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“How can I help?” – telephone training 101

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone at his home in Boston in 1876, little did he know it would revolutionise the way we communicated.

It’s been around for well over a hundred years – yet it remains crucial to business today.

Its younger cousin – the email – became popular less than 20 years ago.

And the new kid on the block – social media – barely 11 years ago.

But the old man of communication – the telephone – has stood the test of time.

It’s easy to forget that your telephone manner – rather than the device – is what wins business or loses it.

In the past fortnight, we’ve run three telephone training courses for call handlers at our Glasgow studios.

We’ve also been running an emergency exercise to assess how telephone responders deal with an unfolding crisis.

While we share the same principles of good communication that apply on our media training courses and presentation skills courses.

We also introduce five key rules to make any phone call go better:

  1.  Be welcoming with your words and tone
  2.  Listen carefully – asking open questions
  3.  Explain what you know
  4.  Overcome objections
  5.  Thank the caller – and encourage them to call again

Let’s take them one at a time:

1) Be welcoming with your words and tone

telephone skills training courses girl in call centre.

It seems so obvious…yet some people answering a call are focussing on themselves rather than the caller.

Their tone betrays a stressful day. Their words are functional rather than warm.

As an example, when I’ve called some newspaper editorial departments in the past, I’ve been met with a one-word bored-sounding response.


But in the service industry, we need to serve.

We need to be helpful.

We need to be friendly.

Just like our office manager Hilary.

“Good morning – Pink Elephant Communications – Hilary here – how can I help you?”  Better!

2) Listen carefully – asking open questions

telephone skills training courses kids on phone.

Most of us are too quick to offer a fix – a response – even a contradiction.

But Dr Stephen Covey – author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – taught us:

Listen First to Understand.

When we listen properly, people feel listened to.

They sometimes want to let off steam.

So let them. Otherwise you are putting your hand over a boiling kettle.

The kettle will continue to boil – and you’ll get burnt.

Callers are sometimes are unsure what they want – so help them by asking open questions…ones which avoid a Yes or No answer and help them to expand on their thoughts.

3) Explain what you know

telephone skills training courses woman on mobile phone.

Now it’s time to talk – once you’ve listened properly.

Tell people what you know – as it relates to what they’ve said.

When you can tailor your message to recognise where the caller’s coming from, you’ve demonstrated that you can give them what they want – straight answers!

Keeping it simple, make your point – then stop.

It’s easy to say too much and lose the effectiveness of your point.

Instead, make the point and stop – just like scoring a goal and retreating to the half-way line.

4) Overcome objections

telephone skills training courses girl on phone.

The simplest way to overcome an objection is to say “No”.

Yet many people worry that this sounds rude or even negative.

So what would you say if offered a large whisky at your friend’s house when about to get in your car?

“No thanks – I’m driving.”

Or dinner when you’ve just eaten?

“No thanks – I’ve just eaten.”

So it’s only right to say “No” or “Not at all” or “Quite the reverse” to begin to turn round an objection.

Follow this with a simple explanation of what you do believe or what you are doing.

Remember, you’re disagreeing with the point – rather than the person.

So the caller asking:

“Are you intentionally trying to annoy me?”


“No – all I’m focused on is helping you get to the right person. I know you’re frustrated – and I want to make sure this is the last time you experience this issue”.

5) Thank the caller – and encourage them to call again

telephone skills training courses lady with headset in contact centre.

It’s a sign of maturity to be able to handle objections and remain friendly and upbeat at the end of the call.

It demonstrates that you can deal with reservations or objections – and still remain positive and enthusiastic.

It demonstrates self-belief.

So a warm “thanks for the call”…added to “are there any other questions I can answer?” gives the caller the opportunity to keep going with objections and have them all overcome.

Or hang up satisfied.

telephone skills training courses man on mobile phone smoking.

We saw great progress on these telephone training courses when clients followed these rules.

It gave them certainty.

When they spoke, they knew where they were going.

More to the point, so did the people on the other end of the phone.

Whatever your business, put these principles into practice to strike a better rapport with clients.

The telephone has been around a long time.  

A good telephone manner will help to ensure your business is too.

Bill McFarlan is managing director of media training and presentation skills training firm Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can view his full profile here.

Photo credit: Smithsonian Institution / Foter; malias / Foter / CC BY; G.Alonso / Foter / CC BY-SA; MLazarevski / Foter / CC BY-ND; alanclarkdesign / Foter / CC BY-ND; plantronicsgermany / Foter / CC BY-ND; marco.giumelli / Foter / CC BY; garryknight / Foter / CC BY

9th October 2015 Featured in: Blog, Telephone training blogs By:

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