How to Sound Professional When Selling on the Phone

By Jeremy Blake on September 27, 2015

In 1971, a few months before I was born, Albert Mehrabian published Silent Messages where he stated the results of his experiments in communication.

He carried out a series of face to face communication tests where subjects were expressing messages of emotions and attitudes.

Mehrabian came to the conclusion that all face to face communication has three elements.

1. The words you use.

2. The tone of voice you use.

3. The non verbal communication, facial expressions.

If you sell, serve or even manage people using the phone as your medium you lose out on having any body language to support your message.

The summary of these experiments was formed into data that became known as the 7% - 38% - 55% rule.

This stated that three different elements accounted for our liking of an individual who was putting forward a message to us concerning their feelings.

7% of their ability to be liked was put down to the words they used.

38% was accounted for by their tone.

55% was down to their non verbal language.

This data has since been mis-used and mis interpreted by thousands of sales and service trainers across the world and been taken out of context.

People have stated these findings are applicable in all communication settings, when they are not. Mehrabian himself stated:

“Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking. Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like–dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable. Also see references 286 and 305 in Silent Messages – these are the original sources of my findings."

I believe for Call Centres we can infer a number of things from these experiments, and we can certainly train people to be more aware of the fact that when working in a call centre you only have the words you are using and the tone you are using to express them.

In web chat, increasingly entering the domain of call centres, you only have the words you choose, so the ability to persuade and bond comes down to grammar, vocabulary and the ability to bond through handling 26 letters in the right mixture of combinations!

Here are some cold hard facts. The very first thing I am testing when you pick up the phone is not your words, it is your tone.

Consciously or sub consciously I ask myself, “Is this person awake, motivated, bright, interested, helpful, bored?”

Then as you continue to speak I will be listening to see if my initial reactions are confirmed. I will allow you some time to warm up to see if I have misjudged you and been unfair in jumping to conclusions.

Will you modulate your pitch and show enthusiasm in your voice as you either ask me something or tell me some interesting fact about the product or service I’m buying or thinking of cancelling?

How well are you stressing the important words that show me that you know which features have impressed you and, with the power of tone, you want to impress on me.

What is your pitch like? Are you high in your vocal register all the time, or are you able to change pitch as the mood changes.

Volume. People in call centres forget that at times they may need to increase or decrease the volume of what they are saying. Telling me the Ts and Cs or asking for my card to pay at a lower volume always sounds more respectful.

What’s your tone like when you Humm or Ahhh? What they used to call active listening. It is true to say that as your customer can’t see you it is helpful to make the right noises with the right tone as the customer is speaking, so they know you’re listening. How many times have you asked a friend if they are still on the line when you’ve been speaking for a while?

Here’s 5 simple ways to improve your tone and maximise on the best instrument you have.

1. Speed – If everything you say is too fast or too slow, you are either rushing me through your process or you are desperately bored. By listening to the customers pace you can either slow them down or speed them up to add impetus and enthusiasm. Conversely, slowing down may well help you to get across something meaningful and serious.

2. Breathe – One of the worst examples of ineffective tone is when we hear a bored and unengaged call centre agent use their full armoury of irritators. “Basiclee…”, “Riiiigggghhhht.” “Obviousleeee.” “Its liiike.” Replace your irritators by breathing deeply and then using real words not fillers.

3. Inflection Exaggeration – If you have people with poor inflection and monotone voices they need to exaggerate their inflection first, before bringing it back down to something natural but better than before. Give them a children’s book and ask them to read it aloud to a colleague .Children always want the parent with the better tone and vocal skills to read the story at night. If that’s not you then you haven’t impressed the most honest of critics.

4. Stress Changes Meaning – “Do you only want one car covered?” By stressing only one word in this sentence, you, one, or covered, you can subtly change the meaning and influence of what you say. You make the decision much more serious when you say ‘you’. ‘One’ seems unaturally low when we stress the number. When we stress ‘covered’ we remind them that the cover protects. Customers often ask call centre agents to repeat themselves when the stress isn’t clear to them.

5. Record yourself – Until you hear your tone you won’t know how to improve how you sound. Make some recordings and listen to your tone. Hear what you are saying and where it has positive and negative effects on the customer and make the changes you need to make.

So if yours or your team’s performance is currently below average, don’t moan, change your tone.