6 Complete tips for listening on the telephone


A listening MOT
Look at the following questions. How do these apply to you and the way you listen? Please answer honestly. Ask yourself…
Are you doing something else while the customer is talking? Yes/No
Are you thinking about the next call, going out that evening, what you will be eating for dinner? Yes/No
During your conversation with a customer, do you wait for a pause, so you can say something? Yes/No
How difficult is it for you to stay quiet – do you say something without thinking first? Yes/No
Are you faking your listening to the customer, just so you can get in your comments? Yes/No
Do you practice selective listening? Do you only hear the things you want to hear? Yes/No
Are you unaware of the message being sent by other means than just the client’s words (e.g., language, key phrases, mood, vocal intonation)? Yes/No
Do you allow background noise or your environment to hinder your ability to listen? Yes/No

Maybe I’ve insulted you with some of these questions but this was not my intention. I just wanted you to be aware of how difficult listening can be and how easy we can slip into bad habits.

Self awareness is the first step to improvement.

Your own volume control
Listening on the telephone in fact listening in general, has to be one of the hardest things to do continuously. Yes we can all listen for five minute bursts but to do it all day every day, just has to be hard graft.

So next time you feel your listening ability has taken an early bath imagine your very own personal volume control.

Now your volume control has 3 levels; 1, 2 and 3.

Most of the time it’s on level 1 which is selfish listening and there’s nothing wrong with this. Only the other day I was on a business trip to a strange airport and I was operating on level 1 listening. I was looking out for signs and noises that would help me on my journey. I wasn’t interested in anyone else just myself and my next steps.

But in selling or dealing with people on the phone, we mustn’t focus on just ourselves. We need to get into their shoes and that’s level 2 on your volume control.

Turn up the volume and start to think of the world in their shoes. How do they see things, have empathy for their situation, understand their world.

Have you spoken to a friend recently that has just returned from a holiday abroad to the same place as you’ve been. Did you find yourself comparing their experience with yours? I bet you did. I do, until I kick myself back into level 2 listening.

Finally there’s volume level 3. Rarely do we cross into this level. Here we begin to hear and see things around our customer that are not obvious. We develop a kind of sixth sense so we can hear what’s not being said as well as what’s being said.

They call it intuition. Trust it, as it won’t let you down.

So next time you’re on the telephone and you’re struggling to listen, think of your imaginary volume control.

So next time you’re on the telephone and you’re struggling to listen, think of your imaginary volume control.

Reflective statements
These are very handy little devices that show the customer that you’re listening and help to build empathy.

These are used to reflect emotion; they can act as a valuable tool in building rapport. If someone is perhaps angry, or very excited, or anxious – this emotion is probably going to get in the way of our discussion. Until we have in some way handled this emotion, we may not get their full concentration on what we need to find out.

  • “I can understand how that could be frustrating”
  • “I can see how that would be upsetting”
  • “You seem annoyed about something”

It gives the person the chance to vent the feelings and emotion. Make the statement and pause for 1½ seconds for a response. Learn to be comfortable with a little bit of silence before you have to signpost your way through it.

Verbal nods
Imagine having a conversation with a good friend in a coffee shop and she gets to the best bit. What do you do? Yes you lean forward, give eye contact, nod your head, match expressions.

Yes you are showing good non verbal listening skills often called active listening.

The disadvantage of the telephone is we don’t have body language to help us listen, or show that we’re listening. Classics such as nodding, eye contact, eye brow movement all help to show we’re listening.

But without sight we have to go totally verbal.

  • “Uh huh”
  • “I see”
  • “keep going”
  • “that’s interesting”
  • “oh dear”

The list goes on and each one tells the customer that you’re listening to them.

Care though you don’t use the same one as this will soon become what’s known as a “verbal tic”.

Beware the verbal tic

Eliminating distractions
One of my first sales jobs was working as a financial adviser for a busy estate agent in a major city. My desk was right by a large picture window opening up to Guildford High Street. On a Saturday or a busy lunchtime, hundreds of people would walk by, some would stare in at me. Cars and trucks would drive by and there would always be some movement going on outside.

And meanwhile I had to use the phone to speak with customers.

I also recall the very next day being told in the morning that the company I worked for was up for sale. Suddenly the external distraction of the window didn’t matter, as my head was full of internal distractions this time to prevent me from listening to my customer.

