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Employers consistently rank good communication skills at the top of the list for potential employees. Therefore, this unit handles making and receiving telephone calls, and transferring calls when necessary. It will also explore communication skills planning and the importance of non-verbal and verbal communication. In any business environment, it is important to be able to
Understand how to, and be able to make and receive telephone calls
Understand how to transfer telephone calls
Understand the purpose of planning communication and be able to plan communication in advance
Understand how to communicate in writing
Understand how to communicate verbally in face-to-face situations
Understand the purpose of feedback in developing communication skills
Be able to identify and agree ways of developing communication skills
This unit will cover the essentials of phone systems and then moves into tips for making and answering calls. Phone systems are becoming increasingly sophisticated, so we’ll look at some of the key features of phone systems today.
As we cannot always view the person we talk to, unless we are using Skype, as an example, we need to consider the importance of listening skills too. There is a reflections exercise plus activities to complete as you progress, with a quiz to test your knowledge. The unit should take around 6 hours to complete, but progress at your own pace.
Types of Phone Systems
A business telephone system is a multiline telephone system typically used in business environments, encompassing systems ranging from small key telephone systems to large-scale private branch exchanges. There are three basic types of business telephone systems: KSU, PBX, and VoIP. For each of these systems, there is a hosted (cloud) and a non-hosted version. Let's take a closer look at how they differ.
The most basic model of phone system is the Key Business telephone system that uses the (known as the KSU).
Key System Unit (KSU) System
This type of system is only suitable for small businesses with no more than 40 employees working as phone operators, due to the limitations of the number of available phone lines. The variation of this system is called KSU-Less, which has the same phone capabilities as the basic system; however, it is portable and flexible, as it does not use the central switching unit, and it's entirely wireless.
KSU-Less only allows for approximately 10 phone operators, and it's not sold commercially- it must be requested from a phone-system provider. The KSU-Less is an ideal system for a very small business that doesn't intend to expand its workforce, but not for larger businesses.
The KSU system is an easy-to-use system, relatively comparable to a home telephone system. It has all the basic features a business will need; however, it lacks portability and flexibility. It uses a central switching device - the key system unit - to manually determine phone-line selection.
The Private Branch Exchange System
This is also known as a PBX system. This is a more advanced system than the KSU and KSU-Less systems, and as such, it has more features that it can access. It uses programmable switching devices, allowing for the automatic routing of incoming calls.
This type of business phone system is suitable for a company with 40-plus employees and can allow for further growth.
A major advantage of the PBX system is that it features an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), allowing a business to remain functional for a period of time, even without electricity.
PBXs offer many calling features and capabilities, with different manufacturers providing different features in an effort to differentiate their products.
Voice Over Internet Protocol Systems (VoIP)
VoIP is a system sends calls through the Internet as opposed to through traditional phone lines, so anyone using the system can be anywhere in the world while using the same phone number. As you know, the Internet is extremely portable.
The systems are extremely inexpensive and are quickly becoming popular amongst companies and consumers.
Many new business owners jump straight to the phone system that works well for their size company, but it may be worth more investment on a phone system so that you can save money in the long run. The last thing a business would want to do is buy three different phone systems as your company changes.
If you are using a business system, you must become familiar with the most common capabilities. These include:
Automated directory services (where callers can be routed to a given employee by keying or speaking the letters of the employee's name)
Automatic call distributor
Automatic ring back
Call forwarding on busy or absence
Applying custom greetings
Do not disturb (DND)
Follow-me, also known as find-me: Determines the routing of incoming calls. The exchange is configured with a list of numbers for a person. When a call is received for that person, the exchange routes it to each number on the list in turn until either the call is answered or the list is exhausted (at which point the call may be routed to a voice mail system).
Local Connection: Another useful attribute of a hosted PBX is the ability to have a local number in cities in which you are not physically present. This service essentially lets you create a virtual office presence anywhere in the world.
Music on hold – applying this when transferring someone
Public address voice paging
Shared message boxes (where a department can have a shared voicemail box)
Voice message broadcasting
Most companies will provide basic telephone training and have phone manuals to familiarise yourself with the different types of phone system used. Always ask if you are unsure.
Today's sophisticated business phone systems can do more harm than good if proper business phone etiquette is not employed when using them. It is important to think about how you answer the phone, how you treat customers, both internal and external, and how you come across in your tone.
Tip: Treat your callers in a way that you would want to be treated on a business telephone call.
