I buzzed the entry phone, introduced myself, and waited, feeling slightly uncomfortable gazing at the box on the wall. Then I heard a voice “Hello! Please come in!”. Instantly, I relaxed. He sounded like a really nice man, and the visit was clearly going to be a pleasant one.
The voice spoke just four words, but from that I made massive assumptions about its owner’s nature, personality, and attitude to me. Now, this was an entry system, but the principle is just the same on the telephone. You can’t see people, so you infer everything from what they say, and how they say it – tone of voice and inflexion are really important.
Many excellent face-to-face communicators are uncomfortable on the telephone. They recognise that it needs a slightly different approach, and lack the confidence that they can hit the mark.
It’s those first few seconds of any call that are vital, which is why that initial greeting when someone phones needs to be practised to perfection. So how many different ways are there to say “Good morning, BestCo Ltd”?
Let’s think about all the things that could be varied:
- Speed of answering – if a phone is not answered promptly, this could allow the caller’s attention to wander to another priority, or it could simply irritate them
- Volume – shouting is a pretty universal sign of aggression, so a greeting needs to be confident and audible, but not too loud
- Inflection – experiment by putting the emphasis on different words. “GOOD morning, Bestco Ltd” could sound as if you’re too busy. “Good MORNING, Bestco Ltd” sounds a bit like an enthusiastic game-show presenter, and could be a bit daunting for a caller
- Articulation – mumbled words can imply lack of interest, particularly if combined with low volume
- Focus – if you are distracted from the voice at the end of the phone, the caller will know. The pauses between the words and your intonation will betray you every time. There’s an added bonus to concentrating too. This means you are using your “thinking brain” more than your “routine activity (autopilot)” brain, which will guard you against ill-thought-out emotional responses
- Body language – even though you can’t be seen, your body position reflects your overall approach to the telephone call. If it’s your sole focus, you’ll be sitting up and concentrating. If you genuinely want to be nice to them, you’ll be smiling. Smiling when you are talking on the phone creates an audible change in your voice by raising the soft palate at the back of the mouth, smoothing the tone of your voice.
Once you get beyond that initial greeting, then active listening is a key skill for getting the most benefit out of any telephone call, regardless of who initiated it.