Excellent Customer Service on the Phone – PART II

Yesterday, we talked about the three initial stages or phases of a typical call flow and the different best practices and tips that call center agents must be reminded about and put into practice when they give customer service, excellent at that, to their customers on the phone.  These first stages are Opening the Call, Listening and Comprehension, and Probing.

On this day, we are going to center on the next three phases of the call flow minus HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS; the reason for which we will explain at the end of this article.  They are Responding Appropriately and Intelligently and Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy.

STAGE FOUR:  RESPONDING APPROPRIATELY AND INTELLIGENTLY

A lot of call center agents nowadays think that for as long as they have opened the call correctly and effectively, it is already an assurance that they already have a good call in the bag.  Well, not in all cases.  I do not want to sound self-contradictory in this juncture but although I first said that “all that starts well ends well” and “a call that was started right will expectedly end right”, what happens during the core of the conversation or the middle is of utmost importance too.  You see, even if an agent commenced his call right but towards the middle, he loses control of the call or his patience and starts messing with the caller, it will surely open a can of worms that he will just see himself regretting at the end.

Therefore, how an agent replies and what he says in response to his customer’s query, concern, clarification, or complaint; play a vital role in the success or failure of a call.  As the saying goes, “think first before you speak”.  Agents will never know what will happen if a recklessly-delivered answer goes the wrong direction.  In that regard, responses should be appropriate for what the customer said and should be intelligently-formulated.

Pointers for Responding Accurately without Sacrificing Quality

Below are the different guidelines that I offer to any agent who wants to know how to respond appropriately without sacrificing the quality of his delivery, etc.

1.  Be personal.  No customer is interested in talking to a customer service representative who talks like a voice-over or a recording.  On the same note, they are are annoyed by insensitive and selfish agents who do not have any spot of concern for whomever they are talking to just so they could deliver their lines and get rid of the customer the fastest time that they can.  Whom customers need to speak with are human beings who converse with them on a personal level; those who stray away from sounding too formal and those who do not speak like a walking contract.  Worse, they never waste their time putting up with people who sound very scripted and stiff.  Hence, agents should be personal and conversational.  When they are, their customers would feel as though they are just talking to a friend.  Consequentially, when they are more comfortable with whom they are speaking with, they feel at ease and they open up and participate more.

2.  Acknowledge whatever emotion there is in the customer’s messages.  Customers feel great when the feeling or the emotions that they carry on their shoulders every time they explain themselves at the onset of the call are being acknowledged.  It is as if the customer service representative also feels what they feel, sees what they see, and experiences what they experience on their end.  A lot of times, there are customers who do not really expect for their resolution to be solved immediately or at all.  They just want to be able to reach someone from customer service or technical support that they can air their sentiments to or they can vent out their inconveniences to.  Recognizing the situation the customers are stuck in at the moment relieves them of their worries, annoyance, etc more so if the agents empathize with them.  Thus, when a customer says something, do not just jump instantly to the resolution.  Whether it is empathizing, sympathizing, commending, appreciating, or simply acknowledging; agents should see to it that they accept the customer’s feedback wholeheartedly and with the passion to serve.

3.  Agents should stick to the concern when responding and make sure that they do not ramble about things irrelevant to the subject matter.  There are some agents who are just very wordy and speak so lengthily that they fail to hit the nail on its head.  This is because instead of getting straight to the point after acknowledging what their customers said, they wander off to some other topics that are unnecessary, that do not add value to the conversation and that do not lead to the resolution.  This also explains why their Average Handling Time or AHT is so high.  Agents have to remember that providing customer service on the phone is not just a show or a contest of who sounds the most knowledgeable or who explains the most comprehensively.  Even in a few words, so long as everything the customer wants to hear is mentioned, the job will be as good as done.  Also, agents are not prohibited from making a small talk.  However, there is a big difference between making an effort to build rapport and rambling about things that go off on a tangent.  They, the agents, must then avert ending up doing the latter.  Once again, one should stay on course to get to his destination the soonest time possible.

4.  Develop open-ended questions to keep the conversation moving.  When agents are not getting enough information from their customers or when they think, they are being fed the wrong specifics, it is very helpful when they ask open-ended questions.  Open-ended questions are those which start with Who, When, Where, What, Which, Why, and How. They are purported to draw further details out of the customers.  They are also used every time close-ended questions fail to work, when information is missing, or agents simply want their customers to tell them more.  Whatever the case maybe, they may have to use these to their advantage.

5.  Every time agents get sensitive information, they should confirm by restating it clearly.  This is where paraphrasing comes in.  Paraphrasing means repeating what the customer said using one’s own words or explanation.  When this is used, not only do agents get to have the customer confirm that they understood them correctly but they also get to have them correct them for any misinterpretation, extraneous information, or lacking details.  As we have learned from the previous article, assuming is a mortal sin among call center agents.  When they do not confirm, an assumed correct interpretation or understanding (when in fact, it is not) will bark up the wrong tree later on.

6.  Base your response from the customer’s own words.  Another way of paraphrasing is basing one’s response from what the customer said.  This has always been proven effective provided that the agent never listens selectively and processes everything that he listens to.  Common sense says that there is nothing more reliable than what the customers themselves say.  Is there?

7.  Agents should be as conversational as they can.  We are talking about responding appropriately.  Aren’t we?  Customers love it when agents are actually striking up a conversation with them.  They hate it when it is like they are listening to a recording of the companies’ policies and procedures booklet or the audio of the products or services’ terms of service.  Do you get what I mean here?  Furthermore, they smirk at agents who are no different than the automated voice prompt that they first listened to before they finally got a hold of them on the queue.  Therefore, agents should make it a point to be as conversational as they can.  Even if they are talking to businessmen or high-ranking officials of a business, they should interact on a personal level without setting aside telephone etiquette and professionalism, of course.

Remember this.  That adage that says, “CUSTOMERS ARE ALWAYS RIGHT” is bull**** and has never been right.  As a matter of fact, many customers are not reasonable most of the time.  That’s a fact.  In spite of that, they should always be given the kind of service that they deserve since they are paying with their hard-earned money.  Therefore, agents should make this their new guiding principle regarding CUSTOMER SERVICE — that “CUSTOMERS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT BUT THEY ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED RIGHT”.

Facts about Customers:

To be able to respond appropriately and intelligently to customers, agents should be educated about some facts that influence how customers think, what they say, how they behave or react, and the kinds of decision they arrive at when they talk.  Those are:

  • They have expectations. Whether agents like this or not or even if they avoid this or not, it remains the same that all customers call in with expectations that they require them to meet before the end of the call.  If these expectations are not met, they usually feel that they are being shortchanged.  When they do not feel contented, they commonly do not get off the phone until they get what they want.  In some cases, they resort to asking for the representative’s immediate supervisor so they can bring their woes to their attention with the latter being expected to pay attention to them and do something as well.  With this in mind, it is then any agent’s mission to make sure that these expectations are met.
  • They expect to be appreciated.  There are some customers whose weakness is being commended for a job well done on their end or for being appreciated for, let us say, doing something that does the company a favor.  So, every time a customer pays his dues on time, upgrades his plan to a more expensive package, buys additional items, or extends his contract; agents should  grab the opportunity to thank them for their excellent choice or appreciate them for their wonderful business.  Agents should give this a go and they should expect a more pleased and feel-good customer.
  • They have ever-changing wants and needs.  Customers are oftentimes unpredictable with what they want to happen or what they need companies to do and this is something agents must be prepared for.  That is why it is beneficial for agents never to assume that what a customer chooses or decides to do today is the same as what he will choose or decide to do at a different time.  Always watch out for the customers’ human nature to be unpredictable and to change minds.  Always ask and never, for the nth time just to reiterate, assume.
  • They expect to get what they ordered, signed up for or purchased.  Keep this in mind to better understand why customers get mad or cancel their service.  They would not have to call customer service or tech support if they do not have problems with their product or service to begin with.  Right?  If they are satisfied with what they are using or if they are getting what they have signed up for, why would they waste their valuable time dialing that hotline and lining up in the absurdly “it-takes-forever” queue?  So, instead of agents feeling bad about the long line of customers waiting in the queue and having to put up with their idiosyncrasies, why don’t they weed off what the root cause really is?  This way, they are able to identify with their customers more and their behavior.
  • They want the best value for their money (or for time spent).  We all know money is something customers do not just pick up everywhere or obtain by just slacking off.  It is something that they work hard for to earn.  So, similar to the previous item, this backs up why they are very particular about whether the money and the time they spent or are spending with their product or service are reasonable, affordable, and understandable.  Otherwise, they complain or worse, they cancel and never sign up again.  It is for this very reason why agents should always make the customer feel good about what they are paying for and to make them think that they did the right and the best thing getting the product or the service and that they will never regret their customer experience.  Moreover, this is also something that can be reinforced and cemented over the phone. They also want the best value for the time they are spending getting a hold of an agent on the line.  Agents should then ensure they get the best contact center experience they would not think they can get elsewhere.
  • They want to be understood.  Customers are like toddlers at times.  They are either hungry for attention or just want to be acknowledged, accepted, and understood.  The more agents overlook acknowledgement of what they are saying, dismiss what they want reps to hear, and fail to verbalize that they are understood or being understood, the more likely that they snap back or they start acting in a manner that frustrates even the best agent there is.  So, agents should always use verbal cues and let them hear (since they cannot be seen) their agreement (or even disagreement) in a nice and acceptable way.

There you have it ladies and gentlemen in the call center industry.  Knowing these facts help agents know their customers more and be extra patient with them.  These facts help them know how to please them and where to attack the problem.

Seven Cs of Communication:

To be able to respond as intelligently as possible to customers, agents who want to provide extraordinary customer care should remember the following Cs of Communication:

1.  Clear – This does not just include speaking without fillers and not stuttering or stammering.  Speaking clearly is also about not sounding confusing or beating around the bush. Also, this refers to speaking fluently with understandable grammar and neutral accent.

 2. Concise – Being concise is being able to explain everything or being able to respond appropriately with the fewest words possible. It is replying with “short-but-sweet” statements.