Proper business telephone etiquette can make a positive impression on your callers. Transferring a telephone call is more than just knowing what buttons to push on your telephone system. The business telephone etiquette that you and your employees use directly reflects upon the image that your business portrays.
Think about a time when you were disappointed with a call you made to a business
Why did you call?
Who did you talk to?
What was the response?
What did not go well, and why?
How would you have answered a business call?
What improvements could the business put into place?
Making a Call
In a customer service environment, it is better to invest in a remote, handless headset for employees. This will solve hanging up as you push release on the headset to hang up the phone. Also, it does not tie employees to their desks. As an example a Customer Service Agent needing to go away and check on further detail might appreciate the functionality.
The following tips should be followed.
Always speak into the telephone receiver with an even and low tone of voice. Especially when speaking on a phone in public, be sure to monitor how loud you may be.
Move the phone ear piece just slightly away from your ear and listen to yourself speaking. Discover whether you are speaking too loudly or too quietly for the other person to hear you.
If it takes you a while to answer the phone, the customer’s first impression is that you’re either under-staffed, or that you don’t care. And that’s a huge no-no when it comes to telephone etiquette. They might also think that you are disorganised.
It should not take you more than three or four rings to answer the phone. It’s a fast-paced world, and people simply don’t want to wait for any type of service these days – especially not on the telephone. You don’t have to call anyone back if they haven’t left a message. You might be returning a call on an unknown premium rate call line!
There’s nothing wrong with practicing or at least knowing what you are going to say when someone calls. You should have a standardised greeting that you use which sounds polite and informative. Practise your own welcome greeting so that it sounds natural. At all times, remember to let the caller know immediately who they are speaking with.
Once you’ve dealt with the call, need to thank the caller for their time and wish them a pleasant rest of the day. Use their names when addressing them as it makes the entire experience more personalised. Finally, it’s also proper phone etiquette to make sure that the customer hangs up the phone.
Call Handling – What ‘to Do’ Tips
Learn how to handle several callers simultaneously with ease and grace.
Return calls promptly that have been left on voice mail and answerphones.
Always get the best number (and an alternative if possible) and the best time to have a call returned to the caller, especially if a manager or another team member must return the call.
Always make collection calls in private and away from the patient flow or public areas.
If possible, provide a telephone for patients/customers/clients to use. An area providing privacy is preferred.
When hanging up the phone, make sure the caller or person called hangs up first.
Call – Handling - What ‘Not to Do’ Tips
Do not handle an unhappy caller’s concern openly in a public reception area,, for example, if you are working in a hotel, or in a doctor’s surgery.
Do not make it a habit of receiving personal calls at work.
Do not answer the phone if you are eating or chewing gum.
Do not give the impression that you are rushed. It is better to return the call when you can give the person the time they need to handle the reason for their call.
Do not ever leave a message with someone else, or on an answerphone or voice mail regarding details of an account in arrears or overdrawn. Instead, leave a message asking the person to call the “Finance Department.”
Do not call a patient, customer or client’s home before 8:00AM or after 8:00PM, unless they’ve given you permission to do so.
Do not allow yourself to be distracted by other activities while speaking on the telephone, such as rustling papers, working on the computer, or speaking with someone else. Most importantly, do not use a hand held mobile phone whilst driving. It is dangerous and illegal. Get a headset or speaker phone for the car. Always treat every caller with the utmost courtesy and respect by giving him/her your undivided attention.
Activity: True or False
Pick out which statements are true, and which are false
1. Sit bent over and not upright when answering the phone
2. Avoid running words together when speaking.
3. Sound upbeat in your message.
4. If your throat gets dry or scratchy from a lot of talking, drink a milky drink.
1. False: You need to be able to feel confident and not restrict your breathing which can happen when bent over a desk. If you are bent over so that you can have a private conversation, be aware that you may also sound muffled!
2. True: The tiny breaks between sounds help to distinguish one word from another
3. True: It’s obvious when people aren’t happy in their message, so sounding enthusiastic really helps to produce a more constructive conversation.
4. False: Drink water or black tea coffee – milky or creamy drinks can constrict or ‘goo up’ the throat.
Transferring a Call
You will have to transfer callers or put them on hold from time to time; it is inevitable if you work in a high call volume call centre, for example. It is important that your customers do not feel as if they are wasting their time, or handed around departments because they are a nuisance. The best possible outcome is making the customer believe the transfer or hold is in their best interest.
How do you achieve this?
Politely explain to the caller why you need to transfer the call. Reasons may include: the caller reached the wrong department (or wrong number), the caller has questions that only another department can answer, or you do not have authority to make the decision the caller is seeking. Regardless, make sure the caller knows "why" .
