The pandemic has forced us all to be more reliant on our phones and virtual meetings whether we like it or not. It only makes sense to embrace the changes and improve our communication skills. When we have contact with customers, or vendors via these types of communication, there is a great deal of pressure on our conversations. A perception of who you are and an impression of the company you represent are formed completely from what and how something is said. One poorly handled interaction can cause you to lose credibility – sometimes forever. Maintaining a good business relationship is dependent on your ability to satisfy customers’ needs during the brief time you have with them.
We must assume that people are using active listening skills in their conversations with us. Their perception will be based solely on what they hear us say and/or what they think they hear us say. They will interpret our words according to their own expectations and experiences and then make a judgment on what they thought they heard us say. It may be quite accurate, but it is also possible that their perception of us is wrong. It is up to each one of us to make sure that we understand the content and feeling of our message. I want to give you some tools to stack the odds in your favor.
The three main components people use to make their judgments are:
Word choice — What you say. The words you use to express your feelings and your content. Are they appropriate? Do they mean the same thing to your customer that they do to you? Have you considered your customer’s biases and behavior style in choosing your words?
Articulation — How you say it. Are your words easily understood? Do you speak clearly? Is your rate of speech similar to your listener’s so it is comfortable for them to listen to you?
Manners — How is your behavior style expressed? Are your emotions appropriate to the topic of conversation? Can you hear a smile in your voice? Do people believe you are sincere? Does your tone of voice say that you are confident or fearful?
1. Keep your sentence structure simple. Long, involved sentences are twice as hard to understand when spoken as they are when read. By the time the sentence is finished, you can’t remember where it started.
2. Adjust your vocabulary to the person you are talking to. Use the same words that they use to put the two of you on the same level and increase rapport. Three and four syllable words may sound impressive, but if the person you’re talking to does not understand them, you’ve lost them.
3. Use words that convey authority and self-confidence. Avoid tentative words. Choose “I know” rather than “I think.” “We will” rather than “I could.” “I can” rather than “We might.”
4. Choose words that can create specific images or intention. “I will get this information out to you this afternoon.” Rather than, “We’ll get this out to you today.”
5. Use appropriate language. Avoid clichés and bureaucratic doubletalk like:
• fast and furious
• rough and ready
• between a rock and a hard place
• red-carpet treatment
• put our heads together
• just bear with me
• lock, stock, and barrel
• keep the ball rolling
• fine and dandy
• first and foremost
Use words that evoke the image of action. The words in the right-hand column below are more vivid and create a more positive response than do the words in the left column.
• effect • impact
• versatile • multi-faceted
• interesting • fascinating
• quiet • soundless
• economical • cost-effective
• up-to-date • state-of-the-art
• complex • elaborate
• emergency • crisis
• checkmark • benchmark
• capacity • potential
• skill • expertise
• hopeful • enthusiastic
• trim • sleek
• surprise • astonish
• good • fantastic
• better • superior
• popular • distinguished
• inflexible • rigid
• unusual • exotic
1. Speak in a natural tone of voice. Visualize the customer on the other end of the phone. In virtual meetings, smile and use gestures. Speak as if you were face to face. (This really improves with practice.)
2. Adjust your rate of speech to the person you are talking with, i.e. mirror them. Then increase the rate of speech just a little and then a little more. The difference will imply confidence and knowledge to the listener.
3. Pattern your volume after the customer’s, but only to a degree. A very low volume indicates indecision. A very loud volume implies self-Importance and bossiness. The proper volume will indicate effectiveness and self-confidence.
4. Change your diction. Listen to yourself in your practice sessions. Do you enunciate each word so it can be easily understood? Your diction is your appearance over the phone. If it is neat and tidy, your listener will perceive that you are conscientious and capable.
5. Rhythm and modulation should be varied. Speed up occasionally. Use pauses for effect. But be careful; too much inflection may communicate confusion or nervousness. Too little inflection may be monotonous and colorless.
6. Good body posture will help you to speak energetically and naturally. Sit up straight and keep your head up as much as possible. Take two breaths before you begin your call.
1. Ask yourself the question, “Am I someone I would like?” Smile when you speak. Before you speak, take a look at yourself. You know that you are a likeable person, you are confident in yourself and your abilities.
2. Write down all pertinent information on your call sheet immediately. People may be offended if you have to ask them twice for their name, address, phone number, or account number.
3. Ask the customer to spell his/her name if you do not understand it. This is very important, and you should not feet embarrassed about asking. “Bhavya Chidamuerro? Could you spell that for me please, to be certain that I have it correctly?”
4. Keep in mind that the focus is on what they are saying. Once you have determined the reason for the call, briefly summarize the message and repeat it to so they can confirm or correct it.
5. Avoid interrupting when they are speaking. Instead, use your active listening skills to determine the needs, motivations, content of the message, and feelings.
6. Avoid becoming angry. Remain calm even if they are upset.
7. Convey interest, show enthusiasm and sincerity. In virtual meeting look into the camera when possible to make eye contact.
The image you project over the telephone or in a virtual meeting is important. While you are listening and processing information, be sure to focus. Listen with the intent to understand and not with how you plan to respond.
Record a video meeting to listen to yourself and to view yourself on camera. You may find that you don’t sound like yourself. Surprised? Your perception of what you sound like is different when you’re the listener. For example, you thought you were speaking with a great deal of self-confidence and, in fact, you sounded rather timid and unsure of yourself. Or, you thought you were speaking with a smile on your face, and your tone of voice actually sounded rather gruff and grouchy.
Developing good communication skills will take practice. Be sure to practice as often as you can. Use the provided tools and refer back to them regularly.