An incoming call is much less predictable than an outgoing call. It may be a customer placing an order, making an inquiry, or registering a complaint; a supplier offering information about an order; or a garden club seeking a guest speaker. Equally unpredictable are the telephone skills of the callers. They may offer their questions or information in a disorganized or emotional manner. Since the telephone provides anyone who is inclined to be abusive with a great opportunity to be so, it requires thick skin and a long fuse to deal professionally with some callers. Dealing professionally with all callers requires the ability to listen and comprehend and a voice that can convey friendliness and concern.
The ability to listen, hear, and understand is not as common as might be assumed. Today’s society bombards us with almost continuous sound, and many of us develop the ability to shut it out as a defense. We can listen, nod our heads as if understanding, smile in the appropriate places, and yet be unable to repeat most of what we “heard.” Employ ees assigned to answer business calls must often learn to listen more attentively than they have for years. Otherwise, the telephone conversation can become a series of needless requests for repetition.
In preparation for receiving business calls and making them as productive as possible, the following points are worth noting:
• Be knowledgeable about the business, its inventories and services, its pricing structure, the amount of time required to accomplish customer requests, and the dates by which they can be accomplished.
• Have a pad of order forms, a blank pad of paper, a price list, and sharpened pencils by the phone.
• Answer the phone as quickly as possible and no later than by the third ring.
• Identify the business first, then give your own name. If not too cumbersome, add an appropriate salutation. For example: “Good afternoon. Larry’s Lawn and Garden. This is Janice.” “Fountain View
Florist. Rod Johnson speaking.” “Good morning and thanks for calling Gateway Nursery. This is Barry Byrne.”
• Determine the name of the caller at the outset of the conversation. If callers do not identify themselves, ask. If a name or firm is not given distinctly, ask for a repetition.
• Listen intently, shutting out other distractions, to determine the purpose of the call, the needs or concerns of the caller, and the disposition of the caller (for example, friendly, upset, angry, or confused).
• Avoid interrupting the caller. Resist the urge to complete sentences for a slow talker or direct the thinking of an uncertain customer before you fully understand the situation.
• Ask questions to ensure that you are understanding the caller’s message clearly. Do not make assumptions.
• Take notes to ensure that you remember important points and that commitments made are honored.
• Be courteous and positive, even if the caller is rude, profane, or irritating. Use the caller’s name occasionally to personalize the conversation. Even if the conversation does not lead to an agreement, it can be conducted courteously.
• Price must be discussed if a request for merchandise or services
is the purpose of the call. Never assume that a customer will pay a price unless it has been discussed and agreed to.
• Review the major points of the conversation (for example, the item[s] ordered, specific preferences for colors or style, date needed, when workers or sales representatives will call, and the price agreed on).
• Close the conversation courteously and allow the customer to hang up first. Nothing is gained from an extended conversation. It merely ties up the phone lines and delays the next business call.