Remember that old thing called a phone? That was once such a centre for all things business? Yes, I know. It’s been downgraded. We have internet sites where the bots can talk to our customers instead. We have marketing departments whose targeting is so sharp that they would have us believe we can finally un-employ our entire sales force.
But like it or not, there are still some people, somewhere, in most companies who still have to use their phone: The odd customer service person reserved for the more difficult clients, who the chat bots cannot pacify or the occasional tele-marketing division.
As phones have gone out of fashion, so our focus has moved and we often forget that there is slightly more to enabling these phone users than buying any old phone and sticking them down on any old desk. Here are some basics that people who are using a phone still need to perform well:
- Good acoustics: no customer of yours wants to hear all the background noise. Your member of staff will do better, too, if they can hear what the customer says.
- Give thought to eliminating the noise of the co-worker. I am not talking about the one who has the loudest, funniest stories at lunch. This is the one who sits talks so loudly down their phone it is impossible for anyone else in the nearby vicinity to hear. If you can’t get that person to understand how they impact and have some consideration, move them to sit on their own. Don’t be afraid of doing it either. Even if they are the very best person on the team, they will quickly be the only person on the team and you know the old cliché about the I and the team.
- Space out the desks and get screens if you can. This all helps to reduce that buzz of background conversation for the customer. There is nothing more annoying than talking to someone at some company who sounds a million miles away and keeps on asking you in a disinterested voice to “repeat that”.
- The next problem with background noise, is that it immediately suggests a call centre. In this day and age where we all seek really personal service, a call centre has worse connotations than ever. Who has not been harassed by attempting to speak to some overseas call centre on a poor phone line? The aim of your team should be building trust, and that means speaking person to person.
- Speaker phones are to be avoided and discouraged at all costs. Again, you get the difficulties that come from background noise, but you also have the echoing sound which makes most people realise they are on speaker. Not knowing who is listening the other end makes us feel vulnerable – not ideal when your aim is to build trust up.
- Phones are often forgotten in equipment checks or put on low priority for investment. If wires are loose, or handsets worn, your quality of sound will be affected. Make sure they are kept pristine, as you would with any other equipment staff use.
- The headphones argument: some people hate them, believing them to typify the mass produced, scripted call centre approach. Don’t listen. They are great for so many reasons. They are good for your teams’s health, most importantly. No more tucked receivers between head and shoulder while they scrabble for a pen, or attempt one handed touch-typing which can lead to posture problems. It can also lead to desperation creeping into someone’s voice as they knock their coffee over their note pad while they scrabble around. Not a confidence inducing note to hit. Headphones help focus as all concentration goes on the voice the other end. Getting plenty of air in the lungs from better posture helps clarity of speech. The less air, the more people mutter.
- Headphones are good for posture and posture is good for retaining positivity. People who sit head down, shoulders slumped, legs tucked under them, are far, far more likely to get rejections from customers. Their physiology will lead them to feel depressed and sound depressed. Poor posture, equals poor energy, poor focus, poor attitude. Let people move, let people fling their arms around if it takes their fancy. Movement makes for positive energy and genuine engagement.
- A final benefit of a headset is that the mouthpiece is automatically set about the right distance from the mouth. The further away the mouth is from the phone, the more the voice becomes indistinct and the more static the person the other end will be hearing.
- Supply standing desks or chairs with your desks that are adjusted for people to sit really upright in. Standing desks are particularly good for phone work. When people stand up, they tend to speak fully from the chest rather than the nose, which makes for a more attractive sound.
- Think about the lighting. Good lighting is a health and safety requirement but it also, practically, means the people in the office can do their job. Squinting to see notes on the screen is more distraction to that vital focus.
- Discourage chaos. Some people are happy working in chaos. But to make good calls, everyone needs good organization. And that means easy access to anything they might need, from folders on their computer to a new stack of pens. Scrabbling is distracting. Good desk house-keeping is important.
- Discourage distractions of all sorts. Most of all, this means emails. When we hear that ping of an arriving email, we take out mind off the current conversation. We may sometimes attempt to half read the incoming mail while we speak. That makes for a half job both ways. Make sure everyone switches their emails off during times on the phone.
Get people comfortable, focussed and enabled. A phone used well can still be a business asset.
The only thing you might want your team keeping half an eye on up on the wall is a picture of their personal goals. Everyone needs motivation and good phone people are no exception.