//Are Your Phone Skills Driving Business Away?

Are Your Phone Skills Driving Business Away?

A friend of mine saved me a cartoon I had missed from The New Yorker Magazine which is the antithesis of what this month’s column emphasizes. The cartoon depicted a support staff person on the phone speaking to a caller on the line. She said, “I’m sorry, but Mr. Dyer says he doesn’t wish to speak to someone who is willing to stay on hold for more than 10 minutes.” Funny. Doubly funny because they used my name and I am in public relations. Sad as well, because we can all relate to the cartoon and our personal phone treatment.

Before talking about some tips and techniques that will help you achieve customer satisfaction through phone skills, let me remind you statistically of the importance of customer satisfaction to your bottom line.

Research shows that a 1% increase in customer satisfaction brings an 11% increase in profits.

Customer satisfaction is critical when share-of-customer is the goal—since each lost customer takes away more. Research shows a 5% improvement in retention can double profits. Other studies suggest that 65-70% of the reason customers switch has little or nothing to do with the product or service. It’s the way they are treated by the organization & its frontline people.
Now, what can you do about creating better phone skills? Remember to smile.


The first step is to remember to smile—literally. Why? Sixty to eighty percent of all that we communicate is non-verbal and, believe it or not, a smile can be seen through a phone line. Think about it. Can you tell if someone is smiling on the phone? As a caller to an organization, which would you prefer: a smile or a serious face?


Next you need to measure the caller’s reason for calling. Is the caller upset or happy? Is the caller searching for information or ready to complain? Are the caller’s needs complicated or simple? Measuring the caller with some questions of sincerity will help to plan for the next level of response.


Now that you have a sense of the caller’s emotion and actual needs, show your interest. Regardless of the reason for calling, your receptionist should be able to demonstrate genuine interest in why the caller is calling. In my experience, 90% of a caller’s frustration and anger can be dissipated by asking questions and actively listening.


How do you show you are listening? You listen to the facts and hear the feelings. You respond to the feelings first, then the facts. Never, never interrupt. If someone says: “I’ve called three times and left messages, but no one calls me back,” you must sense frustration and address the frustration. The facts about why no one called back are incidental to the emotional frustration. You can deal with the facts later (and you should find out why someone in the organization didn’t call back!). Related to this is the care you show in handling the call. Don’t leave a person on hold for more that one minute without getting back to them. If you must take longer, offer to call them back! Remember the Golden Rule and treat people as you prefer to be treated. (There aren’t any voicemail systems I’ve been trapped in that elate me with their care.) Have you been through a rather lengthy message to find out at the end you could have punched 0 at any time to get an operator or, anticipating this option, found out that you couldn’t punch 0 at any time and had the call terminated?!


Exit with care. Request information from the customer that will allow you to move forward in servicing them later. Give the caller your name and extension as a reference point for any future contact even if you know they need to talk with someone else in the organization. Always, always ask if there is anything else you can do to assist them and probe until you have exhausted all the possibilities. Finally, please say thank you with a smile!

Originally published in the Kennebec Business Monthly in November 2000 as part of a monthly guest series on public relations and marketing.