basic Best Practice and some core Telephone Skills Training.

The Telephone Skill level of everyone who interacts with clients can be just as important to the success as the quality of the Professional Services.

The Impact of the Client Experience
It is important that everyone in your Office appreciates the importance of his or her role on each Client interaction. Each has the power to win or lose Clients. A Client can make a decision to go to a competitor or to stay with your service based on a negative experience on the telephone with a member of your staff. This almost certainly will not be intentional, the staff member had a low level of awareness of the small things that count on a telephone.

The goal with each Client is to meet and exceed expectations. This will ensure a positive experience that will keep the Client coming back. A negative experience could well mean that the Client will go to another Professional. ‘Meeting expectations’ means identifying clearly what a Client will expect – in this case in a telephone interaction – and delivering this. Failure to identify one of these essential elements on the telephone will trigger a negative experience.

At a very basic, but critically important level, a poor greeting will trigger a negative experience, and a warm, welcoming greeting will encourage our caller.

Triggering a Negative Experience on the Telephone
Things that quickly trigger a negative experience on the telephone include –

1. No-one home – the phone rings and rings. Best practice is answer within 3-4 rings
2. The School Teacher Voice Mail - A long, bureaucratic voice mail message giving you direct orders
3. The Sing Song Secretary – whose greeting is so automatic you can’t hear a word
4. The Reverse Obama – instead of ‘Yes, you can’, the caller is met with, ‘You can’t’, ‘We can’t’, ‘We won’t be able to’ and so on
5. The Computer Voice – the cold, impersonal person who makes me regret calling at all!

How to Make that Positive Impression
Ensure your Team appreciate that your Professional Office WANTS Clients, that part of their role is to encourage our Clients to WANT to stay with us. Focus them on using all their skills to positively influence the Client. Don’t nag them and nitpick over problems if you haven’t explained clearly what you want from each of them. Praise and encourage good use of telephone skills, and of best practice procedures.

Key telephone skills & tips are –
1. A warm positive greeting – change your greeting regularly so that it is still fresh. ‘Good morning’ or ‘Good afternoon’ is much more welcoming that other greetings. The general format is ‘Good morning, Jones Consultancy, Mary speaking, how may I help you?’
2. Have a positive Voice Mail Message – if voice mail is picking the call, ensure your message is positive, short and welcoming.
3. Get the Caller’s name and use it – failing to use the name, or using it inappropriately will give that cold ‘computer voice’ effect. Using the Caller’s name makes the call warm and personal.
4. Give positive verbal nods – let the caller know you are listening ‘Sure’, ‘No problem, ‘I see’, ‘I understand’, repeating back information, etc.
5. Confirm understanding – summarise the Client’s request or query. This ensures you understand, and also sounds very professional to the Client. ‘Certainly, You would like an appointment as soon as possible’
6. Keep the caller informed – let them know what you are doing, using a brisk but friendly tone. ‘I’ll just look up Mr Jones diary for that date… Yes, I have it now’
7. Use positive, definite language. Use positive words like happy, good, best and so on. ‘Does that sound good?’ is much better than ‘Is that OK?’ The more positive words used, the better impression your Client will get. Equally, more definite language such as ‘straight away’ or ‘definitely’ will also build confidence in your organisation.
8. If you must state a negative, always finish with a positive option. ‘Unfortunately, we don’t have an appointment for that day, could I suggest the following week?’
9. ‘Suggest’ that the Client do something, rather than giving aggressive direct orders. ‘Could you please send in…’, ‘It would be great if you could …’ ‘It is important that we get …’
10. Confirm all meetings, arrangements, and agreements at the end of the call and by EMAIL – this avoids misunderstandings and looks very professional.
11. Have a warm, positive close. Remember that people remember the first and the last impressions on the telephone.
12. Record any notes or arrangements immediately.

Any Professional Office would be wise to refresh Telephone Skills and Etiquette 2 or 3 times a year. This can be done with a workshop where the Team discusses best practice and shares their own tips and techniques. Remember, each one of those staff members really does make a difference to your success!

Author's Bio: 

Kate Tammemagi is a Customer Service Trainer and Consultant in Ireland. She has extensive experience designing and delivering customized Telephone Skills Courses and Customer Service Training.