It’s so difficult selling on the phone when the world is full of distractions.

External distractions
I’m always amazed when I’m coaching people who use the phone all the time, how many distractions there are that can prevent you from listening 100% to the customer. There’s always people coming up asking if you want a cup of tea, people wandering around, some people making lots of noise. A general buzz.

A useful exercise is to make a list of all the external things that can cause you a distraction and then make some decision about what you can do about them, so as to minimize their effect. Here are a few examples.

  • Distractions on desk
  • Distractions on screen
  • Noise in the office
  • Colleagues interrupting
  • Watching colleagues

Internal distractions
Equally annoying are the internal distractions that dominate our thoughts. The fact is we speak at about 150 words per minute, but think at 750 words a minute. So you can see why our head is always so full of words and self talk.

So how do we fill the gap? Here’s some examples of internal distractions:
Daydreaming – half listening though mind wandering off
Filtering – hearing what you want to hear
Making assumptions – you know what they mean already
Rehearsing – thinking about what you are going to say next
Placating – right…yes…I know…absolutely…you are being nice and agree with everything
Easier said than done, but the key here is to understand your internal distractions – identify them and then make a decision to fix them.

Summarising to listen
Because using the telephone eliminates the body language side of communication we have to accentuate certain other communication skills to make up for this.

One of these is the art of summarising.

Observation of excellent call handlers and telephone salespeople shows that not only do they summarise what’s been agreed at the end of the call, which many of us do, but they regularly summarise throughout the call.

Summarising throughout the call can:
Show the customer you have listened
Allow you to keep control of the call
Helps you direct and signpost the call
Shows empathy with the customer
Helps to interrupt long-winded customers.

So how do we summarise? That’s like saying how do you eat Cornflakes for breakfast? It’s easy…you poor in the cornflakes and then follow up with the milk.

Likewise summarising is not difficult…you start one with a phrase such as:
“Let me see if I’ve followed you so far….”
“OK, let me recap….”
“Let me check…”
“Let me check I’ve got everything….”
“What you’re saying is…”
“Can I just go over your main issues….”
“Can I stop you and make sure I’m with you…”

Then you summarise and ask the customer if I missed anything.

Remember to summarise a little bit more during the call and not just at the end.





About Author

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Paul Archer is an Online Sales Trainer, Speaker and Conference Host. He’d be happy to assist you in moving your workshops online during this challenging period. Email him on paul@paularcher.com or LinkIn with him at www.paularcher.uk The world of sales development has changed, many have missed this and boldly go on to run courses in the old-fashioned way. You want to develop your people – professional advisers, salespeople, coaches - and know there is a better way. He can help you. Think about music. I mean the music industry. In 2000 music became free, illegally at first with Napster, downloads became cheap as chips and streaming now cost $10 a month. In the same way, traditional self-development is now free. Everything is available online. Music artists and bands now make their money performing live. The live experience is what fans will pay money for. Recorded music is merely to create demand for the live experience. He brings his 35+ years of sales expertise and experience to you in two ways: Online, on-demand, just in time. He doesn’t run “just in case” training courses, they’re a thing of the past. Development should be “just in time”. Curated video, live videocasts and webinars, podcasts — books, articles and blog posts delivered via his Learning Platforms, YouTube or your in-house systems. Live. He can bring his expertise to your teams in live sessions, but these are rare now and need to be exceptional events. Conferences, seminars and events, he can educate, entertain them with my unique speaking style that has been enjoyed by thousands of sale people and advisers across the globe. Forty-five minutes, 2 hours, maybe a day – you choose. You figured there was a better way to develop your sales teams, you are right, and now you may want to make contact with him so you can talk further. You can Linkin with him at www.paularcher.uk, and he’ll start a conversation or head to his YouTube Channel for more at www.paularcher.tv email him at paul@paularcher.com or phone him on +44 7702 341769, and where ever you are in the world he’d love to hear from you. Paul is a prolific writer and blogger – maintaining three blogs, with www.paularcher.com attracting thousands of hits from all over the world. He has published eight books. His latest tome "Pocketbook of Presentation Skills” was released in January 2020 and is available from Amazon. The third edition of his book “Train the Trainer of the 21st Century” is also available from Amazon.

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