One of the most dramatic changes in the business world over the last few decades, is the decrease in personal interaction. Engaging with people on a one to one basis is becoming more of a rarity and the pay offs that come from actually speaking to somebody on the phone are often, regrettably, overlooked. To put that in context the average working individual sent and received 121 emails a day last year and this is expected to rise to 140 emails a day in the next three years. Compare those figures with the number of phone calls you took today and it’s fairly obvious that email is outranking phone calls by a long shot.
For the current generation of ‘Digital Natives’ who have grown up with emails and texts as their main communication channels, picking up the phone to speak to a human being can feel like a daunting prospect, particularly since so many people are out of practice at making calls. It often seems quicker, easier and less taxing to fire off a quick email rather than engage and connect with a real person but there is a compelling business case for picking up a receiver to actually talk, let alone the increased personal satisfaction that comes with making connections.
Human beings are social animals and as such we are wired to thrive when we make one-on one-connections with other people. Our brains are primed to assimilate not just the words (i.e. text on the screen) but also the tone of somebody’s voice, the gaps between their words, the speed of the sentences, the emotions in the timbre of their voice and the back and forth of a naturally paced conversation. These rich pieces of information are massively important in human relationships and just don’t come across in the one dimension of an email.
The satisfaction we get from an enjoyable phone conversation can never be matched by the flatness of text on a screen. Perhaps because the interpretation of these subtle signals are so instinctive to us, we don’t value the added richness these nuances provide but they not only help in building a relationship of trust and mutual respect with the other caller, but can help us make accurate decisions and judgements that can impact hugely on our business.
From a business point of view, making deeper, richer and more authentic connections with potential or existing clients or suppliers can only be a good thing and, in that sea of 100+ daily emails, the phone calls you do make can help you stand out and be remembered positively.
Making a phone call gives you the opportunity to engage with your clients directly, to get to know them and for them to get to know you – something that just can’t be achieved as easily through email.
With the scarcity of calls we make, it’s all too easy to lose or never learn the confidence to pick up the phone and have a conversation with somebody. If you need that extra push to make your business calls stand out for the right reasons, this is my advice:
Be clear on your intention
One of the main differences between making a phone call and sending an email is how the information is digested. With an email, the ball is firmly in the recipient’s court and they can open and respond to the email whenever suits them. With a phone call you are forcing the issue a bit more and the person you are calling has to stop what they are doing to speak to you. For that reason, you need to make sure you are clear on your intention and purpose for calling.
Very few people respond well to a long, meandering chat during their working day, so make sure you have a point to the call and get to it quickly! You could even write out some bullet points before you make the call to improve focus. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a bit of banter and conversational chat – there absolutely is but you also need to be clear on what you want to achieve from the phone call and what you want your audience to do. What is the ‘call to action’ that you want to come about because of the call? Even if you’re just gathering information and don’t need your recipient to do anything but talk to you, your intention could be ‘to deepen the relationship and engage more fully’ with the caller, thereby giving you the edge over your competitors and making your working relationship more enjoyable.
Be clear on your intention before you even pick up the receiver.
Gauge reaction carefully
This is another vitally important element of the phone call – be alert to nuances in the recipients voice, tone, speed of speech and signs of either engagement or irritation. If you’re picking up on impatience, either get to the point quickly or ask if there is a more convenient time to speak. If you’re not sure how your phone call is being received, you could ask them a question about what you’re talking about. That way you can take the temperature to see if you’re leaving them cold. Think of it as a ‘real time’ piece of mini feedback.
If your recipient is more of a talker, chat freely and seize the opportunity to build a warmer, friendlier relationship than you could achieve by email. If they are a gregarious talker by nature, they will probably respond much better to a conversation than an email anyway.
One of the most important things you can do to help you accurately gauge reaction is to be fully present during the call. If you’re at your desk, it’s all too tempting to look at the emails in front of you as you speak, but resist the urge and stay present to how the call is progressing. That way you’ll be poised to pick up on the mood of your recipient as accurately as you would in person.
Be aware of your intonation
Taking the visual aspect out of an interaction means your caller will need to rely on the tone and intonation of your voice for information that would be gleaned from body language in person. Bearing this in mind, make sure your voice is doing your message justice. Ensure your vocal delivery matches the message you are giving. Be aware of how you can use changes in pitch, volume, tempo, enunciation and vocal quality to convey warmth, urgency etc.
Do a vocal warm up before you make the call – sing a song, practice some tongue twisters or just speak aloud to yourself. To really refine your voice, pay attention to people you feel convey themselves well by phone and emulate them next time you speak. Practice out loud as often as you need to until your voice carries just the right tone you want to convey.
Just as you would take time to refine your physical appearance when you meet a business prospect, devote some time to developing your voice to convey your message – and your brand – effectively.
Pick up the phone
This one sounds obvious, but it’s often the hardest step. You just need to pick up the phone and get on with it! If you’re more used to simply firing off another email, picking up the phone can feel daunting but the rewards of one-to-one interaction outweigh the hesitancy you may feel initially.
Picking up the phone to speak to a business contact can make you far more memorable, and will probably be far more productive, than yet another email on a screen. Social media distractions, 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi coverage pretty much everywhere you go and smart phones that send messages in seconds all make it very tempting to stick to the comfort of emails and text interaction so challenge yourself to try and prioritise phone calls for a week or so. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results.
Next time your mouse is hovering over that ‘send’ button, think twice and consider whether you’d be better off picking up the phone instead. You’ll start to see the positive results for your business – and an uplift in your own mood, motivation and enthusiasm – within a very short space of time.