In the latest of our series, thanks to legendary service advisor trainer, Lloyd Schiller, of LloydSchiller.com and Brooke Samples of Profit Blueprints, Brooke looks at what your staff can do to improve their telephone skills.
It may seem like texting and email have replaced the simple phone conversation. After all, electronic messaging seems faster and it does allow you the luxury of editing your words. There is, however, always going to be a need to communicate effectively on the phone; there’s just no way around it. Your ability to make an impact over the telephone can be the difference in making a sale or, sadly, leaving the customer calling the next dealership.
If the first interaction with the customer is on the phone, this might be the most important interaction as it will set the tone for the rest of the relationship. The customer could be frustrated that the phone rang seven times, or the customer may have heard: “Parts – please hold”.
Putting a customer on hold sometimes is inevitable, but with good phone skills we can be more polite about it. Employees who have good phone skills will help set your dealership apart from the competition. You don’t have to spend money on outside services to hone this skill; take the ideas from this article and use them at staff meetings as the basis for fine-tuning your employees’ customer interactions and their telephone skills.
To sound more professional and knowledgeable, eliminate some common problems, such as:
- Saying ‘um’ and ‘ah’ more often than you should
- Saying ‘like,’ ‘sort of,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘you know’, or other filler words that can make you sound unsure or immature
- Using acronyms that the customer may not be familiar with, such as OEM parts or R&R, or worse ‘teardown’
- Using slang that you would use with friends – such as ‘dude’ and ‘okey dokey’ – is not appropriate with customers.
- The next time you call a customer from a landline, pull out your mobile phone and record your side of the conversation. Do this at least five times and listen for any of the potential problems listed above.
- When you leave a voicemail message and you have the option of listening to your voicemail, always take that opportunity to hear how you sound.
- Ask friends or family to let you know when your speech is littered with filler words such as those listed above.
Listening on the phone
One overlooked telephone skill is the ability to listen on the phone. On the phone it is impossible to tell: (1) if the other person is finished with what they are going to say, or (2) if they are just taking a breath. If you pause (about the time to take in a deep breath) before you jump into the conversation you will find you don’t have to apologise for interrupting someone quite as often. This also works well in face-to-face encounters.
When you listen to customers, friends and family, practise using pauses before you speak. When it’s your turn to speak to the customer, pause at the end of your sentences to give the customer an opportunity to ask questions or just to absorb what you have said. When you can’t see the customer’s face, you can’t see if there is confusion or understanding, so the next best thing is to pause.
Can the customer hear and understand you?
Not being able to clearly hear what the other person is saying can turn a productive conversation into one filled with annoyance. When you call a customer be cognizant of your surroundings and reduce the cacophony around you – find a quiet place to make the call.
Use simple words, and if you have been asked more than once: “What did you say?” because of your enunciation of words or your mumbling, improve your diction by practicing tongue twisters and other enunciation exercises. Google ‘enunciation exercises’ and practise on the ride to work.
Do you speak too fast?
Record yourself while you speak on a subject for 30 seconds, next count the number of words spoken. Double the words and you have your number of words per minute. Most people speak between 100 and 150wpm, with 150 being a bit too fast and 100 perhaps a bit too slow.
Tip: to come across as more knowledgeable and confident, raise your voice level about 10 percent higher than your normal speaking voice. Sit up or stand up straight to give your voice an opportunity to be as strong as possible. Slouching will produce weak pitches.
How do you come across to your customer?
Sincerity. You know it when you hear it. “Thank you for calling Paradise Parts Department. May I put you on hold while I finish with this customer?” can sound just as short and clipped as “Parts – hold please,” if it isn’t said with sincerity.
When you make outbound calls, avoid reading a scripted greeting that doesn’t match your speaking style. You will come across as artificial. That doesn’t mean you don’t prepare — in fact you probably need to be more prepared to make sure you don’t miss making an important point. For the most impact, know what you want to say and have the bullet points written out.
While it is tempting to multi-task (after all the customer can’t see you), focus entirely on the customer and what is being said so you don’t miss any nuances in the conversation. Smiling is crucial to sounding friendly and sincere, even when the customer can’t see you. Before you answer the phone or make your next phone call, put a big smile on your face. If your job is in a call centre, get a mirror to see yourself ALWAYS smiling, because after a dozen calls the sincerity can wear off.
Use the customer’s name throughout the conversation, but don’t go overboard and sound like Eddie Haskell from ‘Leave it to Beaver’. Share your name and write down the customer’s name so you don’t forget it while you’re conversing.
Whether you are cold-calling a customer or calling to present a repair estimate, remember if the customer says no, it’s not personal. You are reaching out to the customer to help him or her. When you make the conversation all about the person on the other end of the line, the call becomes easier.
Lloyd Schiller recommends these tips for Advisors to call a customer to present a large estimate for a repair:
- Don’t be afraid of the estimate. What may sound like a lot of money to you could easily sound like a bargain to the customer compared to 60-84 payments on a new vehicle.
- Don’t present it as if the vehicle is on its death bed and you’re really, really sorry but this is the best you can do. If the repairs are necessary and the price is fair, you have nothing for which to be sorry. Present it as good news.
- Let the customer know that it was a good thing he brought it in when he did, because if he had let it go for much longer, the cost of the repair could have been much higher with complications resulting from waiting too long. The lowest price to repair the vehicle is TODAY! The longer a solution is postponed, the more expensive the resulting damage will be! And today with the vehicle in your Service Department, you are THE MOST CONVENIENT SHOP IN TOWN!
Figure out what works for you!
If you record your side of the phone call and you were successful in accomplishing your goal, listen to your call and see what you said that was impactful. If you failed at your goal, what could you have done better? Over time you’ll develop some key phrases that will prove to be your go-to phrases that can help you overcome objections or put the customer in the mood to say “Yes!” This is similar to videoing your golf swing to see how you can improve.
When you end a telephone call make sure you end on the right note – one that will leave the customer feeling that the conversation was positive. Ensure you have answered all the customer’s questions satisfactorily and that she knows you are always available to help. Ten years later, I still remember calling a Parts Department asking if they stocked touch-up paint for my vehicle, and after the counter person answered yes, he finished with “I appreciate you calling our dealership today”. I don’t remember my service experience there but I do remember that the parts counter person made me feel important to him.
If you want to sound like an expert over the phone it is important to practice your telephone skills. Use these techniques to be more persuasive and to grow your career.
Fixed Operations Consultant