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First impressions count

Posted by Kirsten Lowis on 18 June 2018
First impressions count

I called the solicitor's office of a friend of mine and I have yet to figure out what her receptionist said when he answered the phone. As the caller, I wondered whether I had called the right business...

That is not the first impression I would want to leave with a caller. If you mumble or speak too quickly, you're going to be misheard or misunderstood. Having a strong script, voice and tone when answering the phone to a first time caller is particularly important for mature/senior customers/clients who may have difficulty hearing and understanding.

I also had the chance to overhear one of our team talking to a client today. A couple of things I noticed; firstly, she referred to our fees as prices, and also indicated we would call them back "at our earliest convenience". This could sound a little pretentious and perhaps not in the callers' best interest. So I suggested an alternative script would be call them back "at our earliest opportunity today", giving it a more positive and time-based approach. If there's one thing we learn in business, words matter. We have to choose our words carefully or risk conveying an unintended or misunderstood first impression.

Here are some telephone DELIVERY suggestions for receiving and making calls:
  • Ok, you've heard it a million times - smile before you answer the phone. Your smile will be conveyed in your tone and manner. Use a confident, cheerful and professional voice,
  • Try and open your mouth when you speak so your words come out clearly, slowly and in a normal conversational tone. When a person can only hear you and not see you, what you say and how you say it becomes very important.
  • Golden rule: never eat, drink or chew gum when answering or talking on the phone.
  • Avoid using slang, poor language or curse words eg. "yeah", "yep", "jus (sic) a minute", "hang on", etc.  Instead say "yes please" or "no thank you" as appropriate, and "may I place you on hold?"
  • All first time callers should be addressed professionally using Mr or Mrs and their last name. Use 'old school' to your advantage.
  • Listen and transcribe messages very carefully. Remember we have two ears and one mouth and it is extremely important to listen first to avoid having to ask for information again. Your job when answering the phone is to be focused when the headset/handset is to your ear. Try and ask each and every person to verify the spelling of their name, even if their name is Sue Smith. You never know when that person will be Soo Smythe. You don't necessarily have to ask them to spell their name, but confirm the spelling as you are taking the message. If using a manual message taking system, your handwriting should be easy to read. Remember to jot the date and time on each message just in case it ends up in a file and referenced in the future.
  • Clearly state the purpose of the call in your message taking, so the person returning the call is prepared well. There is nothing more embarrassing or frustrating than grabbing a stack of phone messages only to discover you have no idea what the call was about. At our office, we say "I'll just put you through, however can I just give her a brief description/headstart as to what your call is regarding?"
  • Patience and courtesy are sweet virtues. Most of you will experience an upset caller - please don't react negatively. Just listen carefully, take notes and get them off your line and to an appropriate decision maker who can help them. You shouldn't try to solve the problem for them unless you have the authority to do so.
  • Do your best to monitor and minimise the incoming caller hold time. I don't know anyone who likes to be put on hold. So, make sure if you're using on hold music or messages that they are properly toned and tuned in.
  • Always focus on the caller. If you are interrupted while on the phone, put the interrupter on hold, not the caller - they had your attention first and deserve to be served first. If you work in a busy office and often answer multiple lines at once, you will have to put a caller on hold if you don't have a routing system. In our office, the phone is not permitted to ring more than twice before another team member answers the call. Calls only go to voicemail during lunch hours, after noon on Friday, nights and weekends.
  • When you make an outgoing call, clearly identify yourself and your business. Instead of "Is Mrs Smith there?", say "Hello, this is Kirsten Lowis from Zoom in Business, is Mrs Smith available please?"
  • When you leave a message, particularly on messagebank, speak slowly! State your full name clearly, and if necessary spell your first name and say your phone number slowly and twice. Most people speak too fast on a recorded message (don't even mention the (often hilarious) translation of voice to text messaging!). Saying your phone number twice gives the recipient time to listen and write information down.

Finally, keep your messages short and succinct. No one wants to listen to an endless message when inevitably all that information will need to be repeated when the call is returned.

First published in Zoom in Business Magazine ©2016


Kirsten LowisAuthor:Kirsten Lowis
About: As the Founding Director of Zoom in Business - a subscription-based coaching program and magazine, NQ Business Sales - a business sales firm based in North Queensland, and Bizrich - a business valuation firm, Kirsten has learnt from the trenches and brings a wealth of personal and professional experience and knowledge to our members. With over 10 years as a franchisee, retailer and start-up business owner, Kirsten has worked closely with fellow coaches, hundreds of clients and the best facilitators in Australia who have run their own business or have experience in running a business and teams. Kirsten’s extensive knowledge and experience as a Registered Business Valuer and Licenced Business Broker helps our members improve awareness, understanding and confidence in buying, growing, valuing and selling their business, while connecting them with local and international business experts to create a capable and dynamic business community.
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