 3. Correct – Correct responses refer to that which is based on facts and which is the best response to the customer’s statements.

 4. Courteous – Being courteous is being able to represent the company well without disregarding the kind of treatment that should be provided to the customers and that they deserve. It is being assertive without rubbing them the wrong way. It is about giving them an extraordinary customer care experience.

5. Conversational – Being conversational is refraining from sounding scripted or robotic. It is all about personalizing the call and making the interaction a friendly conversation without setting aside the respect for the customer.

6. Convincing – Refers to a response, which is believable and workable and intelligently-thought and delivered.

7. Complete – Refers to responses that lead to first call resolution because they cover everything.

These Seven Cs of Effective Communication are what separate regular and just good agents from extraordinary and great ones who win awards on the floor every now and then and who get promoted first.  Thus, if agents want to soar to greater heights in their chosen career apart from the nostalgia to serve customers the best way they can, they are encouraged to put these to practice.

Positive Scripting:

The other aspect of being able to respond appropriately and intelligently to customers is being able to say things positively.  It is all about avoiding saying something that will piss the customers off or negative responses that might push their buttons (the sensitive ones, that is).  Positive Scripting or Phraseology is about thinking first before one speaks and watering down naturally negative statements by taking it easy on the negative words like “NO”, “NEVER”, “CANNOT”, “WILL NOT” “SHOULD NOT”, “MUST NOT”, “DOES NOT”, “DO NOT”, etc.  Positive scripting also covers delivering bad news without coming off too harsh and using courtesy words when making customers understand something.

So, agents should make an effort to say their piece positively.  It may be very difficult but all it takes is thinking first before uttering a single word.  It is about giving alternatives when one cannot directly grant the customer’s request or give what the same wants.  It is also about maintaining sounding professional all throughout the conversation and minding one’s manners.

Minding One’s Tone:

“It is not only what you say but how you say it”.  Tone plays a critical role in how agents’ manners on the phone are perceived by their customers and even how their message is interpreted.  Even if the agent says his lines positively and he has the best vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation; a conversation might still go awry if he sounds tense or always on the fighting mode.  The following tips below help agents know what to do to abide by this principle.

1.  Picture oneself as the customer.  Putting oneself in his customer’s shoes makes him think of the consequences of his actions even before he says what he attempts to say.  It is like asking oneself, “How would my customer react if I say this?” or “Would my customer like if I explain it this way?”.  This way, the agent thinks of a better way of saying something that has a negative implication in it or sugarcoats it with positive, courteous, or impact-cushioning words.

2.  Be conscious with the way one breathes.  Even how an agent breathes or him making his exhalation and inhalation audible on the phone matters in any conversation.  If only such sounds could be cancelled out over the phone, it would be better.  Unfortunately, they could not.  This is why agents should be wary of these things.  They do not want to be thought of as sounding irritable, impatient, or upset.  Their deep breathing might be mistaken as giving a sigh of annoyance or disappointment.  Therefore, if they are going to breathe in and out or clear their throat, they should make sure they do not sound with any mark of ill feelings toward their customers even if it is the case.  They can just keep their emotions to themselves and hidden.

3.  Sit comfortably but maintain a good posture.  Sitting positions also contribute to how agents sound on the phone.  Although each one of them has his own working style that involves sitting preferences, sitting comfortably and maintaining a good posture at the same time aid in the clear sound production.  When sounds come out clean and clear, it affects the agents’ disposition or mood and they are able to explain themselves to their customers without any tension at all.

4.  Insert inflections and rhythm into one’s speech.  Engaging customers in a healthy conversation also involves some theatrics and music to it.  Inserting inflections (altering one’s voice pitch, tone or modulation) and rhythm (stressing and unstressing syllables when speaking) do not only help one sound really nice on the phone (like a DJ) but also helps one not sound combative at all.

5.  Match one’s tone with the customer’s emotions or the ambiance of the situation.  Do not get this wrong.  This does not mean that when a customer is mad, the agent should sound mad too or when the former is shouting, the latter should raise his voice just the same.  These are but exceptions of course.  However, when customers are sorrowful, agents may need to match that tone by sounding sincerely concerned if not sounding sad too.  Customers would feel that they found a shoulder to cry on in the agent.  Similarly, when the customer sounds all-bubbly, the agent may match this happy state of mind by sounding lively too.

6.  Make smiles heard.  An agent who speaks with a smile on his face is a music to a customer’s ears.  Agents should make it a habit to open the call smiling, converse smiling, and wrap the call up smiling unless of course the customer’s mood changes the situation all together.  Wit this, they should follow Tip #5 which explains mirroring the customer’s mood.

7.  Be conversational and do not rely on scripts.  Unless required by the management or the client, scripts are only there to serve as guides so agents know what to say especially when they talk policies or so they know how to explain intricacies about the products or the service.  Nevertheless, agents are still better off connecting to their customers and sounding conversational.

Mind your tone and be guided by these important considerations for offering excellent customer service.  With these being applied, agents reading this article are assured of a smooth conversation with their customers.

Managing Dead Air thru Small Talk

One of the common concerns of not only agents but call center leaders as well is managing dead air.  As we all already know, dead air refers to an unintended interruption in a broadcast when there is no sound.  In the call center industry though, this jargon refers to when an agent stops talking and neither does the customer so there are a few moments when there is total silence on the line.  This is usually a ding on professionalism on the part of agents because they are expected to carry an uninterrupted or smooth-flowing conversation with their customers and even on product knowledge because sometimes, an agent not talking may mean he is thinking of what to say next, the answer to his customer’s question, or he is not sure about something.    But there are several ways to kill dead air.  One of which is by initiating small talk.

Small talk pertains to a light conversation or a chitchat with a customer just so there is no dead air or to avoid having to put the customer on hold while something is being accomplished on the representative’s end

Below are a few tips on how to make a small talk the right way.

The agent should initiate short, appropriate and manageable small talk.  Not all agents are encouraged to make small talk.  Only those who can manage and control it are allowed to resort to this.  Why?  Small talk is a skill as much as it is an art.  When an agent strikes up a light conversation with the customer, he has to make sure that he knows and can cease it any time to direct the conversation back into the focal topic of the phone call, which is the customer’s reason for calling.  When small talk goes out of one’s sway, it tends to veer away from the more important discussions and worse, prolong the call.  When this happens, it becomes hard for the agent to cut in and go back to the task at hand since he does not want to interrupt the customer.  Therefore, agents should make sure that when they open up small talk, they only limit the conversation into the safe topics to avoid a lengthy exchange with the customer.
He should be careful with the topic he talks to the customer about.  Another important thing to remember is to make sure that the subject of the small talk is not only light and short but also appropriate and non-taboo.  Agents should avert talking about politics, religion, sexuality, too personal matters, and the like.  These topics are always biased because what the agent believes may not be in agreement with what the customer does.  Thus, to stay safe, just stick to neutral topics like the weather, how the customer is doing, and of course; the issue itself.

He should make sure that he can manage such conversation to avoid getting out of hand.  As mentioned, agents should be able to steer the conversation back to the main issue.  Otherwise, they might regret they started a conversation with the customer.

He should ensure he is still able to multi-task. Agents would be able to accomplish less or would only protract their calls if they are not able to multitask while engaging themselves in a pep talk with their customers. They should remember that small talks are only enhancements to the whole customer service experience that is being provided to the customers.  They should not in any fashion get in the way of the efficacy of the agent nor the success of the call.
As soon as you are done on your end, steer the topic back to the main concern at hand.
So, let all agents be guided by these steps and they will be fine with making small talk with their customers.
Cutting Down on Fillers
Fillers are one of what we call, speech defects.  When a delivery is marred by these speech defects, the overall effectiveness of the message that is being delivered and the customer service representative’s delivery are affected as well.  So, how can agents keep their fillers at a minimum or better yet eradicate them altogether?  Simple.  The universal remedy is to “PAUSE”.  Yes.  just pause.  Fillers are uttered because the speaker is still thinking of what to say next or maybe confirming if what he is saying is really what he wanted to say in the first place.  Therefore, instead of uttering fillers, the speaker can just pause while thinking.  He just has to make sure though that he is not pausing for more than 5-7 seconds because it then becomes, “DEAD AIR”.  He has to think fast so he is able to shift to the next parts of what he is saying without pausing for too long.

STAGE FIVE: TELEPHONE ETIQUETTE AND COURTESY.

The next portion of the second installment of our three-part blog series about “EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE PHONE” is Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy.  Here, we will talk about what telephone etiquette and telephone courtesy mean and what else is there to know about the topic.

What are Telephone Etiquette and Telephone Courtesy?

Telephone Etiquette – is simply good breeding over the phone.  It also refers to the display of good manners and right conduct when speaking with a customer on the line especially in call centers.

Telephone Courtesy – is showing respect to the buying or paying customer thru behaviors indicative of polished manners and regard for other people’s feelings.

