Controlling the Call – Telephone Skills Training Newsletter

If you or your staff have to deal with customers both face to face or over the telephone then effective Customer Care training is essential in enabling you to develop a Customer Caring or ‘Customers First’ attitude to delivering service effectively and consistently.

Total Success run a one-day Telephone Skills and Customer Care course for those wishing to learn telephone etiquette and handling customers on the telephone.

For those who’s customer service training requires tips and techniques in both telephone and face to face skills in handling difficult customers (such as rude, angry or aggressive customers) as part of their daily duties we also provide a Customer Service and Customer Care training course that deals with these types of customer. It also covers handling customer complaints; tips for retaining customers and how to diffuse customer conflict quickly and efficiently.

More and more companies are increasing their use of the telephone as the quickest and most convenient way of establishing customer contacts. Call centres and mail order are the fastest growing operational departments for UK organisations. It is essential that all employees represent their organisation in a professional and friendly way. Clear and effective communication is essential to ensure that the business is not lost. If your staff are not trained properly on telephone skills, how much business are they losing your company?

The ability to control the call and guide it in a positive direction is one of the key skills of a telephone professional. Below are some of the most effective techniques that will allow you to gain, keep or regain control of most situations.

Keeping control of the conversation:

· Clarify the purpose of the call at the beginning.

· If the call is at an inconvenient time, explain and say when you will ring back.

· Check back regularly to make sure they are happy with the way you are dealing with the problem.

· Interrupt politely if the conversation is straying, use the baton technique (page 21).

· Clarify and consolidate what action is to be taken at the end of the call.

Mapping out the call

Let the customer know what you’re going to do and what their chances of success are prior to taking action:

· “We will carry out a couple of diagnostic tests but if these fail to rectify the problem it may be that your hard drive has developed a serious failure and we would then have to see about retrieving your data.”

· “What we need to do first is……………. then we can see if that solves the problem. If not we’ll have to …………………………. Once we have eliminated that as a cause we can then …………”

· “I’ll talk you through the process. There are three stages that your application goes through before you receive confirmation, these are ……………………………………………”.

Keep the caller in touch with what is going on

Callers can’t see what you are doing so:

· Explain the name and position of the person that you are transferring them to.

· Explain if you need to leave the telephone and give them the option of holding or calling back.

If they choose to hold, tell them how long you expect to be.

· If you are away from the phone longer than expected, return, explain and again give them the option of holding or calling back.

· If you are bringing up information on the computer, keep them in touch with what is going on.

· If you need to call them back, arrange a time. Call back when you say you will, even if it’s to explain that you don’t yet have all the information, and to arrange another call-back time.

Asking Questions (Open versus Closed)

Use open questions when you want a customer to explain or discuss something. Closed questions should be used when all you need is a yes or no. Use both types of questions to gain better control of your telephone contacts. It is also possible to shorten telephone calls by effectively using open and closed questions. At the beginning of most customer calls you need to learn what the customer wants, so you would use open questions. Later, you may need to employ closed questions to get the customer’s agreement, to understand a service request or just to manage the conversation and your time.

Questions will:

· slow down the conversation

· give you more information to help you to resolve the situation

· give you time to think about your options

· encourage the customer to talk.

· draw out information, facts and opinions

· help to explore feelings and attitudes

· help to check understanding

· help the customer to think through the problem

Open questions begin with: How, Why, When, Who, What, and Where


· How often does that happen?

· What did you do before the problem started?

· What happened then?

Closed questions begin with words like: Did, Can, Have, Do, Is, Will, and Would


· Did you call them?

· Is that how you see the situation?

· Would you agree with that?

When dealing with customers keep the following in mind; it will help you determine when to use open or closed questions.

· To determine problems, understand requests or establish needs (use open questions)

· To give you more time to think and slow down an angry or hostile customer (use open questions)

· To gain information and to ask callers to explain requests or problems (use open questions)

· To ask for more information to determine a course of action (use both open and closed questions)

· To get agreement (use closed questions)

· When summarising facts or feelings (use closed questions)

“So if I hear you correctly, when this happened that’s what caused you to get angry. Is that correct?”

Use your listening skills:

· Concentrate on what they are saying, without jumping to conclusions.

· Stay in neutral as you listen.

· Ask questions to get the full picture.

· Keep both your caller and yourself involved in the conversation.

· Give frequent indications that you are listening “I see….Hmmm..,.That’s right…”, repeat back what you have heard to check you have understood correctly.


This is a powerful technique because it recognises that some people may become aggressive if they do not see the reason you want something done. Before making a request, explain its reasons. This allows them to put the request into context and makes it stronger.

“We’ve been let down by our supplier in France and due to the bank holiday we won’t be able to complete the order until the 28th. There are a few other options that may be available to us………”

“Because I’ll be passing on the information to one of our engineers it’s important that I get all the details of the problem. I’ll need to ask you a few questions, is that OK?”

Creating options

This is a great technique to use if you have to deliver bad news to someone or if you are in the middle of a difficult negotiation. Options allow the other person to process the information towards an objective rather than being given no choice – no choice can produce stress which could result in aggression.

“There are several things we could look at to solve this problem. They are…………..”

“I have a couple of options that might help and save us time.”

“We can’t deliver at the agreed time but here’s what we both could do to get it to you by your deadline; these are ………………………………..”

Minimal response

Do not invite unnecessary conversation. The talkative customer may want to engage you in non-business conversation. To reduce the amount of conversation keep your response to a minimum and always steer the conversation back to business.

Minimal response examples:

1. Customer: “How is everything going? Have they been keeping you busy?”

Jenny: “We have been really busy. How may I help you?”

2. Customer: “Hi, Jenny! This is Mike. How’s everything going? Did you watch the film on TV last night?”

Jenny: “Hi, Mike. No, I missed it but I heard it was good. What can I do for you?”

Baton technique

This involves interrupting the customer but not in an aggressive way. You merely continue their sentence at the same pace and pitch and lead it in the direction you want it to go. You may also summarise the point the person was making so that they feel you have actually listened to them and not interrupted them. Once you have gained control of the flow of the conversation you can then halt it, redirect it, ask a question or summarise.

Imagine you have a customer who is frustrated about not receiving your company brochure and is complaining about poor service, “it wouldn’t have happened in my day” etc. You could take control by using this technique.

“……………. yes, I can see that would be frustrating. What do you think we could do to solve the problem?”

Communicating Priorities

This is vital if your job involves you chasing clients or colleagues for information, deadlines, promises etc. Sometimes you have to be specific with your language if you need to guarantee delivery.

  •  Remember your promises become someone else’s priorities so ensure you only promise what you know you can deliver.
  •  Let the other party understand both the priority and consequence of them meeting your deadlines – “it’s important that I get this by Thursday morning because the Senior Management team is meeting at 11.30 and will need this report for their financial forecasting. Thanks”.
  •  Use contract language to assess the reliability of promises – ”can you guarantee it will be done by….”, “……..can I count on you that this will by on my desk by 5pm………..”

  Tip: watch for verbal or visual signs of indecision and probe if there is the slightest hint of uncertainty.

  •  When chasing orders, reports, information etc, always be in charge of the next step – “I’ll call you on Wednesday morning to let you know I’ve received it. Thanks very much.”
  •  You may have to constantly chase some people, so be aware of other people’s history of delivery and set yourself a plan for getting what you wan