Pick up the phone – Who answers calls, how do you train people on call handling and how do you improve conversion rates?

There were delegates from legal and accounting firms at the training session on “Pick up the Phone – client service and sales opportunities for professionals in the digital age” MBL this week. Delegates were in management, marketing and fee-earning roles. This post summarises the main points raised and is a further learning resource for delegates. Pick up the phone – Who answers calls, how do you train people on call handling and how do you improve conversion rates?

Importance of telephone communication

The over-reliance on digital communications and the reluctance (e.g. anticipation anxiety) of some people to take or make telephone calls was noted. Others commented on the impact of Covid on telephone communications and the use of integrated CRM systems for information management.

There was discussion about the importance of strong telephone communication skills for both private individuals and commercial callers. In particular, delegates noted:

  • Some callers prefer to speak to a person (rather than receive electronic communication)
  • You can convey the brand, professionalism, responsiveness and service differentiation on a call
  • You can more easily form an emotional connection and relationship on the telephone
  • Calls can be quicker than other forms of communication
  • There is less likelihood of misunderstanding (compared to digital or written communications)
  • Callers have a chance to assess the style and service of the firm and its people
  • Callers may be impressed by personal authority, style and credentials of the person answering the call
  • Telephone calls are interactive and support dialogue
  • Important information can be picked up by voice, intonation and other non-verbal communication

We reviewed research information on these topics. And also statistics on how clients and professionals feel about and manage telephone calls.

Who answers the phone?

Some firms have fee-earners answering calls, some have dedicated enquiry teams and others outsource to an external agency. There are pros and cons to all approaches:


  • Pros
    • They have in-depth technical knowledge
    • Reassures callers they are speaking to an expert
    • All caller questions can be answered
    • Callers connect with the person who may perform their work
  • Cons
    • May be inconsistent in style and approach
    • Expensive – time spent answering calls is not fee-earning
    • May give provide too much free information
    • Time pressures mean calls may be rushed
    • Possible they are not trained in sales/selling skills

Dedicated call managers

  • Pros
    • Less expensive that trained fee-earners
    • Can be given processes and protocols so response is consistent
    • Unlikely to be under such intense time pressure
    • Likely to be thorough in asking all questions and documenting call details
  • Cons
    • May lack in-depth technical skills
    • Callers may resent the additional layer of contact/need to repeat information
    • May not know what particular services are relevant for the caller

How do you train people answering the phone?

Some commented on the need for those answering calls to have the right attitude, confidence, curiosity and communication skills.

There were many helpful ideas about how to improve the performance of those taking inbound calls and making outbound calls – whether dedicated call handlers or trained professionals/fee-earners:

  • Provide training on:
    • How to respond to inbound calls
    • How to structure outbound calls
    • Forming rapport with callers
    • Managing caller emotions and expectations
    • Questioning and listening skills
    • Managing call focus and length
    • Talking about fees and pricing
    • Systems (marketing, sales, calls, information) and call documentation
    • Managing common objections, challenges and problems
    • Best practice and common scenarios
    • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Provide information, checklists, templates and guidance on:
    • Firm’s brand, messaging and style
    • Range of services provided by the firm
    • Best practice, success stories and case studies
    • How to qualify a call – criteria
    • Minimum service standards
    • What to do with enquiries you cannot help (redirection and signposting)
    • Escalation and complaint processes
    • Following up
  • Monitor and measure calls
    • Compliance with regulations
    • Target setting for call volume, value and time to convert
    • Calculation (with marketing) of source of call, cost per enquiry, cost per lead and cost per client
    • Recording of calls
    • Evaluation of calls and outcomes
    • Identify those with highest, fastest and most profitable conversions
    • Identify weak signals from the market (e.g. emerging client needs and competitor information)

How do you improve telephone conversion rates?

The short answer is a) strong communication and selling skills b) clarity on what is being sold and c) good systems.

There is a particular challenge where different people are involved in taking calls. Firms may have different people involved in taking the initial call, providing follow up information and converting enquiries into clients. When calls are transferred between people the roles and responsibilities need to be clear. Systems and processes need to be integrated – to provide a seamless service for callers, to avoid callers having to repeat information and to ensure that calls are properly nurtured and monitored.

Amongst the delegates there was evidence of a bit of a disconnect between the marketing campaigns and systems, the enquiries generated and the activities to convert and track the enquiries (i.e. the sales process). This suggests that firms should ensure that those handling calls were aware of the content and context of all campaigns so that they could provide a seamless service.

When those answering calls are taking down details to pass onto others, particular care is needed to:

  • Connect emotionally with the caller
  • Convey the firm’s brand and agreed level of service
  • Check whether the caller has contacted the firm before
  • Answer all of the caller’s questions
  • Record accurately all the required information
  • Qualify the caller
  • Ensure that the caller understands their options and the next steps
  • The callers’ details are directed to the right person or department
  • Monitoring systems are updated

Whoever is responsible for converting the enquiry into a client requires training in relationship development skills and also in a number of communication, persuasion and selling skills. There are numerous posts on these topics.

Related posts on telephone skills 

Private client commercial conversations (kimtasso.com) March 2024

Why are questions so important? (Questioning skills) (kimtasso.com) February 2024

Sales Targeting Toolbox for Professional Services Firms (kimtasso.com) February 2024

Proactive marketing and business development executives – CRM (kimtasso.com) December 2023

Selling challenges in professional services (kimtasso.com) November 2023

Telephone call challenges: Emotions, data, selling and follow up (kimtasso.com) October 2023

Conversation skills book review 2 – How to talk to anyone: 92 little tricks (kimtasso.com) May 2023

Assertive communication: The importance of voice (kimtasso.com) May 2023

Telephone skills for lawyers and accountants (kimtasso.com) April 2023

Telephone skills: Anxiety, voice, etiquette and the client experience (kimtasso.com) September 2022

Book Review: Smarter selling – Next generation sales strategies (kimtasso.com) May 2022

Does Zoom/Teams replace telephone calls? Telephone skills workshop (kimtasso.com) February 2022

Practical sales tips: Reach out and Follow up (kimtasso.com) October 2021

impact of Covid on listening while selling (kimtasso.com) October 2021

Telephone skills workshop – 11 key points (Kim Tasso) July 2021

What is curiosity and why is it important in business relationships? (Video) (kimtasso.com) July 2021

Managing client complaints – Process, anger and apologies (kimtasso.com) June 2021

Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (kimtasso.com) June 2021

Book review – Persuasion: The art of influencing people by James Borg (kimtasso.com) March 2021

Learning from Lockdown – Positive outcomes from the Covid crisis (kimtasso.com) January 2021

Active Listening (Video) (kimtasso.com) November 2020

Enquiry management: Converting more telephone enquiries (kimtasso.com) July 2019

better business relationships with telephones (kimtasso.com) January 2018

Book review “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie (kimtasso.com) November 2013