What are the Benefits of Observing Etiquette and Being Courteous Over the Phone?
1.  There will be less to zero supervisor calls.  Come to think of it.  If all agents were good with Telephone Etiquette and Telephone Courtesy, would there be a lot of irate customers?  Absolutely not!  Debates would be avoided, nasty encounters would never be triggered, shouting would be discouraged, and requests for supervisors would be deescalated. They would not think of asking for supervisors anymore because they are confident the first level of support is enough to help them with their concerns.
2.  There will be more satisfied customers.  Companies may have a lot of customers but not everyone is satisfied with the product or service that they are getting.  However, there are cases when excellent customer service compensates for their not-so-good experience.
3.  There will be no stress at all.  One of the causes of stress in the call center is annoying customers.  However, since there are no more irate customers because of telephone etiquette and courtesy, then stress in the call center brought about by forgettable experiences with irate customers would be lessened.
4.  There is fulfillment and happiness.  Everybody knows how great the feeling is every time a customer hangs up on his end happy with the customer service that he got from the representative.  On the agent’s end, it also gives him a feeling of fulfillment and happiness every time he does his job as expected, when he has been of help to the needy customer, and when he has made his customer smile and feel great that he talked to him.  This is definitely the greatest benefit of observing etiquette and courtesy over the phone.
Putting the Customer on Hold the P.R.E.T.T.Y way
There is a procedure to putting the customer on hold the proper manner.  Agents should not just tell their customers they are going to hold without asking for permission.  It is somewhat a disrespect.  As much as possible, putting the customer on hold should only be the last resort.  However, if it is the only option left or the best option that the situation calls for, the following steps MUST be followed.  Agents should just remember the P.R.E.T.T.Y. process which says:
P – Permission.  Agents should always ask for permission.  Putting the customer on hold is not for them to decide on or do instantly without listening to what the customer has to say about it.  There are some customers who do not like being put on hold so it is better and safe to get their “YES” before pressing that HOLD button.
Example: “May I put you on hold…?”
R – Reason.  The reason for putting the customer on hold should be communicated and made clear.  Since it is a reality that some customers are hesitant about being put on hold, it also helps when they are educated about why they need to wait by being placed on temporary hold.
Example: “…I just need to research further about your concern…”
E – Set Expectations.  Setting expectations is just like stating the reason.  However, there is more to it.  Setting expectations also involves assuring them that they will only be on hold for a few minutes, that the agent will get right back to them as soon as he can, the line will not get disconnected, and that the procedure is necessary for the resolution of their problem or the satisfaction of their questions.  Exchanging expectations also leaves them confident that the agent knows what he is talking about and doing.
T – Time.  The time frame within which the customer will be placed on hold is important.  There are some phone IVRs that do not offer background music.  In other cases, there may be music or sounds but the customer may not like them or enjoy listening to them.  The worst case scenario is there is no background songs at all.  Therefore, it is important to tell them how long they have to wait while on hold or should we say, how they long they have to put up with the background music for.  This is also another way of setting expectations with them.
T.Y. – Say Thank You.  It is also important to wait for the customer’s response first before putting them on hold.  What if they say “NO”?  Should agents still put their customers on hold?  Of course not.  But if the customer says “YES”, the agent should not forget appreciating the customer for letting allowing to be put on hold.  A simple “Thank You” is enough.
On the other hand, how do we display courtesy over the phone?  Below are some tips agents may want to try out:
Take calls promptly.  Agents should answer an incoming call right away.  They should not let the customer wait because they had already waited more than long enough before finally getting a hold of someone they can speak with.  Therefore, once an agent sees an incoming call or hears it (depending on the company’s phone technology or the kind of phone being used), the agent should accommodate it right away.
Smile.  We have already talked about this before so let this just serve as a reminder.
Listen actively.  Listening actively is listening to both what the customer is saying in complete detail and putting oneself in his shoes too.  Both the message and the customer’s feelings or emotions are important to be able to assist them thoroughly.  Being able to do so gives the agent all the tools he needs to not only resolve the concern fast but exceed expectations too.
Do not chew anything while talking to a customer.  Call center agents are never allowed to eat while they have a customer on the phone.  Their headset’s noise cancellation feature does not include cancelling the sound of food or bubble gum, particularly, being chewed by an agent.  It is an outright discourtesy.  Such an act might be misinterpreted as taking the customer for granted or not taking his purpose for calling seriously.  This could also be a ground for discontinuance.
Be responsive.  Being responsive means being able to reply with verbal feedback or listeners’ cues when one is doing the listening and not the talking.  When customers hear some “Uhuh”, “Yes”, “I’m with you”, “I can follow”, “I understand”, “I see”, etc; they feel that they have the representative’s ears and that the said agent is really into the whole situation.  Being responsive also means being able to reply at once when it is already the agent’s turn to talk or say his part.
Initiate interesting but quick and controlled talk.  We have also discussed this before.  As a reminder though, agents should make sure that when they strike up a good conversation with their agents, they know when to get back to the matter at hand and get the customer’s attention easily and any time.
When it is the customer’s time, let him speak and never talk over.  It is a disrespect for agents to interrupt their customers when they are still talking.  They should keep in mind never to cut their customers off or talk over them.  When they did not do this on purpose, they may have to apologize and let the customer continue afterwards.  It is the same with inadvertently talking over, they should say sorry for doing it so and just continue listening actively.
Avoid slang, jargon or offensive language.  Agents should avoid using or saying words that only they know or familiar with or worse, offensive language that is uncalled for.  These are called office slang, industry jargons and the latter, profanities.  If they cannot avoid saying or making use of jargons, they should initiate explaining what they mean and how they are related to their concern.  With slang words, on the other hand, they should keep them at a minimum or better yet, not use them at all because even though agents are expected to be conversational, call center conversations are still categorized as business interactions so slang words are a big NO.  Lastly, any agent is being moderated from swearing on the call.  Not only is this unbecoming of a call center professional.  This is also plainly wrong and rude.
Watch one’s tone.  As discussed on this article, agents should always be mindful of how they sound and how customers react to their tone of voice.  They should avoid sounding too loud, as it might be mistaken as sounding angry, and they should refrain from sounding too formal too, as it could be misperceived as sounding too tense or stiff.
Enunciate each word clearly.  Agents do not need to sound like DJs or newscasters when they talk to their customers over the phone.  Not everyone was born to be gifted with soothing or relaxing voices.  But agents can make up for this by simply talking slowly, pronouncing their words accurately, choosing their words well, and enunciating each of their words clearly.  Even if they are not native English speakers, believe me that they would perfectly be understood and they would be able to express themselves with relative ease.
Stick to the threshold for placing the customer on hold.  If an agent promises to get back to his customer after 1 or 2 minutes, he should stick to this.  In case he is not done with what he is doing yet and the promised time period has already elapsed, hecan just get back to the customer and tell him that he is not done yet and ask for an extension; like an additional 1 or 2 minutes.  It is better to do it this way than to say only 2 minutes is needed and yet it took him 4 minutes before putting the customer back on the line.  In most cases, when the agent gets back to the customer, the latter is already upset.
 
Transfer properly.  Depending on the center or the client’s policies, transferring properly is classified into cold transfer, lukewarm transfer, or warm transfer.  Below are what each of these types means.
Cold or Unannounced Transfer

The next representative the misdirected call will be transferred to does not know of the incoming call.

Lukewarm Transfer

This is similar to the Cold Transfer with the only difference being that the previous representative already dials the options or the extensions on the customer’s behalf before putting him through the next representative.

Warm or Announced Transfer

Here, the next representative the misdirected caller will be transferred to is informed about the transfer.

Fend off abusive language politely.  When a customer starts cussing over the phone, the agent should handle this by giving the first warning and reminding the customer that such choice words are not allowed over the phone or will not help in the solution of his problem and that if he does or says it again, the agent has the authority to end the conversation abruptly and release the call on his end.  Second or third warnings can also be given based on what the company’s policies state or in some cases, dependent upon what the agent can tolerate.  But still, regardless what such policies and level of tolerance are, agents should parry abusive language with courtesy and never with “bossiness-to-a-fault” approach.
Always keep one’s cool.  Last but not least, agents should always control their temper.  It does not help when the customer is already mad and they would compound the problem by matching the customer’s intensity too.  It is part of the job to be extra patient and to be more understanding of the customer.  That is why the job says “CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE” and agents should know this better than anybody else.
So, this is it for today.  We have promised to talk about HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS too but yours truly needed to do something else important  at this time so I apologize but we would have to carry the last topic over to the last part of our three-part blog series which will be published some time next week.
Until then.  For now, BE EQUIPPED.

 

 

Excellent Customer Service on the Phone – PART I

“Get me your supervisor!”  “Transfer me to somebody in the States!”  “You’re an a******!”  “I don’t want to talk to you.”  “Why are you working there to begin with?!”  “You’re the worst representative that I have spoken with!”  These are just some of the responses that a call center customer service representative, who does not know how to provide excellent customer service or does not want to treat a customer well intentionally, usually gets.  Now, whether the customer himself is the one who is the pain in the neck in the course of the conversation or the agent just gives really terrible customer service is on a per-case basis.  However, more often than not, a call gone wrong is the call center agent’s doing or should we say, something that he did or said triggered the annoyance and the retaliation of the person on the other end of the line.  Some of the common reasons why customer service calls end up for the worst are due to some representatives not knowing how to pacify an irate customer, how to deal with their aggression, or how to provide an alternative when the policies keep them from giving what the customer demands.  When calls go out of hand, the worst case scenario is that these customers end up either cancelling their subscription, letting their friends and family know how bad the company’s customer service is, or telling the mistreatment to their country’s concerned government agency for lodging a complaint against terrible customer service and call centers.  Of course, no corporation wants any of these to happen to them or to their reputation just because of one or only a handful of employees they outsource their customer service department to.

There are some call center professionals who lose control of their emotions not because they are impatient or hot-tempered but because they tend to bring their problems at home or with the people around them to work.  On the other hand, there are simply those who take too much pride in their own abilities and knowledge that they just feel irritable when the person they talk to question their credibility, does not trust them, or talk down on them.  Nevertheless, neither of these probable causes is an acceptable excuse in treating a customer incorrectly or not giving them the kind of customer service they deserve as paying customers.

Our topic starting on this day will revolve on several tips that call center agents; regardless if they live in the USA, the Philippines, in India or somewhere else; must keep in mind and apply at work to give justice to their job title and description, which are aptly called “CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE” and “TO PROVIDE EXCELLENT CUSTOMER CARE”.  This blog will be divided into three parts though.  Each part will have three topics apiece that pertain to the stages/phases of a call center agent’s typical call flow with his customers.  These stages are:

Blog 1:

I.  Opening the Call

II.  Listening and Comprehension

III.  Probing

Blog 2 (May 24, 2013):

IV.  Responding Appropriately and Intelligently

V.  Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy

VI.  Handling Customer Complaints

Blog 3 (May 27, 2013):

VII.  Providing a Helluva Customer Experience

VIII.  Call Control with Results

VIX.  Closing a Call with Impact

But before anything else, we will first talk about what makes a great call center agent.  This revolves on the different factors that affect an agent’s performance and the kind of career that he will have in the call center industry.

