What's Missing in Telephone Communication?

What’s Missing in Telephone Communication?
Some people love speaking on the phone, and so working in a call center environment can be ideal, especially when they also have the chance to help the callers out by answering questions, solving problems, and selling.
In this lesson, you’ll consider what you are saying and how you say it, especially over the phone.
It’s Not What You Say; It’s How You Say It
The goal of a very famous and often quoted (and misquoted) study by Albert Mehrabian was to figure out how much of what we say contributes to whether the listener likes the speaker. Although the study has been hotly debated, the findings were indisputable. For the people that participated in the study, the words themselves contributed only about 7% to whether the listener connected to the speaker. Listeners got much more information (38%) when they could also see facial expressions; when they were also able to read body language, the results were even better, at 55%. (Source: Silent Messages, Albert Mehrabian, 1971)
This is often generalized to mean that in all communications:

  • 7% comes through the spoken word.
  • 38% is realized through voice tone.
  • 55% is the result of body language.

If we look at those numbers quickly, we might think that it cannot be true. An e-mail is written and is not limited to 7% worth of understanding. Similarly, we cannot watch a person speaking in a foreign language and understand 93% of what they say. However, there are important implications for working in a call center and providing customer service over the phone. Since you are limited to speaking over the phone, you know that you have about a 7% potential to be heard. You also have complete control over your vocal tone, which is another 38% of your message. And, did you know that your body language, although your listener cannot see it, could be used to your advantage as well?
While you might debate the exact numbers, the important points are:

  • A significant amount of communication is non-verbal.
  • Without the chance to observe non-verbal aspects like your facial expressions or body language, it is easier for your message to be misunderstood.
  • When we do not know the other person who is speaking, we do not trust them.
  • Therefore, our tendency is to rely on what we can hear and see in order to enhance our understanding.
  • Be cautious in e-mail communication; things can be easily misunderstood.

In the Absence of Body Language
Despite working in a call center environment and perhaps feeling like you are at a disadvantage, there are several things that you can do to enhance your communication. For example, if we meet people in person and feel that they are not telling the truth, we often check out the alignment between what they say, how they say it, and their body language. Work on your own listening skills (which we will also do later today) and assess the alignment between what you say and the way that you say it.
Here are some things to keep in mind about using body language to your advantage over the phone:

  • Eyes, eyebrows, and mouth send out signals that can make a world of difference.
  • If you are speaking to someone in person (a colleague, supervisor, or client that comes into the office), use their presence to your advantage.
  • People who smile are happier than those who don’t. Smiling releases a chemical in your brain that makes you feel good. It’s a great way to establish a rapport with listeners.
  • Hang a small mirror at your face level or keep it in a drawer of your desk. Each time you are about to answer a call, smile into the mirror. The benefit will be a small chemical release for you and your voice will carry the “sound” of your smile.
  • Eye contact helps you carry your message to each person in the audience. It also builds trust. In the call center, make sure that you maintain eye positions and posture that convey the same message. Sit up straight, and position your script and computer screen to be at the correct level in order to help you convey your message effectively. If you are staring off into space or distracted by sights and sounds in your office, your voice will give your distraction away.
  • If you were doing sales in person, we would recommend that you learn to speak with your hands. In the call center, however, it is important to keep your hands still. If you are gesturing while on the phone, you can pull your head away from the microphone and create noise, or move too far away from the microphone for your voice to be easily heard. Keep your hands close to your body; hovering over a keyboard and typing or taking notes is as much movement as you will need during a call.
  • Work on appearing sincere and comfortable. This means that you need to speak in a voice that is sincere, and that you know your script and potential responses. You should also get accustomed to your headset.
  • If you are inputting responses on a keyboard while on the phone, make sure that you type quietly and that your keyboard does not have noisy rattles that your caller can overhear. When the caller notices a lot of noise, including people talking in the background or you tapping your pen on your desk, they will think that you are not paying attention to their needs.
  • In person-to-person interactions, try keeping your gestures symmetrical and in front of your abdomen. Communication expert Chris Bowden refers to this as the truth plane.

One of the most important things you can do with body language is learn to pick up cues from people that you are making them uncomfortable. These include:

  • Rocking
  • Leg swinging
  • Tapping

These are the first signals of tension and indicate that the person feels intruded upon or nervous. If it escalates, these signals are often followed by:

  • Intermittent closing of the eyes
  • Slight tucking of the chin into the chest
  • Shoulder hunching

Basically, learn to watch for these signs and adjust your approach. Sometimes simply taking one step back, being silent, or getting the other person to talk to you instead, will be all it takes to ease the tension.