There have been many requests recently for inhouse training on telephone skills to support client service and selling both for fee-earners and support staff. Earlier in April I ran a public MBL “Pick up the phone – Client service and sales opportunities for professionals in the digital age” online training workshop. Delegates from accounting and law firms were in client service, marketing/business development and fee-earning roles. This post picks up on the key themes arising and the delegate polls, questions and takeaways are shown below as a further learning resource.
Some forms of communication are known to be confidential – for example: email (assuming good cybersecurity) and WhatsApp (encryption). However, there can be concerns about the environment for taking and making telephone calls – with concerns about “Can you be overhead?”. This can be of equal importance for consumer (e.g. divorce enquiries) and business callers (e.g. M&A transactions).
Telephone calls are intrusive – you don’t know where the person is or what they are doing when you call. So they may need time to clear a room or to walk to a confidential space. Always check whether it is a good time to speak or offer to call back at a better time.
Care should also be taken when staff are required to take calls when travelling or in public places (e.g. working from a co-working location or a coffee shop) so some firms have policies for guidance.
Telephones in the client journey and client experience mapping
Firms often have processes, procedures and protocols for managing telephone calls – both inbound and outbound. These may vary by department or nature of service. Some processes are to guide staff and provide a consistent approach and service. Others are to ensure that all the relevant data is captured so that performance can be monitored.
Telephone behaviour – both for prospective and existing clients – is an important part of the client experience (variously called CEM, CX and UX). Some firms invest time in understanding the role of the telephone during different client journeys. They will capture data, reactions and results to improve the client experience. This should then improve call conversion rates.
We also talked about the impact on client satisfaction when callers are passed to numerous people (e.g. call handler or receptionist, assistant and then a more senior adviser) and have to repeat the reasons for their call.
Checklists to support those answering calls from prospects or clients were felt to be preferable to scripts. As scripts can hamper human connection, personality and authenticity.
There’s research on call handling by lawyers in this 2018 post: Client Experience Management (CEM) – Research into the client journey (kimtasso.com)
Increasingly, digital marketing experts are using campaigns to increase telephone calls. Calls are often your most valuable leads, converting up to 10 times the rate of other online conversions. This means that extra attention is required to how those calls are managed. This article offers some insights into call automation for the health sector 12 Ways to Get More Phone Calls from Your Digital Marketing (practiceedge.com.au)
Accent bias remains
A recent report Accent Bias in Britain Report: 2020 (accentbiasbritain.org) stated “Compared with analyses conducted 50 and 15 years ago, our study found that public attitudes to accents and their related stereotypes have remained largely unchanged over time”.
“Like Giles (1970), we find that more standard and middle-class accents are rated the highest for prestige, along with ‘Queen’s English’, ‘Edinburgh’, ‘New Zealand’, ‘Australia’, and ‘Own Accent’ all appearing within the top 10. As in the two previous studies, ‘Birmingham’ is rated the lowest and ‘Afro-Caribbean’, ‘Indian’, ‘Liverpool’ and ‘Cockney’ all appear in the bottom 10. These accents correspond to working class social groups, often based in industrial towns, and ethnic minority groups”.
But the report observed “Professionals have the ability to mitigate the effects of accent bias. We found that legal professionals in major law firms have the ability to switch off personal biases and attend very well to the content of job interview responses, regardless of accent”
Legal clients let down by lawyers’ use of telephones
American Bar Association’s 2022 Tech Report/Clio’s Legal Trends Report said that “68% of clients first contact a lawyer/law firm by phone”.
Yet there was an interesting article In March 2023 17 Top Reasons Lawyers Don’t Call Their Clients – The BTI Consulting Group “High-quality voice dialogue between clients and their relationship partners remains rare. Only 21% of clients report a high-quality ongoing dialogue with their main partner outside of a matter-related discussion. This leaves a lot of room to develop client relationships”.
Responsiveness – Accountants and telephones
Blondie’s song “Hanging on the telephone” came to mind as I read an article from March 2020 Demanding Customers and Need for Human Reassurance Prompt Increase in Calls | AccountingWEB described research commissioned by Moneypenny.
“Surveyed a variety of accountants and other financial service businesses and revealed they now receive 31% more calls.