WHAT MAKES A GREAT CALL CENTER AGENT?

There are always TWO ASPECTS and three elements EACH ASPECT that make up how a professional in the business world thinks, what he can do, how he does what he can do, and his mental outlook towards his work, colleagues, his customers, and the company.  These two aspects are INTERNAL ELEMENTS and  EXTERNAL ELEMENTS.

INTERNAL ELEMENTS:

Knowledge

The extent of a call center professional’s knowledge and know-how regarding his job is important.  This is a no-brainer.  This explains why each successful new recruit undergoes a new-hire and/or a product training so he knows what his roles and responsibilities are, the company’s expectations of him, and what his targets or deliverable would be.  However, there is one significant component of this element of performance that some companies are missing out on themselves and that is to make them know, understand, and appreciate the company’s VISION-MISSION-CORE WORK VALUES.  Their employees have to be oriented about these crucial statements because these very words determine how they treat and value their customers and how they go about their tasks to help the company attain what they have to meet in the conduct of their business.

Therefore, if the employees are not fully-familiarized with and properly-guided about these statements, they might be clueless about how to treat their customers and what kind of value they bring to the company.  Additionally, they might end up getting lost on the track even if they know what to do and what information to give them.

Skills

Having the skills to accomplish the job with flying colors is important just the same.  Skills refer to how the job is done or what the most efficient way of completing a task is.  Hence, a call center agent may know all the answers to a customer’s questions or may know all the troubleshooting steps to help him fix his technical issues with his computer or whatnot, but if he does not know how to type information, where to type such information, and where to find the job aids and the cheat sheets on the computer that will help him solve the customer’s concerns quickly and thoroughly; knowledge alone will not help him take care of the job.

This is why technical trainers in any call center are available so they can teach new hires the skills that they have to possess to be successful call center agents.

Attitude

A call center agent who is very knowledgeable and skillful on the floor will go a long way for sure.  However, even if he is the most knowledgeable and the most skillful there is but he does not have the heart for his customers, he is boastful, and he snaps too easily; hey may not last that long in any call center after all.  It is either he gives up on the job himself for too much pride or he gets booted out of the company for mistreating a customer when it is highly prohibited.  In other words,  the company is just creating an INSENSITIVE AND INDIFFERENT MONSTER in an agent who may know a lot and can do anything but lacks or worse, does not have the customer’s best interests and welfare in mind.

This element is what completes the three indispensable characteristics that any call center agent must instill in himself to be the best representative he can possibly be who puts the customer’s satisfaction and the issue resolution above anything else.

EXTERNAL ELEMENTS

Environment

Not a lot of call center managers look beyond the internal elements that a call center representative must learn and live by to acknowledge that there are also external factors that they must consider to provide their employees the best workplace there is — a workplace that is not only conducive to learning but which also nurtures working surroundings that foster camaraderie, sincere concern, genuine support, and a “we work hard but we play harder” set-up.

The kind of surroundings call center agents are made to thrive in plays a major role in reinforcing knowledge and skills learned in training and advancing acceptable attitude that is needed to provide excellent customer service.  Needless to say, a workplace must have very supporting and fair leaders; must be attractive, clean and convenient enough to work in; and must be appreciative of its employees’ best efforts.  You see, an environment where bosses are unfairly demanding and harsh; that is unpleasant; shabby; and inconvenient to stay in; and that does not put into practice positive reinforcement has a bearing on the kind of attitude and level of work that a call center agent shows to both his customers and co-workers, respectively.

Motivation

How call center agents treat their customers are oftentimes hinged on what their mood as of the moment is, the level or status of their motivation at work, and the degree of their longing to continue what they are doing and contribute.

Therefore, the management must also take good care of their employees’ level of motivation.  Everybody knows that one of the drivers to “under-performance”, non-performance, and worse; agent attrition is lack of or absence of motivation.  If the management expects its workforce to put it best foot forward at work, then the latter also expects them to enhance and preserve their level of motivation and happiness.  It is a give-and-take relationship.

Job-Person Fit

Sometimes, a call center agent does not perform on the level he is expected to be at because of this.  This means he is simply not a good match for the job itself or the other way around.  It is either the demands of the job clash with his personal preferences and limitations or the attributes of the work are not compatible with his working and learning styles.  There are even situations in which personal goals and aspirations do not point to staying long and happily, for that matter, in the call center industry because they realize they do not love what they are doing or they later on decide to pursue the course they graduated with or who they really want to become to begin with.

Hence, it is not a surprise when you hear a call center agent tells you that he/she only worked or applied for work in a call center because of the relatively-high pay, “hard-to-say-no-to” benefits, the happy-go-lucky lifestyle that the job comes with, the temptations of smoking; drinking coffee; and even “bingeing on beer” after work, and of course; being with the “more cool” dudes and gals of the corporate world (thanks to dressing down for most of the week and working the night shift).

This is why a call center supervisor must assess his/her agent for a sufficient period of time coupled with an ample supply of coaching/skills-enhancing opportunities, life counseling, and training/re-training interventions.  Then, if by the end of all of these efforts to help an agent improve himself or treat his customer the proper manner, he still shows no marked improvement; the team leader might want to take a good and careful look into this element of performance too.

———————

We have just discussed the six components of total performance that an agent needs to have and take into account before taking that call or making that outgoing call and assisting the customer on the line.  At this point, let us go through the motion and allow me to walk you through each critical stage of a call and explain some tips and necessary “must-dos” to be able to give EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE PHONE.

STAGE ONE: OPENING THE CALL (THE HOT TECHNIQUE)

All that starts well ends well.  Very true.  Piggybacking this simple yet very meaningful piece of knowledge, we can relate this to starting a call right to be able to end it right as well.  Most of the time, even when the customer is upset, disappointed, or mad; when his call is answered by a voice that sounds very willing to help, accommodating, and passionate; the negative feeling or emotions are leveled off or better yet, taken away.

To be able to create a very good first impression on any call, you need to be HOT.  I don’t mean its literal meaning though (LOL).  HOT is actually a mnemonic, which stands for Hot Opening Technique.  So, I guess, the right way of saying it is you need to “DO” HOT.  Isn’t it (LOL again)?  Below are a few things that a call center agent has to bear in mind to do the HOT process to the letter.

1.  Focus on and prepare for the incoming call.  As soon as the agent hears the phone ringing or sees an incoming call on its Caller ID Display, he might need to take a deep breath in preparation for the customer in need.  He might also need to clear his mind of unnecessary thoughts, especially problems and negatives, so they will not; in any way; affect the flow of his assistance of the customer.  It is equally very helpful when he thinks of happy thoughts or simply keep in mind all his motivations in life especially his loved ones that he offers his work for.  When he does this, no matter how the customer treats him or what he tells him, he could not care less.

2.  Predict the success of the call.  Remember this all-time famous saying that says “What the mind conceives, the body achieves”?  This is exactly what this tells any call center agent.  If one predicts the success of his call, he would be able to think with quality because he already assures himself that the call will go according to plan or his positive prediction.  When he can think straight, he swiftly finds what he needs to look for.  He is able to provide the answer that the customer on the phone will appreciate the most.  He is able to remember all the troubleshooting steps that must be done to fix the issue on the customer’s end.  He is able to explain accurately and impeccably that confusing bill, those perplexing overcharges, and all that.  Most importantly, he is able to remind himself that the customer must be given the best customer service he deserves.

3.  Sound passionate and with a smile.  Customers may not see who he is talking to or getting help from.  Nonetheless, when he hears that the agent on the line smiles and sounds that he is happy being of service, he feels assured right then and there that he got a hold of the best person and that the person knows what he is doing, knows what to tell him, and will put him in one of the best customer service experiences he has gotten into ever.  Also, a smiling agent kind of drives ill feelings in between away forcing the customer to calm down and cooperate with the service provider for the resolution of his concern.

4.  Build rapport early.  A call center agent who initiates building rapport with his customer early on will no doubt reap the fruits of his awesome labor even before the call ends.  Connecting on a quite personal level with the customer by making a  safe small talk, on the condition that the agent can manage it or put the conversation back on track, or by simply sounding truthfully sincere and helpful; puts the customer at ease knowing he is with the right person.  By the end of the call, he hears the customer sounding very thankful that he may want to talk to the his supervisor just to commend him or forgetting that he got into the call first feeling or sounding down if not mad.

5. After exchanging pleasantries or hearing the purpose of their call, thank them for their time.  Irrespective of the purpose of the call, it helps calm the customer down if; after exchanging pleasantries; the agent thanks him for his time.  This, in most cases, makes the customer feel that he is valued or that his call is appreciated. Some, if not all, suddenly forget that they have to curse the company thru the agent or complain big time as if there is no tomorrow.  What they think of instead is how they can thank the agent enough for his assistance and how he can repay him for his excellent service.

Now that you have heard how to do the ‘HOT TECHNIQUE’, trust me on this.  Even if an agent gets a harsh customer who starts shouting at him at the very outset of the call or greets him with all kinds of profanities here and there, if he does or says (whichever applies) any or all of the aforementioned, expect that he would be able to tame even the wildest customer out there.

STAGE TWO: LISTENING AND COMPREHENSION

The next important phase of assisting customers over the phone is listening actively to the reason why they are calling, understanding every single detail, and formulating the most corresponding action steps to get the job done quickly and effectively.  However, no matter how good and effective a listener any call center agent is, it still becomes difficult to process and digest what the customer is babbling about when one is restricted or handicapped by some barriers to effective listening.

Barriers to Effective Listening:

1.  The call center agent thinks he is the expert and the customer just has to listen to every word he says without any question, interruption, or dispute.  Remember, not because the customer needs the agent’s help that the latter already has the right to act authoritatively and aggressively in the wrong way.  The customer is still and will still be the boss.  The agent may be the expert but it does not give him the right to talk down on the customer or to bully his way through the conversation.  He must still give the customer the chance to explain himself or to respond every now and then to clarify what the agent is talking about, to have him repeat what he just said or to communicate his thoughts about everything.

