Why High Quality Telephone Skills are Still Crucial for Modern Businesses

Efficient use of the telephone provides a competitive edge and how other modern communication methods should be seen as complementary to and not replacing the use of the telephone.

Telephone Skills

Introduction

"The telephone rings, it jingles our psyches, jangles our nerves.  We are seduced and soothed, rattled and betrayed by it.  Wherever it is-on the desk or street corner, the high seas or highway, in our bathrooms or briefcases-it has, for a machine, an allure like no other" (Once Upon a Telephone: An Illustrated Social History, Gwathmey, Stern, 1994).

The telephone, invented by Alexander Graham Bell in the 1870’s, revolutionised the modern office environment. It has enabled businesses to communicate in real-time, on a global scale. However, in today’s digital world of instant messaging and e-mail there are many, both in business and personally, who no longer appreciate the full value of the humble telephone, as a tool for communication.  

This article considers how for businesses in the 21st century, efficient use of the telephone provides a competitive edge and how other modern communication methods should be seen as complementary to and not replacing the use of the telephone

What are high quality telephone skills?

As Paul J Meyer said ‘communication – the human connection – is key to personal and career success’. The ability to effectively communicate over the phone is an essential life skill, both in a business and a personal context.

For instance, many business discussions, from large contractual negotiations, to gaining new clients, will require you to use a telephone. Accordingly there will often be an automatic expectation that your delivery on the telephone is of a suitably high quality to ensure you appropriately represent the company – and often there may be little specific training on this. Indeed there are some people who, naively, believe that they will automatically be competent with using the telephone without giving it any thought or consideration; yet this is not necessarily case.

Another key challenge today for businesses, employees and individuals is the sheer variety of options for communication whether mobile, skype, instant messengers, emails or social media. With all of us faced with such a volume of options in which to communicate, it can be difficult to know which form of communication is the best to use in which situation. It is important, to know when picking up the phone is the most efficient way to communicate, given the task in hand and the time frames involved.

That is not to say that other forms of communication do not have their individual benefits, but rather that the telephone remains a key communication mechanism in a modern business. Often that initial point of telephone contact will be complemented by other forms of communication, to follow up - in order to clarify detail and for risk management purposes.

In these situations it is a crucial skill to be able to conduct oneself on the telephone in a friendly and professional manner and to have an appreciation of the value of telephone communication in context with the wide variety of other communication methods.

How telephones complement your communication

To Telephone or Email?

In the 21st Century, it is now more possible than ever, for those in work and business, to actively avoid using the telephone. E-mails, texts and the various social media platforms provide a plethora of real-time options for relaying messages. There are businesses that are happy to  social media

discourage both voicemail and telephone calls, as a way to increase productivity. Some offices say that since e-mail they have stopped answering their phone altogether, as it is a noisy disturbance.

However, as the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said 'the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place', and it is for this reason that it is short-sighted to shun your telephone.

Electronic messages often give this false illusion, as readers may be inclined to 'skim' read an e-mail and miss key information. Almost everyone will have their own story of an e-mail or text message that they have sent that was misconstrued by the recipient; simply because it is very difficult to convey context & true emotions by the written word alone.

The lack of context is further exacerbated in the business world. In our personal lives the recipient, most of the time, will be someone who we know well and thus we will be able to impart context from that knowledge. In a business context it may be the case that you have no other cues about a person beyond what you can gather from your communications.  

Of course electronic communications do have many benefits. They can be sent at any time of day and allow the recipient the opportunity to choose the time to suit them, taking time to consider their response. Similarly, it is possible to send a message in situations where a telephone call would be impossible, for example on a noisy train. From a risk management perspective, any form of written communication has the benefit that it provides both parties with a record of what was said, to which recourse can be had should there be a query.

The key point is that any form of communication should be complementary to any other to maximise understanding and reduce the likelihood of miscommunication. This helps to minimise situations where an e-mail or call in isolation can be misinterpreted, particularly if the recipient already has preconceived ideas as to what they are being told.

Why businesses benefit from high quality, professional telephone engagement

Although the telephone may no longer be the preeminent form of business communication in a modern office, it is still wise to consider, how to maximise the usefulness of the telephone as a business asset. This will allow you to reap the benefits over those overly reliant on electronic communication, to strike a healthy balance. Below are some of the reasons why it is worth fighting this trend.

It’s personal

  • Electronic communications can sometimes lack a ‘personal touch’. On the telephone you can more easily convey emotions and feelings and understand more clearly how the other person is thinking than can ever usually be done from the written word.
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  • According to studies, by psychologist Albert Mehrabian, only 7% of spoken communication is through the words alone, the other 93% is made up of tone of voice (38%) and body language (55%). A telephone allows the caller to effectively convey tone and to a limited extent sense body language. However, electronic messages only convey words and limited tone through the style of writing.

