Why you should smile when you answer the phone, and why this ‘soft skill’ matters

Why you should smile when you answer the phone, and why this ‘soft skill’ matters

June 16, 2018 Off By Glenn McDonald

A friend and I were discussing ‘soft’ skills the other day and the reclassification of skills that were until recently dubbed ‘soft’ skills, to the more accurate (in my opinion) ‘core’ skills. These are the skills that we use daily including office communication, appropriate and professional language and conduct when engaging with clients, partners, and co-workers, and the ability to prioritise tasks and manage your time and workload effectively. These are the skills that are considered ‘me too’ skills and are rarely featured as discrete skills on a CV or LinkedIn profile, and yet they are crucial to success in any workplace that requires social interaction.

As managers, we place such an emphasis on what constitutes ‘inappropriate’ workplace behaviour and client interaction yet rarely do we consider the baseline standard for great customer interaction. Large organisations generally dedicate more resources to this than small to medium enterprises, and frequently measure these metrics using KPIs that allow them to track and monitor their employees’ interactions with clients and colleagues. That is, they use things like short surveys at the end of the phone call (does anyone other than me actually hang on and rate the service that they received today?) to evaluate employees’ interactions with customers. Unfortunately, small and medium sized enterprises rarely have the resources to dedicate to monitoring this important metric that can quite honestly make or break a business. There are however, some simple measures you can take to improve the standard of your organisation’s client interaction, particularly the initial contact point for an organisation, which is frequently an initial phone enquiry.

It is a well-known fact that a major motivating factor for purchasing a product or service is that we like the person or people that we are dealing with. I can’t tell you how many large deals I have closed by simply having genuine, meaningful, and engaging conversations with people. I remember during my early days selling vehicles (yes I was once a used car salesman) I sat in a vehicle with a gentleman following a brief test drive and discussed his favourite local fishing holes, camping spots, and hiking locations for around forty five minutes. Towards the end of our conversation we had established enough rapport and enough trust that the man turned and said to me “this car seems fine, should we sign the contract now”. We had not discussed the vehicle, it’s features, their benefits to him, or the advantages of this vehicle over competing products. We simply spoke honestly and openly with each other as human beings, social animals capable of empathy, understanding, and genuine enthusiasm for interaction with others.

So with this in mind, how do we ensure that our clients, customers, partners, and co-workers leave interactions feeling happy, positive, and socially engaged? A large part of this is the way we carry ourselves. Indulge me this experiment; slump over forwards in your chair, rest your head in one hand and pretend to greet somebody on the phone by saying “good morning _____ speaking, how may I help you”. Note how the words come out. They are muffled, lack spark, and are unlikely to project confidence, friendliness, and positivity to anyone unfortunate enough to be listening. Now repeat the exercise but before you do, sit up, breathe deeply, and put on your biggest beaming smile. Not a fake smile, a genuine smile that says “I’m happy to be here and I am genuinely happy to receive your phone call”. Now note the difference in your voice. Your words will be clearer, and their positivity and energy will be noticed by the listener, who will immediately feel like the person they are speaking to is genuinely interested in helping them out. This approach has the additional benefit of disarming those people who may pick up the phone with aggressive intent or a complaint, particularly when they may have been waiting on hold for extended periods of time. Listen critically to a few of your friends’ voicemail greetings and try to imagine the look that was on their face, or their mood at the time of recording. After a few comparisons, you will notice that some are definitely cheerier than others. Now consider which ones you would rather talk to again, or which ones you would rather were at the end of phone line when you were thinking about making a purchase from a company. Unless you are some kind of social masochist, it is a fairly safe bet that you would rather speak to the one that sounds friendly, engaged, present, and enthusiastic.

This ‘core’ skill has the capacity to positively impact several aspects of an organisation including consumers’ perceptions of the business, employee wellbeing through more positive staff interactions, and perhaps most importantly, this simple approach can lead to increased revenue and build longer lasting relationships by encouraging repeat business. If clients and customers are treated well, they return again and again, and they tell their friends. More importantly if they are not treated well, they tell more friends. Figures vary but it is well documented that people tell more friends about a negative interaction with a company than a positive one. This means that organisations have an uphill battle to encourage repeat business, impress clients, and make a lasting impression. So really, why wouldn’t you take this simple measure to improve your business? Who knows, you might actually have a better day at work too.

PS: To round out your stellar phone etiquette, when taking a message for someone, don’t forget to take the name of the caller, note the time they called, and their return number as well. This conveys professionalism and ensures that no client or potential client will be left hanging.

Glenn McDonald is a social researcher and anthropologist specialising in business strategy, culture, and the establishment of sustainable social enterprises that benefit communities and stakeholders alike.

Read the original article on LinkedIn