2.  He thinks that there is no need to establish connection anymore and that he just needs to go straight to fixing the issue or answering the question.  This tendency is usually typical of technical support agents who do not give importance, if not hardly taught, to customer service.  As often the case, they are issue-centric.  They just focus on getting rid of the customer at once so they can take on the next call.  They are more into resolving the issue than providing customer service.  This is flat-out wrong.  Even the most expert TSRs out there are highly-encouraged to showcase real and commendable customer service as well.  Fixing the issue or answering the customer’s question is important.  No doubt about that.  But giving them the best customer service experience over the phone and leaving them feeling they are in good hands are still the main priorities of any service provider.

3,  He thinks he already knows what the concern is right away or at the onset of the call.  One of the worst barriers to effective listening is assumption.  It is when a call center agent thinks most calls are but the same with one another.  Therefore, when he gets a different customer who starts explaining something that sounds like what he has already resolved before, he stops listening and starts thinking of what to say or do next.  This is dangerous.  Any call center agent should treat each call as unique.  Assuming leaves anybody missing some other important information that is very helpful in isolating the problem and ascertaining how the problem came about in the first place.  Logically, knowing what the cause is that lead to the effect that is being brought to one’s attention will make one’s work much easier because the root cause gives one the ideas on how to take care of the issue.

4.  He does all the talking and the customer just does the listening.  Working in the call center is a talking job.  However, not because one is expected to talk over the phone that he can just go solo and dominate the conversation from start to finish.  As proven and tested, a call center agent who listens more than he talks accomplishes more and settles the problem faster than one who talks more (jut to prove he’s the smart-aleck) than he listens.  Listening more gives the listener the upper hand when it comes to comprehending the entire problem in detail and providing the best and the most appreciable resolution based on the sequence and the common sense of the conversation.  Therefore, one should give his customer all the chances he could get to explain himself and just cuts in with respect to say his part and explain everything the customer expects to get out of the talk.

5.  He just waits for gaps or pauses to jump in with his responses.  There are some call center agents who may not be interrupting or talking over their customers, which is good, but they do not listen to what their customer is saying at all.  This is even worse because they are ignoring the customers.  It is like they are just waiting for their chance to be able to talk and come back with their own responses.  When listening, one should try his best to get all the details.  He does not ignore nor selects what he wants to and does not want to hear.  He is ought to capture all information he can come by to make sure that he does not miss a thing.  When one has all the weapons/tools/pieces of information he needs, he gets to the much-needed solution quickly; therefore, shortening the call.

So, these are the different barriers to listening effectively.

Now, instead of letting these restrictions and handicaps paralyze a call center agent, affect his better judgment, or badly influence his level of listening; he may need to learn the NINE Fs OF ACTIVE LISTENING below that will absolutely help him be a role-model and an effective call/issue listener.

FOCUS – The agent should concentrate on his call, his customer and what he is saying.  He should not let his colleagues and the noise around distract him.  Even if the customer starts the call angry or shouting at him, he should relax; keep his composure; and concentrate on why the customer behaves or sounds like that to begin with.

FEEL – He must do empathetic listening and listen to the customer’s voice and feelings.  Doing so helps him understand and identify with what emotions the customer is carrying or what he is feeling at the moment that makes him react like that.

FACT-FIND – He may need to ask probing questions to get down to the bottom of the concern and so as to get more information that will help him with the purpose of the customer’s call.

LET THE CUSTOMER FINISH – He should never interrupt nor talk over his customer.  When he is paying attention to what the customer is saying, the better he is able to manage the situation.  He should just let the customer finish what he is discussing so he has a better understanding or grasp of what he is dealing with.

NEVER FORETELLAny agent should treat each of his calls as different no matter how many calls of the same issue he has already taken before.  As mentioned early on in this article, assuming keeps him from listening to every detail of the conversation with the customer.  Also, he should never presume that he can predict how the customer will behave or what he will say as the call goes on.  This will bias his listening.

FORMULATE – He, the agent, should stop and listen before he responds.  When he pauses and takes a moment to formulate organized thoughts, he says something better and which makes more sense.

Now that the call center agent already knows what the barriers to effective listening are and what tips he can apply to listen actively at this point, he may also need to know and understand the varied driving forces that dictate customers’ expectation/s on every call.  These factors or forces help the agent understand what the customer says at the onset of the call or how he introduces his issues.

Driving Forces Behind Customers’ Expectation:

1.  Their experiences with the product/service or another representative in the past.  What the customer experienced, is currently experiencing, or thinks will experience in the future with the product or the service and his conversations/experiences with a different representative in the past somehow influence how he treats the agent they are presently talking to.  Ergo, it is very helpful and beneficial for the assisting agent not to disregard stories about past experiences that the customer is sharing.  If he was mistreated by another agent in the same call center before, the actual agent assisting may need to apologize on the company or that person’s behalf.  Similarly, he may have to be very careful about what he says or does because one wrong move and impulsive reply that the customer does not like or feels bad about, the call will already be blown out of proportion.

2.  Their experiences with a competitor that offers the same product/service.  Customers cannot be blamed for comparing companies or providers that sell the same product/service from one another.  When they are not  getting something they used to get from their former provider before, they will comment about it.  When they are not being treated the way they are being treated by the current company they have a subscription with by their past provider, they will say something unpleasant about it.  When they do not hate the policies with the ex-company as much as they do the current binding policies with the present company they are with, you will hear something from them.  Customers know that this is a free world where people can say anything they want; freedom of expression, so that has to do with what they say or how they behave on the call.  This is something that the agent has to brace himself for.

3.  The actual experiences of their family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances with the product/service or another representative in the past.  Friends, family, colleagues and even acquaintances are very powerfully influential.  What they say matter to the customer calling.  Therefore, this also has a bearing on the kind of attitude that they bring forth and the words that they choose when they talk to an agent.  So, the agent, for his part, must be ready and assertive enough to help the customer get his facts straight by correcting wrong notions, inaccurate rumors, and bad bashing.  He must always be on the defense of the company without insulting the customer or rubbing him the wrong way.  It all hinges on what he says and how he says what he says. Get it?  If he carefully and intelligently chooses the words he uses to express himself and if he watches out for his intonation and other verbal cues, then he will not have to pacify an agitated customer or regret he said or did what he said or did.  Does this make sense?

4.  How they understand the company’s policies and procedures.  Any call center agent must always remember that each customer, even if they see or read the same documentation, terms of service, or terms and conditions; it is inevitable that they have different interpretations of what they read.  Worst, they did not even read them at all to begin with (which is true with most of us).  In other words,  even the most perfect business reference is open to misinterpretation or misunderstanding.  It is, therefore, the call center agent’s job to straighten the misunderstanding of the company’s policies and procedures and explain the contract or agreement that they have signed up for or agreed on in detail; dissecting everything the customer needs to know.  It is wrong and such a bad practice for any call center agent to prejudge the customer as stupid, ignorant, careless, or whatnot for not understanding their product or service well.  Just think about it this way.  Call center agents must in fact be thankful that they call even for such concerns.  That only means that when more customers understand more, fully, and accurately what they have signed up for, lesser customers will complain or call in because they already know their product/service pretty well and they can answer their questions or fix their own issues themselves.  Thus, no need to call Customer Service or Tech Support.

Well, how I hope that mentioning these different drivers that influence customers’ expectations on a call will help any call center agents who read this blog with dealing with their customers’ demands and understanding their reactions and behavior more.

STAGE III: PROBING

After opening the call and listening to the customer’s concern and comprehending it, the next logical step is to ask probing questions (if necessary) and to paraphrase (restate using one’s own words) what the customer said to have them verify the agent’s full understanding and to make sure that both the agent and the customer are on the same page.

What is the Importance of Probing? How Important is It?

Probing is very essential in the success of any call because it:

1.  Gains and maintains control of the conversation.  When agents ask investigative and clarificatory questions, they put themselves at a position where they have full sway of the flow of the conversation and how it starts, progresses, and culminates.  All call center agents must master the skills and the art of taking the lead in the conversation and not letting the customer take over and dictate the proceedings of the conversation instead.  If the latter happens, it will only prolong the call more and the agent will be left not knowing how to regain full control.  This is not to mean though that one does not give his customer the opportunity to explain himself, clarifies what is going on, and asks or answers questions.  The give-and-take nature of the conversation must still be put in place and maintained with, once again, the agent listening more than he talks. Probing is not there for the agent’s utilization just to ask questions for the heck of it but for him to make use of to maximize the opportunity of having the customer on the line.  It should be a collaboration.

2.  Gathers information the agent needs to better understand where customers are coming from and what could be done for them.  Not all customers are good at explaining their situation, elaborating their explanation, and cutting to the chase.  There are some customers who do not even know how and where to begin or make sure that their account of what happened on their end is detailed and complete.  Therefore, it is the agent’s obligation to help the customer explain himself by asking questions that are meant to  figure out the issue and get to the bottom of the problem.  Once the issue is much clearer and better understood, it becomes a walk in the park to take if from there and proceed with the succeeding steps to take.

3.  Establishes rapport and understands the customer’s needs, values and wants.  When customers sense that the agent is talking and making a conversation, they feel that they are really talking to a human being or a live person and not an automated voice or an answering machine.  They feel connected to each other and they conclude that the agent really understands what they expect to achieve out of the call.  When they are asked questions, they feel valued and that their concern/issue/problem is really being taken seriously.

4.  Builds the customers’ trust in the agents’ ability to assist them with their concern.  Asking probing questions is the agents’ chance-of-a-lifetime to prove that they are the expert and that they know what they are doing.  It is also their opportunity to guarantee the customers that they ended up with the best person.  Therefore, an agent must think first before he speaks or asks and must not waste the opportunity given to him.  Agents have to remember that the customers’ time is precious and valuable.  The shorter the call, the happier they are.

Different Kinds of Probing:

Depending on the customer’s concern and the probing questions that have to be asked, below are the different types of probing that an/the agent can resort to:

CLARIFICATION – Clarifying the customer’s question, explanation, story, or issue.

Example: “Do you mean to say…?”

