Don’t Fear the Phone!

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A business owner confided in us the other day that all of his new employees who are millennials are deathly afraid of the telephone.  This generation has grown up with portable electronic devices from smart phones that they use for texting more than talking to tablets and computers.  Millennials are very comfortable with both texting and email. But, human interaction strikes fear in them.  In fact, this business owner said that one new employee told him that texting and email were second nature. But, talking to someone on the phone was not comfortable at all.

This disconnect is dangerous. In business, the telephone is a vital tool to establish, cultivate and maintain relationships of all kinds. Friendships and business relationships are enriched through use of the human voice for telephonic conversation.  While texting and email certainly communicate an intended message, actually hearing the voice of a live, warm human being holds far more information:  you a lot about the quality of the relationship by using the sense of hearing to gauge emotion and intent.

Email and text messages are unable to convey emotion effectively. Both positive and negative feelings are simply harder to convey in writing.  Tonality in voice, timbre, dynamics and other aspects of the human voice add emphasis to key points. Dialect and intonation add information.  The phone (via Skype if you want to keep it digital) is a great way to insure that your point is understood.

So what do you do when you have an employee who is afraid to use the phone?  Banish the fear. Teach!  Demonstrate!  Require that they give it a try! Though not hard to do, taking on a leadership role for Telephone 101 does take some strategy.  Some tips:

  • Have the new employee call someone who knows that the call is coming and is aware of the subject of the call.  We had a business owner the other day direct his employee to call a client and begin a conversation on firearms.  The business owner knew that the client had a large firearm collection, the new employee had several weapons of his own and a mutual discussion would be interesting and beneficial.  Interestingly, the relationship that the new employee established with the client turned out to be mutually beneficial, too.  The owner is grooming his new staffer for succession planning, and the client will work with this new employee for many years after the business owner elects to transition to retired status.
  • Put the new employee in charge of answering the phone.  This is another skill that requires some training.  With many new millennial age employees averse to having a live conversation with a stranger, business owners must teach that the phone is how you begin new business development. When customers call to ask about a product or service or wish to know about a price or service availability, being able to welcome the call and interact comfortably is critical.
  • Have a guest speaker at your staff meeting, a professional whose business relies on phone techniques.  Suggestions might be a residential realtor, an insurance sales person or a call center manager.

If you have employees who are fear the phone, sensitize them!  Teach them how to use the telephone.  There is nothing mystical about it, but they have to be carefully taught. Now is the time to begin.
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