Telephone Skills

by Babs Moore

Understanding the role to be played

Depending on the type of call, many different roles need to be played out by the caller and the receiver. Practising the different roles people are likely to need to play is an important exercise in improving telephone skills. Sometimes several roles will be taken in different parts of the same call and it is important to ask the right questions and use good listening skills to identify which role is needed at any particular time.

The problem solver

Typically, this role will be used when someone has a problem that need to be solved and is looking for information or a solution. Customer service departments will frequently spend a lot of time in this role. Typically, a customer may ask a question along these lines: ‘My washing machine has broken down; how do I get it fixed?’ The problem solver may be asking questions like ‘What action would you be looking for me to take to help you?’ or ‘What stage of the washing cycle was the machine at?’

The provider (sales or persuader)

This is likely to be a typical sales call, either reactive or proactive. If it is an incoming call, there is every likelihood that the caller knows what they want and questions are simply asked to clarify and confirm requirements. For example, the caller may start the conversation by saying ‘I would like to buy ...’ Outgoing calls may demand a more structured sales technique to enable the needs of the customer to be understood and the best solution on offer to be suggested.

The advisor

If a caller begins by asking ‘I would like to know how...’, then it is advice that is being looked for. The person answering the call should not assume that they know what the caller needs or even that the opening question reflects the whole issue that needs to be addressed. Use good questioning techniques to ensure that the issues are fully understood before you give advice.

The friend/sympathetic ear

A frustrated caller will often need to let off steam and feel that someone cares Allowing the person to go through this process will often help with the remainder of the call, during which the friend/sympathetic ear moves into problem-solver mode. If a caller begins with ‘I am really fed up. I have phoned three times and no one is doing anything to help’, then a little patience and understanding is a good starting point.

The purchaser

If you wish to purchase a product or service, it is essential to be well prepared, knowing what you want, when, what price you are prepared to pay, what information you need and how many quotations. It is also important for a purchaser to understand the roles described above; the sales person may take up several roles at different points in the call and you, as purchaser, need to maintain a focus on what you are looking for.