PARAPHRASE – Repeating what the customer said using one’s own words or version.

Example: “If I understood it correctly, so you…?”

EXTENSION – Asking the customer to tell him some more or to continue what he is saying.

Example: “Could you tell me more about what happened?”

EXAMPLE – Asking the customer to provide clear and specific examples to support his question, explanation, story, or issue.

Example: “Can you share a particular instance when that happened to you?”

YES/NO – Asking close-ended questions to check one’s understanding, to confirm the customer’s decision or conclusion, and to set the frame or to ask leading questions.

Example: “So, you need me to upgrade your account?”

Ws AND AN H – Asking open-ended questions that are meant to develop an open and fluid conversation, get the root of the matter by finding out more details, and taking into consideration the customer’s perceptions, observations, and opinions.

Example: “What do you think about our subscription so far?”

As mentioned, these are the different ways or types of asking probing questions that agents can choose from.  Once again, it really depends on what the customer’s reason for calling is, the nature of the agent’s support, and what the customer says.  It is up to the agent what he believes is the best option to use when asking probing questions.

Our last topic for today’s first part of our three-blog series about EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE PHONE is

Probing the Right Way:

So, how does an agent probe the right way on top of the different ways of asking investigative or clarification questions?

1.   The agent should start with telling the customer that he is going to ask him questions and why he needs to ask them.  It is very necessary to set expectations with the customers.  The agent should tell them that they need to ask them questions regarding their problem, issue, concern, or question and why they need to ask them before anything else.  If there is no setting of expectations, some customers become hesitant to provide further information; especially when they are being asked to divulge personal/security information; or they feel the agent is asking too many questions that such questions start annoying them.

2.  He should make sure he asks the right questions.  This is where “think first before talking or asking” comes in.  So as not to waste time, the agent should make sure that his question makes sense, is intelligently-thought, and really helps in taking care of the situation. Otherwise, time would be wasted and customer might not participate anymore any further.

3.  Lastly, he should tell the customer how he will benefit from cooperating and providing him what he needs especially if he is hesitant at first.

 

Next would be Part II which will tackle the following:

 

IV.  Responding Appropriately and Intelligently

V.  Telephone Etiquette and Courtesy

VI.  Handling Customer Complaints

Public Speaking 101 – Part IV

Public Speaking 101 – Part IV

PART IV

How to Make a Lasting Audience Impact

Believe me when I say that no matter how good or flawless your pronunciation, grammar and accent are and regardless how masterful you are of facilitation and platform skills; you will still wind up as an average speaker if you do not make an impact on your audience.

Sounding well amazes people, that is for sure but it is just one thing.  Furthermore, moving well on stage keeps your audience focused and awake but then again, it is still one thing.  Nevertheless, enlivening your people as you speak and ending your presentation/speech wowing your audience is another.

What sets apart good or average from very good or excellent speakers (that get a deafening round of applause if not a standing ovation) is their ability to touch their audience’s lives and arouse their interest and participation in the duration of your seminar or training.  If they are successful in getting deep down to their emotions/feelings and positively influencing and completely inspiring them, they know they are assured of not only a presentation or a speech that is well-applauded but a chance to be invited again to motivate more people’s lives; an encore.

In this article, which is the last of our four-part blog series about “Public Speaking 101”, I will provide you some techniques or tips that I am pretty sure you will benefit from as they have been working, thankfully, for me all through these years that I have spoken at different events and trained in different classes or programs.

Let me share with you my concept, E.N.E.R.G.I.Z.E.  Yes.  This is all you need to do to be an extraordinary speaker that brings in results, that impresses his audience, that leaves people in the audience wanting for more; feeling great that they watched you, listened to you and attended your event; and that is able to achieve the objectives of his presentation or speech.  This is an acronym or a mnemonic that stands for Excite, Notice, Exchange, Relate, Goad, Inspire, Zoom In, and Entertain.

EXCITE your audience

You have to sound and passionate from start to finish.  People have to see that you love what you are doing and that what you are telling them emanates from your heart.  Honestly, I have been part of the audience several times myself and every time I see a speaker who is passionate and who talks as if his words are what make him alive, I am rallied by him and his wisdom.  For me, a speaker who is passionate is more believable.  It is because for some reason, such passion and enthusiasm help us imagine the story the he is sharing or put us in his shoes when he is narrating his personal encounters in life.  We get to feel what he feels.  We suddenly think the same way that he does and wonderfully enough, we find ourselves desiring to follow in the footsteps thinking every single wisdom that we are learning, we can readily apply in our life at once.

You see, passion and enthusiasm in speakers are very contagious.  Magically, these auras of not only confidence but genuine concern to motivate and inspire as well kind of hypnotize people and before they realize it, they have already been itching to put into practice what has been said.

Therefore, sound and look passionate consistently.  This can be seen and heard not only from the content of what you are saying but from how you sound — your tone, your voice’s volume, pitch, enunciation, etc.  Believe me, it does work wonders.

 NOTICE their reactions, body language and facial expressions

To be a great speaker is to be a very observant and strongly-sensitive one.  No matter how many or few your participants are, you have to multitask with thinking, speaking and looking at their facial expressions, reactions and body language simultaneously all the time. It is not only to try to maintain eye contact with them but to check if everyone is still okay, following you, understanding you, awake, focused, and enjoying as well.

When they already look bored (you can see some yawning or looking somewhere else) or they are already sleeping, you might want to take a moment to ask them if they are still okay or better yet, facilitate a very quick icebreaker or game just to wake them up or put them back on track.  You can also poke fun at the fact that they are sleeping on you or they are not paying attention to you anymore by pulling off a non-offensive and non-embarrassing joke directed at everyone so as not to put those people you caught yawning, sleeping or looking bored on the spot.  If most people in your audience look like there is a big question mark on their faces, you might want to check for understanding by asking them if they do not have questions at that point or if everything is clear so far.  Better yet, you might want to ask them questions yourself to test if every one is on the same page as you are and not just ignoring you or pretending to be listening to you.

Additionally, if you said something or cracked a joke that you are not sure will be or was accepted well by your participants, you may have to pay attention to their facial expressions, body language and reactions as well.  Although it is still much better to think first before you utter a word you would regret saying afterwards, it helps when you check your participants to see if you are not rubbing anybody the wrong way.

So, do not just keep on talking in front without regard for what your participants might be thinking, feeling, or doing.  It is significantly required that there is no single soul in your audience who is not having a great time with you.

EXCHANGE ideas with your audience, involve them, and be conversational

Remember, even if you have hundreds to thousands of participants, it is always a two-way communication and there is always a way to look and sound conversational, involving your participants, and exchanging ideas with them.

I am pretty sure you have seen how singers or bands involve their audience during their concerts, don’t you?  It is either they ask them to sing with them, they ask them if they are having a great time with them or not, or they introduce or end their songs by telling a story or talking to them.  These are their ways to strike up a good conversation with their audience and these are exactly the same things that I need you to do as well.  Always involve your audience by asking them questions about what you are discussing, sharing anecdotes (fictional or factual) and personal experiences, or having them to say something briefly.  This way, you are not the only one who is doing all the talking.  As I have observed, most people feel valued when they are involved or made to participate.  It also keeps them from getting bored or feeling asleep, you know.  They pay more attention to what you are saying.  Lastly, they always remain on their toes all throughout your talk.

RELATE ideas and concepts to your personal experiences

Especially when you are doing motivational or inspirational talks, the best example for your teachings is you; yourself.  The reason why you have been invited to motivate or inspire to begin with is that you have walked the talk or have practiced what you preach.  Right?  Therefore, before or after presenting a tip; a strategy; a method; a technique; a principle; an idea; or a concept, you may need to share a personal story, encounter, or ordeal in which you were able to make use of that knowledge and it has helped you tremendously.

The truth is, it is hard to believe a speaker who is teaching something that he has not applied himself yet, ever.  Would you believe a person who is advertising himself as a rags-to-riches story when he was not really born to an impoverished family and cannot even share a single experience about not having to eat anything, going flat broke, or struggling to survive every single day of his life?  Do you get what I am saying?

Ergo, sharing personal experiences; struggles and successes not only enhances your presentation or speech but increases your credibility as well.  Give it a go and let me know if it works for you or not.

GOAD your audience to acknowledge, appreciate, act, apply, and appraise

One of the best ways to reinforce or wrap up the life principles that you are sharing with your audience is to challenge them to acknowledge and appreciate what they have learned, act on them and apply them immediately, and appraise their own results afterwards.  You may start with phrases like “I challenge you…”, “Let me give you something to work on…”, “As I end my speech, I’ll leave you with a homework or an assignment…”, or “Let me give you a test of life…”.  This has always worked not just for me but for any other speakers too.  Challenging your participants  to do the Five As I mentioned above (acknowledge, appreciate, act, apply, and appraise) does not only give them the responsibility to understand and appreciate what they have learned but the obligation to commit to putting everything into practice and asking themselves if they have done them well or not.

INSPIRE them with borrowed or better yet, your personal quotations and life principles

Using or sharing quotations with your audience is the real icing on the cake.  These life principles are what really stick to their heads or stay in their systems.  As usually the case, one cannot be a motivational speaker or a life coach if he does not have any quotation or life principles to give to his audience.  Even with corporate trainers, let me tell you this, their training programs or courses are also accentuated by one or two food for thought that really help.  So, always make sure that your presentation or speech is highlighted by very practical, convincing, and good-sounding quotes.  For sure, as long as they are pronounced with conviction and enthusiasm, your participants will be blown away.

Keep in mind though that your quotations do not have to be your own or self-thought.  You can just borrow quotations from famous people or other proven motivational speakers.  Jut make sure that the quotations that you tell them are relevant, easy to understand and digest, favorable, and viable.  You may have to be prepared to elaborate on them if necessary.

ZOOM IN on your audience.