Not being another ‘faceless’ business

  • One of the most common complaints heard from customers of any business is that the business is hard to contact, they are kept on hold for too long, or the person handling the call lacks the knowledge to resolve the query. A business which answers calls quickly and does so in a friendly, efficient and thorough manner will stand out from the crowd.
  • This advice can extend to individuals as well. For example if you are applying for a job, calling with a query, to clarify a point, or chase an application in a friendly manner, will make you stand out from other applicants which have never spoken to their potential employer. You are likely to be more memorable as they will attach a voice and personality to your application.

Immediacy and clarity

  • In some situations the added time that an electronic message gives to the recipient will be beneficial, as a response may be more considered. On other occasions this may be less desirable, and you may require an immediate answer, or need to be able to gauge the reaction of the person you are speaking to.
  • A telephone call can more immediately provide clarity. Whereas, an e-mail can often leave unanswered questions, or create further questions, which in turn, can only be answered by a protracted e-mail back and forth.
  • Unlike emails, where you cannot always be sure your message has been seen or read the message, on the telephone the caller is in control when they make a telephone call. You keep the ball squarely in your court - if you do not get an answer you know it and you can then choose to call back later, thus ensuring that when you do get through you can obtain a robust answer.

Appropriateness

  • There are some conversations that lend themselves best to a telephone call, as an electronic message could be deemed inappropriate. For example highly confidential, sensitive or personal news is often better done face to face or over the phone. Etiquette will dictate exactly when this will be the case, but generally important news, particularly if it is something the recipient may not be that positive about, is not appropriate to send by e-mail.

Rapport

  • If you are unable to meet someone in person then the best way to build rapport is on the telephone. By talking to them and conveying some of your personality, you will be more memorable and will appear far more ‘real’ to the person who you are dealing.
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  • This is especially true when making a first impression. A business that goes to the effort to speak to a prospective or new client gives a very positive initial impression. For companies like E3 Consulting this is especially beneficial – as the complex nature of the work we do can be much more effectively communicated initially verbally, responding to queries and clarifying points immediately to maximise prospect or client understanding and put them at ease
  • You are also able to more effectively build rapport, as ‘small talk’ is considered far more normal on the telephone than in an e-mail. Although its a bit of a British cliché it is, for example, common to discuss the weather etc. on the telephone to someone you do not know well, this would be uncommon on email. This may seem irrelevant, but it is peripheral conversations such as these which help build a better relationship with a business contact.

Complementary

  • As already discussed, by using the telephone to complement and reinforce the use of other methods of communication such as email text, social media etc. your overall command of communication will be improved. Following through messages with another form of communication helps to increase the understanding of the recipient and prevent messages being misunderstood, lost or forgotten.

Tips for how to improve your telephone use

Why are you calling?

Decide before dialling what the purpose of the call is and why you are making it. Working from this, create a checklist of what you need to cover. This will help ensure the call gathers all of the information desired. By planning a phone call you improve the likelihood of the desired successful outcome.

Is it a good time?

Always try to gauge if you are calling at a convenient time. Many people will answer their phone in a meeting, only to be annoyed that they are being disturbed. If the recipients tone suggests that they are in a rush, it is usual good practise to clarify with the person that it is a convenient time to speak - and if not to suggest a couple of alternative times. The same goes for not answering your phone in a meeting unless it’s a vital call.

How do you come across?

The most important thing to remember is to make the effort to build rapport with each person. When answering the phone smile as you pick up the receiver as this positivity will come across in your voice. Nothing helps build a relationship with the recipient more than a positive, open demeanour. Not only that, but if the conversation is a challenging one, for example an unpaid bill, if you talk in a positive and constructive manner the conversation is less likely to become heated or unpleasant. Some people also believe that if you stand whilst making a call you will appear more assertive than if you sit as it allows you to better project your voice.

What are you talking about?

Clarify the purpose of the telephone call and that you are speaking to the correct person. There is no point speaking a big speech only to find you are speaking to the wrong person. Note down the important points of discussion during the call and consider a follow up email to verify the key points from the conversation. This will save time and ensure you are speaking to the best person to deal with your query.

Conclusion

Globes In today’s global, digital world the telephone is just one of an ever increasing number of options with which to communicate in a modern business. Yet, possessing high quality and professional telephone skills remains as relevant today as ever.

Effective telephone use has benefits which other forms of electronic communication simply can’t compete with, giving a more personal touch, providing immediacy and clarification to conversations. But equally, the telephone should not be used in isolation. In the modern business world, effective communication should be a combination of methods balancing the benefits that come with electronic form of communication and those from telephone and face to face communication.

The key skill to develop to succeed in the modern business is to know the best method for communication in any given situation. Understanding when an email might be most appropriate from a considered risk management perspective and when a phone call will provide the required immediacy in a particularly time sensitive situation.

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