Firstly, give the caller your name and extension in case you get disconnected. This will give the caller a sense of importance and that you are personally concerned about the caller's situation.
Secondly, tell the caller the name of the person (or department) and extension number that you need to transfer the call.
Your customer's time is valuable. If he or she believes being transferred and retelling the reason for the call is too time-consuming, the customer may opt to leave a message or call back when less pressed for time. The customer could be at a pay phone, calling from work, or on a mobile phone. Whatever the reason, a transfer should be made only with the caller's permission. Here's an example:
"Mrs. Smith, I would like to transfer you to our claims department. Is that okay with you? I believe that department will be able to get the information you need."
Give the caller the transfer information. Despite your best efforts, the call may be dropped during a transfer. It is extremely frustrating when a customer has to call back but does not know whom to contact. This wastes the customer's time. To avoid this, make sure you tell the customer to whom you are transferring them, along with that person's direct phone number. If the call is dropped, the caller can easily reach the correct person directly.
Let the customer know what to expect. Some telephone systems have quirks that can confuse a caller. Make sure your callers know what to expect when transferred. Are there a few seconds of quiet time? Will they hear a click that may make them think they have been disconnected? Tell callers so they will not hang up!
"When I transfer you, there may be few moments without sound. Don't worry, this is normal and someone will pick up right after that."
"After I transfer you, there will be a short series of beeps. Please don't worry; this is just the line switching. Justin, the Claims Co-ordinator will be with you directly."
At this point you can complete the transfer by connecting the caller and the other person or department. Remember to end your connection by hanging up the phone or disconnecting your head set.
Remember: Do not blindly transfer the call as soon as you hear the other phone ring. Wait for the other person to answer and explain to them the reason for the transferred call. This will give the other person a chance to prepare for the call and the caller will not have to explain the situation all over again.
Activity – Take a PICTURE!
Use the mnemonic PICTURE to help you.
P – stands for Pitch:
On a scale of 1-5, how would you or even better, your best friend classify your pitch level?
Deep low pitch
You should aim for 3-4.
What can you do to improve your pitch? List two ways:
I – stands for Inflection:
Use your voice to express your emotions or ideas.
It rises on asking questions, and drops at a solution or when finishing.
Q: What might the call recipient think if your voice rises after completing each sentence?
A: That you are asking a question of them, or that you are lying, or that you don’t sound confident of your facts.
Are there any ways you can improve this? List these below:
C - stands for Courtesy
Think of three ways in which you can be courteous when you answer a call
Thank you for your time.
How can I help you?
Interject occasionally: “I see…” or “I understand…”
Ask the caller their name and don’t forget to use it
T- stands for Tone
It is not what you say but how you say it; aim to sound pleasant and interested in the caller. Take this example: I did not say he boiled the egg. If you emphasise the ‘I’, it suggests that someone else has said this.
Q: What could these emphasised words mean when you consider the whole sentence?
1: I did not say ‘he’ boiled the egg.
Suggested Answer: It might be a “she” or “they”; it implies someone else, not “he”.
2: I did not say he boiled the ‘egg’.
Suggested Answer: He might have boiled something else, like a “potato”, or “water”; not the “egg”.
U – stands for Understanding:
Avoid talking with anything in your mouth e.g. food, or pencil.
Don’t mumble and check for understanding if the other party is confused.
List two other things you can do to help understanding:
Check caller understands the next steps
Concentrate on what is being said - don’t allow distractions
Ask the other party to repeat wat you have committed to. “Can I check what you think I’ve just said please? I want to ensure you are clear.”
Listen to what is being said – if you are talking you are not listening)
R – stands for Rate:
Q: When you speak too slowly, how will you sound to the other party on the call?
Suggested Answer: Irritating or condescending
Q: If you speak to fast, how will you sound to the other party on the call?
Suggested Answer: As if you are lying, or too rushed to deal with the call
E – stands for Enunciate:
Clear enunciation will help avoid misunderstanding and will remove the need to repeat yourself!
What can you do to ensure you enunciate words properly? List two ideas.
Speak every word, even ‘a’ or ‘and’
Don’t run words together so it sounds incomprehensible
Don’t skip words so that you paraphrase and lose the context or meaning of your message
Practice - pay attention to how a word is spelled, and then try to speak all the consonant and vowel sounds in a word, especially ones that begin and end the word.
Relax and breathe freely and naturally when you speak.
Now, we’ll move onto communication skills planning and the verbal and non-verbal skills involved.