If you really like to make an impact on your audience, then zoom in on their needs and expectations and focus on their responses.  Make all the effort to reach out to them and touch  their lives.  This is not only done by maintaining eye contact with them though.  This can also be accomplished by listening with your mind and heart when somebody wants to share or when you initiate to ask somebody questions.  You have to pay attention to what that person is saying.  It also helps when you show that you are listening by nodding or by uttering verbal nods or listener feedback like “I see…”, “I understand…”, “I’m with you…”, “I get what you mean…”, “Right”, “Okay”, etc.  Just the same, your audience will participate if you paraphrase what one says by telling it to everyone or addressing it to the crowd.  That way, everybody else knows what is going on or what that person is sharing.

Bear in mind that a great speaker or trainer is one who always makes his presentation two-way even if he has hundreds to thousands in front of him.

And last but not least, ENTERTAIN

This last ingredient for making an impact on your audience in your training, seminar or what have you is actually a personal favorite.  In fact, this is what makes people give any speaker or trainer out there a standing ovation or what makes them laugh or applaud on their feet in my opinion.

This simply means that you will have to be a stand-up comedian every so often or when the situation calls for it.  There are times that when your participants are apparently losing interest in your discussion or talk, that is already an alert that you must throw some wholesome; non-condescending jokes here and there. For real, these jokes are what keep them attentive all throughout.  More often than not, just to add, speakers or trainers are best remembered for their good sense of humor than anything else.

It takes some practice or testing though.  There are times that some people would not buy your joke but you do not have to crack it again or be disappointed.  It usually works when you just make fun of your own corny joke and that is what makes your audience laugh.  The point here is you should always be prepared to back up or adjust yourself every time you face situations like this.  Nonetheless, with all things being equal, entertain your audience.  It does not have to be jokes or doing stand-up comedy all the time.  It could be something else too.  In my personal experience, since I dance well and was a dancer before, I play famous and trendy dance hits and I encourage my participants to dance with me.  So, really, do what you think has an entertainment value and will amuse your audience.

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Okay, this is the fourth and last installment of our four-part blog series about “Public Speaking 101”.  I hope that all you guys have learned  from Part I until this one.  More importantly, I expect that after reading everything, you are now all set to become a speaker or a trainer yourself. Or, if you have already been a trainer or speaker, I am wishing that this series has made you a better and more entertaining expert in whatever your chosen topic is.

Until the next blog or series, folks.  BE EQUIPPED! 🙂

Public Speaking 101 – Part III

Public Speaking 101 – Part III

PART III

How to Enhance Your Stage Presence

It has been several days since Part II of our four-part blog about “Public Speaking” so I decided to get this done and over with for those like you who have been following this series.

In this article, our third that is, we will talk about enhancing your stage presence by knowing the essentials in moving on stage well and some other platform skills that you have to master.  Remember, possessing excellent platform skills on stage enhances your overall presentation better.

Make use of your hands to express your thoughts effectively

I have proven time and time again, although it depends on our own individual styles, that I speak more clearly, more meaningfully, more passionately, and more assertively when I use my hands. Thus, if it has been working well for me, why will it not for you? Just one caveat though.  Be careful not to overdo it.  I see some speakers who utilize hand gestures just for the heck of it; just so people can see they resort to them.  Even when their hand movements do not really represent their thoughts or the words that they are putting stress on, they still use them anyways.  Therefore, let me clarify the use of hands when speaking.  Apart from aiding in expressing yourself more effectively, hand gestures should still represent what you are saying.  You cannot just move your hands any way you want.  That is not how it is done.  Make sure that your hands kind of show them a picture of what you are saying so they are able to visualize your explanation.  In other words, you use you hands to draw the word you are saying in the air.

Establish eye contact with your audience

We already talked about this on Part I but just to reiterate, always do this if you want to create a personal bond with your audience no matter how big or small it is.  Other than the “Lighthouse technique” that I shared with you, how it is done is very easy.  You simply survey (like a moving security/surveillance camera) your audience as you speak.  This makes sure that you are making an effort to reach out to or look at every single one in your audience.  Just do not move your head from left to right very slowly because you will not look very natural nor move it very fast as you will look very distracting.  Instead, move it the normal way and ensure you do not look robotic.

Standing still on either side of your presentation VS moving around or from left to right

Whether you stand still on either side, you move around or you go from left to right and back on stage depends on the following factors:

1. Type of presentation

2. Size of the audience

3. Seat formation

4. Microphone used

Type of presentation:

When you and your audience critically depend on the content of the presentation or everyone must pay attention to the slides in it, you may have to stay on either side of the projection (which side is your  choice) and stay there all throughout.  You have to stand still instead because if you move around, they may be distracted because instead of looking at what you have on your slides, they would unavoidably look at you and where you move about instead.  This means that their attention will veer away from what is more important than everything else, the content.  However, if you do not want your audience to depend heavily on what you have on your slides and you only need them to look at them as a visual aid, then there is nothing wrong with going around the audience or moving from one side to the other on stage.  This only means that you need their attention and what you say is more important than what they see on the slides.

Size of the audience:

There is really no strict rule about whether you should stay on either side of your presentation, walk around the audience or move from one side to another on stage or not depending on the size of your audience.  For me, this is more of a personal preference or a style unique to each and every speaker or trainer.  For instance, my personal style is I do not speak behind a podium, a lectern, a rostrum or a table even if I only have a few participants.  Unless the microphone does not allow me to go very far because it is not wireless, I will try to move around.  For me, my approach becomes less formal and more interactive, personal, and connective if I walk away from the projection or the rostrum  and join the audience.  With this, it is like I become one of them or it is like I am just having a forum with them.

Then, why am I saying it also depends on the size of the audience?

Well, for the purpose of being seen by everyone in your humongous audience (let us say), especially when there is a lot of people, you may just need to speak from where you are standing.  This is because when you walk through your audience or around them, those seated in front would have to follow where you go.  Thus, they end up turning their heads or bodies just so they could trace where you are walking to. It is also the same when you walk back to the front.  The people at the back that you were just talking to would start following you as you march back to where you came from.  It becomes very distracting for them as they would have to make an extra effort to follow you around.  Ergo, especially in these scenarios, I believe you are better off just staying up on stage or near your presentation.

There is an exception though:  You may join the audience or walk on the isle if your purpose is to involve a few or some of them by asking them questions, having them share, or cracking a joke deliberately directed at them.

Now, so as not to look like a stump on stage (you know what I mean), just rely on moving from one side of your presentation to the other every once in a while.  This way, you do not bore your participants because they are staring at a motionless YOU.  Just do not go back and forth after every slide because you will look distracting and uncomfortable to look at as well.  When I say every once in a while, it could be after every topic or after a certain number of slides; but not after each of them.

How about for a class or audience of just 15-25 people?  Well, either way is fine.  You may opt to stay beside your presentation or you may move around if that is what you like more.  After all, everybody can see you clearly from where they are seated.  However, if you start talking to them and not presenting to them (like you would tell a story, ask them to share, or have them answer your question), this is the time that you get near them or you move from one person to another.

Seat Formation

Depending on how seats are arranged or where your audience is seated, how you move about also varies.

Typical seat arrangement (with an isle) – When there is no isle in the middle you can walk along/on, then it is hard to join your audience by walking around inside.  So, you do not have a choice but to stay in front.  However, you may have to maximize that by not looking stiff at all.  You are ought to move from one side to the other or if you decide to just stand still on one side, you could at least make up for not moving by making use of your hands and showing pleasant facial expressions that really get your audience’s attention.

U-shaped seat arrangement – This is actually my personal favorite.  It is because when tables/chairs are arranged in this manner, I can move around my limited number of participants with ease and wherever I go to, I am still way within their line of sight.  Also, it is more comfortable and less taxing to make an effort to talk to each of the participants because all you need to do is walk along the U-shape and back.

Microphone Used

It is needless to elaborate on this.  Nevertheless, just for the sake of saying some about this (since I included it), let me remind you that if the chord of the microphone you are using is not too long enough to allow you to walk towards your participants or to move about, then just stay near your presentation.  Otherwise, especially when there is a wireless microphone or lapel mic available, you may move around.

Physical Movement Can Be Used to Transition

To segue from one idea to another, you can represent the change or the shift using movement of your body from one location or side to another.  However, let me just make something clear.  I am not referring to a slide.  I am referring to an idea.  This idea may refer to a topic, a module, or different concepts.  Therefore, do not exaggerate it by moving from one side of your presentation to another after every slide.  You will not only end up exhausted for walking over and over again all throughout your presentation but your participants might also feel dizzy moving their heads from left to right and vice versa as if they are watching a tennis or a badminton match.  Can you follow?

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So, there you go.  I hope you learned again from the third installment of our four-part series about “Public Speaking 101”.  I hope that after reading through what I can share with you guys on this article, you would already have better platform skills ,which would undoubtedly enhance your stage presence the next time you speak or present.

Public Speaking 101 – Part II

PART II

On the second of our four-part blog about Public Speaking, we will talk about:

How to correct and enhance your voice and your communication skills

So, how do you correct and enhance your overall communication skills before, during and after your presentation/speech so you are assured of sounding well?  Below, I will provide some very practical and doable tips that I have applied myself ever since I started several years ago.  I have proven, time and time again, that they truly work so I hope they work for you too.

BEFORE

Get enough sleep.

Speakers get a raspy voice for one reason or another.  One of them is not getting enough sleep.  When you do not take ample rest, your body gets tired including your vocal chords.  So, simply, make sure that you give yourself a well-deserved rest so your body and voice are well-conditioned for your speech.  Also, you may have to include thinking of happy and positive thoughts beforehand.  Thinking of happy and positive thoughts in preparation for your speech not only relaxes you but relieves you of any pressure or stress as well.

Rehydrate.

Drink plenty of lukewarm water hours or minutes before your speech.  Hydrating keeps your vocal chords healthy in such a way that lukewarm water relaxes them and keeps them moist.  When they are moist and relaxed, the sound they produce comes off more pleasing and clear as compared to a dry and inflamed voice box.  Moreover, never drink cold water when you are going to speak or present.  Although it also wets your vocal chords, its coldness actually causes the blood vessels to contract that leaves the throat dry afterwards and consequentially, dry vocal chords are prone to irritation.  Since our vocal chords vibrate fast when being used, this causes friction which produces the hoarse voice.

