Everyone has spoken on the phone before, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has a knack for a good phone attitude. As all virtual receptionists know, handling calls can require politeness, warmth, and professionalism, even in the face of a caller’s frustration.
Cultivating these qualities in a customer service setting isn’t just common sense – it’s standard customer service interactions, too. But I got the chance to confirm just how important empathy and authenticity are as a content developer at Clutch, a research and reviews company. In a survey I conducted of 468 callers, I found that callers rank ‘the ability to speak with a person’ as the most important aspect of a call.
What’s more, the top reason why callers think they’re talking to a call center (as opposed to the company they picked up the phone to call) is getting transferred to multiple representatives.
These two facts make perfect sense, according to Abby Connect’s CEO, Nathan Strum. “When you’re not talking to a true representative of the company…you’re frustrated,” he told me during an interview. “[Success] has to do with knowing that your message is getting somewhere.”
Callers want to speak to a person because they know that real, live representatives are more likely to funnel their concerns to the right person. In addition, getting transferred feels impersonal, rude, and inefficient, so callers would rather speak to a single person.
If you’re a virtual receptionist, you can take these findings and run with them. Chances are, you’re already pretty good with people (or you wouldn’t be in this field!). Let’s get into specifics, though. Here are 5 ways to sound authentic, caring, and confident over the phone.
1. Learn About Your Client Companies
Say you’ve just picked up a new gig as a virtual receptionist for a large gardening company. When customers call in with orders, you take down the details and relay them to the company’s distribution centers.
Now let’s say a customer calls in and wants to know whether a certain outlet carries potted orchids. Which sounds better: saying, “I don’t know, so I’ll pass your question on to someone who might,” or saying, “No, the Northside location doesn’t have any potted orchids, but the Southside location does.”
The second option makes you sound like a trustworthy, knowledgeable employee of the client company. And if you did your research when you received your assignment, you’ll be able to answer some of these locations without funneling the customer somewhere else.
2. Don’t Read from a Script
The third most common reason why callers think they’re talking to a call center representative, at 28%, is that the representative uses a script. While there’s nothing wrong with call centers, you’re here to give callers a personalized experience – so don’t read from a script.
Should you know the script? Absolutely. Should you have it in front of you? Yes. But if you read it word-for-word, you run the risk of sounding like an automaton. Plus, if you’re relying on a script to direct the conversation’s flow, you might not be able to properly help all callers.
Say a caller asks an unexpected question. If you’re speaking in a conversational, spontaneous matter, you’ll have no trouble handling the question…even if it’s one you don’t know the answer to.
3. Speak Slowly
This may sound counterintuitive, but the slower you speak, the easier it will be to convey information and the more relaxed you’ll sound.
That’s because we tend to talk fast when we’re nervous or performing. Often, talking on the phone falls into that ‘performance’ zone. You don’t want a caller to have to ask you to repeat yourself, so spare them the trouble. Breathe deeply before you answer the phone, and speak at about two-thirds the speed you think you need.
Those are tips from the world of live theater, where talking clearly is an actor’s first priority. If it’s good enough for the stage, it’s good enough for virtual receptionists.
4. Treat Calls Like Conversations
Ideally, a customer will have no idea that she’s speaking to a virtual receptionist. She’ll think she’s speaking to your client’s full-time receptionist. The best way to keep customers from figuring out that you work 2,000 miles away from your client? Treat calls like conversations to be enjoyed, not leads to be handled.
If a customer tells you she can’t make an appointment because her car battery died, commiserate. Tell her you’re sorry for her troubles, and that you’ll do your best to rearrange her appointment (and then do it!).
If a customer tells you he’s placing an order as a gift for his son, who just graduated college, congratulate him. Maybe even ask where his son just graduated from.
“We try to ‘wow’ the customer by giving them the feeling that they’ve talked to a great company, and that they know that the person they talked to was capable,” said Strum.
These personal touches can add the ‘wow’ factor Strum mentions. They can make callers feel like you truly care about them as individuals.
5. Watch Your Body Language
You may not be conversing with callers in person, but that doesn’t mean you can let your body language go. A study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that when people adopt ‘dominant poses,’ such as sitting up straight and pushing the chest forward, they feel more in control and can handle greater stress.
The more in control you feel, the better-equipped you are to handle each call that comes your way.
Try the following posture tips:
- When sitting, plant your feet firmly on the floor. This distributes your weight evenly.
- Raise your head until your chin is parallel to the floor.
- Roll your shoulders back and down.
- Align your head over your shoulders over your hips. This makes your back into a straight line, so it’s easier to sit up properly and confidently.
Remember: You’re Human!
Companies use virtual receptionists because the human element in a conversation is crucial. You’re the one providing that human element, so try to embody all the characteristics you’d want someone to have if you called a business with an issue.
That’s how you can offer the best service to your clients and keep both them and their customers happy.