48% of financial businesses say most callers want an urgent response to an enquiry, followed by 40% who say most calls are to verify details from customers’ online research and 39% who say calls are seeking reassurance from speaking to someone”.
Moneypenny attributes the increase in calls to changing consumer demands and behaviours. Louise Wilson, Business Manager – Finance at Moneypenny said: “The data shows that even in an online world, we still seek the reassurance of human interaction. Trust is critical in this sector and the phone is one of the easiest ways for customers to seek answers, clarify information and build rapport.
More and more customers are researching and comparing accountants and other financial service providers online, and then using the ‘click to call’ button directly from Google’s search results once they know what they want. All of this results in more calls to businesses and calls of far greater value.”
In 2015 Accountants’ phone manner leaves callers cold – Accountancy Age a survey found that less than a quarter (22%) of 1,000 British consumers are happy with the way accountancy firms handle their phone calls – amongst the lowest scoring industries marginally above printers and care dealers. Dentists performed twice as well as accountants. Women and older callers appeared to be particularly unhappy with how accountants handled their calls.
Working with gatekeepers on the telephone
There were questions about how best to deal with gatekeepers (there is more information about the role of gatekeepers in the decision-making unit Selling Basics – Detectives and DMUs (Video) and recommended books (kimtasso.com). The view was that we should always treat gatekeepers with respect and aim to build rapport, trust and a relationship with them. Gatekeepers can be enlisted as sponsors as well.
We spent a lot of time at the session looking at how we create rapport on the telephone. This article 9 Techniques for Building Rapport Over the Phone (hubspot.com) summarises some of the techniques we discussed:
- Open with a positive attitude and clear directive
- Be respectful and remember names
- Find common ground
- Match the caller’s energy
- Let them know you understand their problem
- Ask productive questions
- Stay attuned to and reflect the caller’s feelings
- Summarise and check details
- Show appreciation for your caller’s time
Different methods of communicating across different generations and cultural backgrounds are addressed here: Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (kimtasso.com)
Delegate poll results, questions and takeaways
Half of the delegates had no sales training/experience and half had informal sales training.
Half of delegates had average confidence in taking and making telephone calls at the start of the session and half indicated high confidence. At the end of the session, all delegates felt that their confidence was high.
Two thirds of delegates were most interested in using the telephone to reach people proactively whereas a third were most interested in building relationships on the telephone
All delegates felt that their emotional intelligence was high. An introduction to emotional intelligence (EQ) and empathy (Video) (kimtasso.com)
Two thirds felt their personality was mostly dog and a third mostly cat. Adapting to dog, cat and bear personalities – Better business relationships (kimtasso.com)
All delegates had an idea of the key messages/benefits to convey – none indicated that messages were really clear and/or agreed before calls and campaigns. Power of three – Writing and presentation basics (Video) (kimtasso.com)
Delegates were equally split between really good, good and average technical/product knowledge of the services they were answering calls about.
None of the delegates had a really good range of stories to demonstrate how their firm had helped clients. Half of the delegates had a few stories and half had none. Video – The art of storytelling – Kim Tasso explains and demonstrates and Referrer management – Grading, Research, Discipline, Storytelling (kimtasso.com)
All delegates answered “sort of” when asked about the extent to which their marketing and sales plans and activities were integrated. themes on campaign development and thought leadership (kimtasso.com)
Two thirds received information about callers online activity when answering calls and a third received information from the firm’s CRM system.
When making “cold” calls, the primary goal of a quarter of the delegates was to find out more information, a quarter aimed to secure a meeting and half aimed to qualify the prospect/lead
A quarter of delegates spent around two hours preparing for an outbound call whereas 50% spent between 10 to 15 minutes
Delegate takeaways and actions
- Average of nine months and nine touch points to convert a B2B client
- The use of the “So what?” test to convert features into benefits
- Using client focused language in calls (“you” rather than “we”)
- Take time to build rapport with callers
- The importance of active listening skills Active Listening (Video) (kimtasso.com)
- Using a buyer profile to identify what information is required
- More research before making outbound calls
- Pitch and projection of voice
- Authenticity and personality on the phone
- Finding a way for face-to-face communication wherever possible
- Gathering more stories to promote engagement and aid persuasion
- Focus more on the person rather than the technical issues
- Asking questions to understand caller aims and pains
- 5C structure of a follow up email