Telephone practice makes perfect

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 April, 2010, 12:00am


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For those with phone phobia, e-mails are a blessing and the voice is only used for more pressing matters. Thankfully, serviced office providers are not about to become complacent when it comes to the all-important spoken word.

Businesses using a virtual office with call-answering support are entrusting their company image to whoever answers the phone and how they deal with all manner of inquiries. Phone etiquette could make the difference between clinching a lucrative deal and alienating a customer.

'The way a company answers phone calls directly affects perceptions of its efficiency, friendliness and the way it treats its customers and business partners,' says Nicolette Tong, operations director for Compass Offices.

The sense of emotion conveyed by the human voice, ranging from assuring a worried customer to convincing a potential buyer, is seen as so important to successful businesses in the United States and Europe that companies devote resources to training their staff on communicating via phone.

Independent training consultancies do very well out of this, but many serviced office providers believe the task should start with them - with the help of the best technology available.

'We know only too well that we can only look good when our clients look good,' Tong says. 'We insist on giving our colleagues customised telephone training. To make sure we meet each client's specific requirements, we practise and conduct test calls to make sure we're perfect before handling real ones. And we cover phone techniques such as tone of voice and use of language through role play.

'One thing we see is that people use the phone when they have an urgent or difficult matter to discuss. That's why it's important that companies handle all phone calls and visitors efficiently and effectively. Every call or visit could be an opportunity to build a long-standing relationship or win a fan.'

There will always be difficult customers and serviced office staff can find themselves berated for a dispute that is no fault of their own.

'Sometimes callers insist that our staff disclose the client's personal information or refuse to hang up until the client can be reached,' Tong says.

'The ability to multitask is a non-negotiable skill. Our staff all have basic knowledge of business operations, are multilingual and have exceptional communication skills as many of our clients are multinationals and conduct business internationally. We're proud to say our culture of integrity attracts like-minded people, since confidentiality and discretion are so important to clients.'

Success is only a phone call away

Be prompt. If you let the phone ring too long before answering, clients might have already hung up and taken their business elsewhere.

Smiling before picking up the phone can help lift your mood. A client can be put off if they are greeted by a sullen voice.

Be prepared. Keep a pen and pad handy as the enquiry may be a complex one. Know how to transfer calls internally.

People hate being put on hold. If they agree to be put on hold, try to get back to them within a minute.

Before ending the call, try to recap what you've discussed and ask the caller if there is anything else you can help them with. Let the caller hang up before you do.

Never chew gum or eat when you answer the phone.