Never drink alcohol or smoke cigarette.

The reason behind this is simple. Drinking alcohol and smoking also dry the vocal chords up.  As mentioned above, dry vocal chords do not produce a clear and pleasant voice.

Aside from conditioning your voice with the aforementioned, I also highly suggest conditioning and loosening your speech mechanisms so they are prepared to produce a nice-sounding voice.

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Your speech mechanisms refer to the physiological systems that aid in sound production.  They are your jaw, your lips, your mouth, your teeth, and your tongue.  In preparation for presenting or speaking, you may need to ready them as well.  What I personally do, especially so as to produce my vowel and consonant sounds correctly, is that I produce all of the standard American English sounds one by one from the fifteen vowel sounds to the commonly-misproduced consonants.  Doing so kind of programs my speech mechanisms to remember producing them correctly so when I start speaking, I will not mispronounce a lot of words or any word at all.  Also, I do what I personally coined as the “Boxer’s Jaw Muscle Exercise”.  With this, I imitate the way boxers loosen and warm up their jaws.  Using slow-relaxed motions, I move my jaw up and down and side-to-side repeatedly.  The purpose of doing this is it becomes easier for you to produce those vowel sounds for which your jaw has to drop down and those that have to be prolonged and your speech mechanisms get used to producing the consonants correctly as well.

Do not clear your throat.

Before, I used to clear my throat prior to and even during my presentation or speech in order to remove the mucus inside until I came across an article on a medically-inclined website saying that it is not actually advisable.  Accordingly, clearing your throat actually traumatizes the vocal chords the same way that drinking cold water does.  Instead, what is suggested is that you swallow your saliva or have a sip from your water bottle every so often.  Saliva is not cold and lukewarm fluid like what it is, as earlier explained, moistens your vocal chords to make them perform better.

Breathe in deeply and blow air out.

In order to speak with a well-modulated and audible voice, I also highly recommend that you do breathing exercises.  One way is to take in lots of air through your nose as long as you can and blow the air out through your mouth with a loud “hah!”.  Breathing in and out this way does not only condition your voice but it also provides you with a powerful one that sounds well and can be heard even at the back of your audience.

Read a lot of materials about your topic.

Stage fright or nervousness is not the only cause of stuttering, stammering, or fillers when speaking.  At times, it is also because of lack of knowledge of and poor vocabulary about your topic.  I mean, you may have good grammar and excellent pronunciation but if you do not know much about what you are going to talk about, you will just see yourself groping for what to say or say next.  It then leads to thinking in between that makes you either pause long or utter fillers unavoidably.  Also, thinking in between words or sentences makes you more prone to speech defects like stuttering or stammering.  As we know, these two are usual hints for lack of expertise or confidence of any speaker.  On the same note, poor vocabulary makes you say “whatchamacallit” or “how do you call that?” which are expressions commonly used  when the person cannot remember what word he wants to use.  Worse, you just find yourself speechless and just the same, stuttering or stammering.  Ergo, make sure that you do not go out there to talk without any preparation at all.  Study and know a lot about your topic especially when you are, admittedly, not an expert in it.  The more you know about the topic, the more exposed you are to relevant words that you can say and the more fluid your delivery is.

DURING

There are some elements that you have to take note of, try out and master while you are speaking.  These similarly pertain to the physical qualities of voice.  They are:

TIMBRE – refers to your voice’s unique tone quality or combination of different qualities that makes it different to other people’s

You do not have to change your voice when you are speaking just so you can sound like speaking greats like Anthony Robbins, John Maxwell, Jack Canfield, Deepak Chopra, T. Harv Eker, etc.  Unless you are a dubber, just do not.  If you want to make it big as a speaker and be known for your own identity and capabilities, just keep what you have and just correct and enhance it if needed.

VOLUME – pertains to the loudness or softness of your voice.

The loudness or softness of your  voice is controlled or modulated depending on the following factors:

  • The number of your participants
  • The surroundings or venue you are speaking in/at
  • The quality of your microphone (if there is one at all)

Of course, common sense says that you need to check both your microphone and your voice to see to it that everyone in the room is able to hear your voice.  This requires you to be sensitive and to observe whether all of them are able to hear you very clearly or not.  If not, then you speak louder.  If yes, then you are good.  Now, if their reactions tell you that your voice is too loud and it is either annoying or distracting them, then adjust the volume of your voice accordingly.

For those who naturally have a very soft voice and would like to know how they can speak aloud, my tips would be:

  • Maximize the use of your microphone.  Turn up its volume if you must just so everyone can hear you.
  • Before you say a sentence or a group of sentences, breathe in plenty of air through your nose and release the air through the mouth as you are speaking.  Believe me, this works.  It makes your voice louder and clearer.

ENUNCIATION – is articulating your speech in such a manner that you add the corresponding feelings or emotions that come with the message of what you are saying on top of speaking clearly and concisely.

Speaking with emotions or feelings is what makes your speech or presentation alive.  Just imagine cracking a joke, a really good one, to your audience but you do not sound elated to say it or imagine sharing a personal experience that irked you with a flat tone.  Do you expect your audience to laugh at your joke, even if its content is hilarious, when you say it with a monotone?  Do you expect your audience to identify with and feel sorry about your annoying experience when you do not even sound like you mean it or you were genuinely pissed by it?  Hell no!  So, when you are sharing something funny, make them hear a smiling or a laughing voice.  When you are mad, sound mad.  When you are serious, give them an assertive tone. I believe you sound more believable and influential when you speak sincerely or when you sound like what you are saying is being drawn out from the bottom of your heart.  All it takes really, is to play with your tone and speak as if you are narrating a story to your listeners.  It is as simple as that.

RATE OR PACE – the slowness and quickness when speaking.

Make sure you are not talking too slowly nor too fast when you are speaking.  Quite understandably, some speakers have the tendency to talk fast when they get too comfortable speaking about the topic, they have so many details to tell, or when they know a lot about the subject matter.  Unfortunately though, it takes its toll on the learning retention of the audience and the quality of the good message that is being sent across.  On the other hand, with those who talk slowly, it is either they just naturally sound that way or they are just not fluent so they have to think in between or intentionally slow down so they can enunciate their words clearly and accurately.  Unfortunately again, however, it is pretty much the same with the consequence of speaking fast; that it fires back at the quality of the content and the participants’ level of appreciation of and learning from the talk.

The work around this is relatively simple.  Just do not talk too fast nor too slowly.  Set your pace somewhere between these two where your participants can catch up to you or better yet, be on the same page as you are.  This can be done by observing them as you speak.  If there are some people who look like they are not following you because of like their raised eyebrows or what have you, slow down a bit.  Now, if you think (based on their facial expressions and reactions once again) that you are talking too slowly, then accelerate a bit as well.  Adjusting your pace, really, is simply matching your audience’s reactions.

TONE/INTONATION – means the highness and lowness of voice when speaking.

There are several intonation rules out there and although I would not mind sharing them all here on this article; this article is already long enough that including them would already make this look and read like a mini-novel.  Thus, let me just limit my explanation to a few very elementary rules with regard to intonation.

1.  When you are asking a close-ended question, your intonation rises.  For example, “Are you ready?”

2.  When you are asking an open-ended question, your intonation falls.  For example, “Why do we have to think positively?’

3.  When you start your sentence with an introductory phrase, make your intonation rise in that fragment.  For example, “When we are talking about public speaking,…”.

4.  Your intonation rises every time you are emphasizing a word.

The aforementioned are just four of the several rules with intonation.  I know they are basic if you look at them.  You might even say you have known them ever since your preparatory schooling.  Nevertheless, I must tell you this, there are some who are not able to or who are not applying them flat out.  So, let us just say this is just a refresher of what you already know or a reminder that if you desire to be a great speaker, you are ought to put them to practice.

PRONUNCIATION/GRAMMAR/ACCENT

These are very long and complex topics to learn in our only four-part blog so let me just refer you to my other widely-read blog article that was published back in November which is entitled, “How to Speak Great English with a Neutral Accent”.  Read on.

And last but not least, AFTER

Now that you already know what to do before and during your speech so you have the likelihood of pulling off a heavily-applauded and sought-after presentation, let us now talk about what you must do after your talk.

Drink plenty of lukewarm water.

Your vocal chords must have been overworked after your long speech.  So, moisten and relax them again by drinking lots of lukewarm water.  This is definitely one way of maintaining your voice’s health so it will not suffer wear and tear and be damaged permanently in the long run or when you least expect it.

Take a rest.

 This is something that you, your body, and your voice deserve after a helluva experience speaking to and educating lots of people. So, take it and enjoy it.

Think of ways on how you can get feedback or testimonials from either the organizers of your speaking engagement or a few of the participants.

We love feedback as much as our trainees or participants do.  Right?  So, if you would like to improve your speaking skills continuously and get back up on stage a better speaker, presenter, facilitator, or whatnot the next time around; I suggest you solicit feedback from either or better yet, both the organizers (those who staged the event you spoke at or invited you) and a few representatives from the audience.  What I would do is I would approach my contact person right after my portion and would have him/her bridge me to the organizers.  I would then ask the latter for testimonials/feedback that they can just email to me afterwards so they have all the time they need to draft it.

Same with the participants.  If possible, I would ask those who are taking photos with me or that I walk with on the way out of the venue to tell me what they say about me and how I did on stage.  If they are too shy to share, I just provide them my email address as well and request them to shoot me an email about their feedback/comments.  In my training stints, on the other hand, I make it a point that I administer my post-training program and facilitator evaluation forms or more commonly known as “happy sheets”.  I give them out so I can have my trainees provide me their feedback about my strengths and areas of opportunities.  This way, I can enhance what I am already good at and I can correct or work on my areas for improvement.  This is, plain and simple, how I  get better and better with each speaking engagement that I have.

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I hope you learned a lot from the second part of our four-part blog about Public Speaking.  On my next article, we will talk about how to enhance your stage presence (platform skills).  Till next time.  Be equipped!