Even if your business doesn’t have a receptionist (or a team of virtual assistants), taking phone calls remains a fundamental part of your business. When you take a call with a client, for whatever reason, you are essentially becoming the voice of the company and you can make or break a working relationship with how you handle it. Have a look at these top ways to build rapport over the phone:
We very often do things on the phone that do not translate to the other person. Gesturing or nodding are common ways of acknowledging what the other person is saying, which of course are redundant if the other person can’t see you. These small ways of expressing that we are indeed listening, along with eye contact, are fundamental in conversation.
On the phone you have to resort to verbal cues. Simple acknowledgements such as ‘ok I see’ every now and then let the client know they still have your attention. Better still, when a pause comes along you can then enforce that you have been paying attention with: ‘so, to clarify, the issues are X, Y, Z, is that correct?’
Cadence & Tone
This is especially important if you handle multiple calls a day, all more or less similar in nature. It is very easy to slip into a monotone and adopt a rhythm that sounds as though you are reading from a script. If you allow yourself to fall into this habit you run the risk of two things happening.
Firstly, a customer who is ringing with a complaint will become further annoyed by your lacklustre attitude. Secondly, a perfectly happy customer will come away completely put off by the conversation. Try and treat every call as a standalone event, make a conscious effort to sound upbeat and friendly and where possible that you aren’t saying words you’ve said ten times already that day.
This is perhaps the key to any form of rapport building. And we aren’t talking about the painfully obvious mirroring of body language or saying the same phrases as the other person, but more mimicking the other person’s demeanour. If you get a call from someone who starts off the conversation with a joke about the weather that leads into a story about their disastrous BBQ at the weekend, chances are you can adopt a slightly more informal tone with them. If you get someone who is very much sticking to their unwritten script of ‘customer’ and the conversation is all business, chances are that throwing a joke their way will not go down a storm. With no body language or eye contact to tell you how the other person is responding to your words it is even more pivotal to take note of how they speak to you, what tone they’re taking and how open they are to deviate from the unwritten script of customer and representative.
There is nothing more infuriating than being placed on hold without a word of warning. It is the equivalent of answering the door to someone and slamming it in their face with no explanation. Are you coming back? Are you going to help? Similarly it is hugely disorientating to ask to be put through to someone only to then be put straight through without preamble. Of course this is the desired outcome but a small ‘just putting you through now’ avoids the awkward moment of establishing just who you are now speaking to.
Always let the client know what you’re doing and why. If you place them on hold, tell them so and if they’re on hold for longer than a few minutes and you still haven’t accomplished what you needed to then a simple ‘sorry for the wait, are you ok to still hold or shall we call you back?’ can do wonders for making people feel respected.
Building relationships on the phone is straightforward enough if you remember that most people will extend to you patience and understanding just so long as you extend to them courtesy and a commitment to help them. There are plenty of times you will have a customer on the phone who, for whatever reason, you cannot help. If you have listened, empathised and clearly tried to help then the majority of people will come away feeling positive despite the lack of resolution.
The initial call to your company sets the tone for the long-term relationship you have with that customer, be sure to start it in the right way.