Telephone Etiquette Never Goes Out of Style


Craig Satterfield ECCS
The Cruise Scholar

It is really amazing now many of us don’t realize that a good telephone personality is extremely important on how a new client sizes you up. Just think about the companies you call. First of all most of us are turned off by the mechanized telephone answering messages. “Your call is very important to us, blah blah blah!!

But then to add insult to injury, you end up speaking with a disinterested person that seems to not want to be there and is just trying to get you off the line. I hope you don’t sound like one of those. To some it is refreshing to actually speak to a real live person right away!! At one of the CLIA Cruise3Sixty conferences I attended a wonderful telephone skills seminar taught by “The Telephone Doctor, Nancy Friedman” and what she taught has stayed with me for all of these years.

These are some of the hints she shared which I use every day:

First hint: welcome the caller. We need to make the person feel welcomed. They are calling you so they have a reason and this is the perfect time to make sure they feel like they did the right thing. We want the person to feel welcomed and at the same time that makes you a better listener, which is another very important aspect. When talking to the customer you must make sure you are sincere. Most people know the difference. Bring a welcoming phrase to a call to make them feel like they are a friend.

Second hint: Learn to become a good listener. Will everything be of interest or value to you? Maybe not, but not listening can be dangerous. So make a mental decision to listen better to those you talk with; especially if you have asked them a question and they answer. We need to LISTEN to them. We need to acknowledge. We can only intelligently answer and acknowledge if we are listening.

Third hint: Keep your mind open to what the person is saying. Well, why do we need to do this? I’ll tell you why. There are some of us who think we know what the other person is going to say before they say it and so we interrupt (or interject) our comments before the person can answer.

That’s not keeping an open mind. That’s not listening to what they’re saying. More times than not we are right! Yes, we do know what the person will say, but it’s important to put your teeth in your tongue and not interrupt. By keeping an open mind you’ll gain more information as well. And you’re listening skills will be sharper.

Fourth hint: Give Verbal Feedback. Talking with someone and not acknowledging what they’re talking about is very frustrating for them, especially on the phone, because we don’t even have body language to check out. So come up with a few feedback lines. A few to start you off are: “I see.” “Hmmm, that’s good.” “Ok.” “very interesting.” A few simple words and phrases like that will help the person feel you’re listening and listening well.

In person, you have the ability to nod and smile, and they can SEE your expressions. However, on the phone, we need verbal feedback. And be careful we’re not saying the same word over and over. Like OK, OK, OK, OK. That’s just boring.

And number 5 hint: Take Notes as You Speak. This is my favorite. And yes, even in person. That’s perfectly acceptable! Taking notes lets the person know you’re interested in what they’re saying. It’s a good sign of respect.

I do it all the time when I’m on the phone. I tell the client, “I’m taking notes so I can refer to them later and so I don’t forget what you’re saying.” No one has ever said, “Don’t do that.” Most say, “Thank you. That’s great; that’s super!”

Taking notes so you can refer back is also a big compliment. Don’t forget to do it. It really helps your listening skills.

Here is one of the most important things to remember about dealing with angry, upset or irate customers. Hopefully they are few and far between. Often times, that complaint is more about validating the customer’s emotions than the actual problem. Angry customers need you to acknowledge that they’ve been wronged, and they want your attention right away.

This what is called the ASAP technique:
• Apologize and acknowledge
• Sympathize and empathize
• Accept responsibility
• Prepare to help.

So keep a smile in your voice, be friendly and not distant and uninterested and listen, listen, listen. My grandma used to tell me that is why we have two ears and only one mouth!!!!

Bottom line: Hearing is physical. Listening is mental.