25 Sep The (lost) Art of Telephone Conversation
It wasn’t so long ago that speaking to someone on the telephone was the only way we could communicate quickly and effectively. Today of course we are spoilt for choice when it comes to contacting our friends, family and businesses – be that on live chat, WhatsApp, text, email – the list goes on.
Despite this, the telephone is still one of the most crucial communication channels. It offers us an instant and personal connection with a business and can often make all the difference when it comes to winning or losing a client. Research backs this up too with the UK Customer Satisfaction Index 2018 finding that the way in which phone calls were handled was one of the key differentiating factors between top companies and their competition.
For veterinary practices, this is especially important. As a business where clients are often won based on trust, customer service and reputation, the stakes are high. A well-handled phone call speaks volumes about a practice, how well it is run, and how it treats its patients.
So here are our top tips when it comes to mastering the art of telephone handling.
1) Are You Available?
First things first, be available. It really is that simple. With in-house staff busy dealing with pets and their owners, it’s all too easy for calls to go unanswered. Many practices may even be unaware of the calls that they are missing. Our research, however, has found that most people will give up on a call if it isn’t answered within 6 rings. The result? Frustrated clients and lost opportunities. Therefore it’s important to ensure every telephone call is answered promptly, and that they receive the same attention as a person who walks into your reception.
Take time to have a real conversation with clients too. A hurried conversation will make them feel that they aren’t valued by the practice so it’s important not to rush.
2) Get the Greeting Right
In a recent Moneypenny survey we found that ‘Good morning / afternoon, this is [practice name]’ was considered the most professional greeting. Businesses saying the company name alone came across as curt or rude, and simply saying ‘hello’ is confusing, generally leading the caller to wonder if they’ve dialled an incorrect number. Telling the caller your name will also help them feel at ease and demonstrate that you’re taking their enquiry seriously. Remember that the aim is to make every person who rings feel welcome from the offset.
3) You Can Hear a Smile
We’ve all heard the phrase ’smile and the world smiles with you’, and it’s true. The words you say and the way in which you say them will set the tone for rest of a conversation so it pays to choose them carefully. In fact, research has found that the tone of your voice conveys 84% of a message over the phone. Smiling doesn’t just make you sound friendlier and more approachable either; it also improves the quality of your voice making you talk more clearly, meaning you are easier to understand.
4) Efficiency is Key
While you don’t want to rush a caller, neither do you want to keep them waiting longer than necessary. Time is precious and a client will more than likely have a limited amount of time to spend on the call to you – they may be ringing on their lunch break at work, for example, or before picking the kids up from school. As early as possible assess how best to handle their call. Ask them specific questions that will help you understand the reason for them getting in touch and how to proceed.
5) Choose the Right Words
Slang is so commonplace we often don’t even realise we’re using it in our personal life. At work, however, nothing says ‘I’m unprofessional’ more than using poor language on the phone. Phrases like ‘uh huh’, ‘nope’or ‘bear with me’ should be avoided, and likewise the same applies to technical jargon. Be clear and confident, using language that represents your practice in the best possible way. And, it goes without saying that you should never swear. Once that’s out there, there’s no taking it back.
6) Stay Calm
There’s no getting away from it – you will at some point receive a call from a client who is angry and upset. How you handle this situation, however, can make all the difference between a client who puts the phone down happy or is likely to start looking for another practice. The key is remaining calm. It’s easier said than done at times, but getting upset or angry will only exacerbate the issue. Anger is often the result of stress or worry so listen to what your client has to say so make it clear that you are listening. Explain how you will resolve the problem and repeat key points back if necessary to make sure they know you understand.
7) Keep Your Promises
We’ve all been told ‘I’ll call you back right away’ by a company only to have to ring them back a day later ourselves. Keeping promises like these are paramount. As customers, we don’t expect the person we speak to on the phone to have all of the answers all of the time, but we do expect them to honour their word. So if a client calls with a query that you aren’t able to answer immediately, explain this to them, organise a time to ring them back and stick to it. Even if you haven’t been able to resolve the issue, get in touch and update them on the progress. It takes a long time to earn a client’s trust and seconds to lose it so treasure this and show them how important they are to you.
By Stephanie Vaughan-Jones