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Customer Service

Service Excellence on the Phone: It’s My Responsibility

September 17, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Customer Service

One of the key ways in which we communicate that we care about our customers in in our attitude. We therefore need to create the right impression before we even receive a call on the telephone from someone (whether it is an internal or an external customer). This is particularly the case at the earliest stages when we first answer any call, or when opening each conversation. This is because people tend to form a view about whether or not the exchange is likely to be successful within the first few seconds of the call.

One way in which we can convey the right attitude is to seek to convey six key messages on every call that we receive. Put in slightly different language, these suggest that “I will not waste your time”, “I and my colleagues are competent”, “I am enthusiastic”, “I am good at what I do”, “I can be trusted” and, last, but not least, “you and your call are important”. Some people may object to this list because it seems to need a lot of conversation in what may only be a short amount of time. As a result, we may only be able to convey two or three of these messages through tone and general attitude (but this is better than conveying none of them).

Unfortunately, there is no single formula to use in communicating these positive attitudinal messages, and each individual should perhaps start to script his or her own words to use in preparation for calls. However, we can begin to reflect on these important impressions and practice doing this as much as we can in future calls. This can start with the relatively easy message that the caller’s time is valuable. This is readily conveyed by the prompt answering of the phone, an efficient first response, including the use of a caller’s name as early as possible, and an alertness to the reason for the call, which involves paying careful attention to what is said. 

If the right attitude is important when opening a conversation on the telephone, the step of listening carefully throughout the discussion is often even more critical. This is particularly the case because we do not have the visual clues offered by a person’s body language that are given in face-to-face communication. The most common problem with listening on the telephone is “jumping in” with a response too quickly and well before the caller has really described what he or she needs. As a rule of thumb, if a conversation isn’t dominated by the caller in the first 30 seconds of the conversation, you are probably talking too much, and not listening enough.

Two potential listening pitfalls that call-handlers often experience are worth mentioning specifically. Firstly, many receivers use acronyms and internal jargon that may not be understood at all by the caller. We therefore need to carefully guard against doing this or listen carefully for any confusion that we may have created. Secondly, many call-receivers fail to regularly summarize what a caller or customer may have said, especially in long discussions, which runs the risk that successful communication does not occur at all. Once again, the harder we listen and then paraphrase the information we received, the better the communication is likely to be.

The featured video clip is drawn from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder Service Excellence on the Telephone Video Vignette Set.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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