23/09/2014

By Rory Whelan, e-Receptionist


Tone, pace, register, levels of politeness… it all counts, and indeed costs, on the telephone.

Think about the phrase ‘telephone manner’ and your mind might cast back to the 1950s and conjure up an image of a Harry Enfield Mr Cholmondley-Warner sketch and lots of clipped, post-war dulcet tones.

The world has moved on since then, as has 'the Queen’s English' and modern communication techniques are radically different from when the telephone was still a relatively recent invention.

But the importance of a polite and positive phone manner continues – setting the tone, being on message and creating the best possible image of your company. It’s vital to business success and the wrong manner can actually end up eating away at your profit margin.

With no visual point of reference available to a caller, the pitch, pace and positivity of your telephone manner are critical to forming a good line of communication.

Rory Whelan of e-Receptionist said: “People underestimate the value of a good telephone manner, which can be critical in creating positive, lasting working relationships in business. Presenting a cheerful, positive professional image is easy on the phone – if you’ve got the right training.

“It’s easy to forget that essentially you’re just talking – having a conversation – and you need to be relaxed about it. Being wound up, or stressed will come across in an instant – making the conversation difficult from the outset. Can you recover from that? You want to create a positive first impression that goes on throughout the call.

“The trick is to speak how you would like to be spoken to – in an engaging, positive manner. There’s no merit in being overtly efficient, or pushy. Such an approach will lead to the caller feeling harassed. You need to make sure people are put at ease, and feel natural, and that takes lots of practice, good training and years of experience.”

Top tips for creating this easy, but effective telephone manner – whilst maintaining a totally professional attitude at all times – include thinking about the following:

• Tone: Am I creating a genuine, affirmative, cheerful manner? Do I sound upbeat and alert?
• Clarity: Is what I say clear? And am I projecting my voice properly? Can I be heard and understood?
• Pace: Am I speaking too fast? Too slow?
• Knowledge: Anticipate the sort of enquiries you’re going to face in your line of work. Gen up. There’s nothing more likely to make a conversation stall than a lack of knowledge.
• Confidence: Sounding assured is crucial to putting people at ease and making each telephone conversation a success.

There are also some absolute no-no’s in the world of telephone courtesy. These include;
• Eating and drinking: No-one wants to hear you trying to chew or swallow while having a conversation at work.
• Using slang: Never, ever use slang words, street talk or swear during a business call. It’s just not on.
• Losing focus: It’s easy to be distracted while on the phone, but no caller wants to have to repeat themselves because you weren’t listening properly, or feel like you’re not paying attention.
• Over-familiarity: Even if you know the caller well, never call them ‘mate,’ ‘chap,’ or similar – business calls are a world away from a natter with a friend. Keep it strictly business.
• Hold-up: Putting people on hold should be a very last resort. Everyone hates it. And in the worst case scenario that you have to… always ask first.
• Never get angry: Some calls are unpleasant. Deal with it professionally. Do not under any circumstances fight fire with fire.

Telephone manner is often overlooked by business managers, and yet is of paramount importance. Defining your core values as a business is useless unless they are transmitted through every action, every attitudinal approach and every piece of marketing collateral that represents you. If your brand is actually “what people say about you when you’re not in the room”, you’d better do everything you can to ensure the people who personify your brand represent it correctly.

So, maybe it’s time your staff went back to square one and refreshed this aspect of their skillsets in order to stay ahead of the curve with C21st communication techniques?

Or perhaps your business should hand the job over to professionals? A lot has changed since the Mr Cholmondley-Warner era…