Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Quit Worrying and Love the Phone

I'm not gonna lie: I hate the phone. Maybe it's because I'm Gen Y--we're used to emailing and texting, but see phone calls as inefficient. And maybe that's what gets to the heart of it for me; I've spent an hour on the phone before trying to get information from someone that it could have taken ten minutes to gather, if I could only get the person on the other end to quit going off on tangents. I also hate the high-pressure feeling of a phone call. When you email someone, you can think out what you want to say, revise, and make sure your message is really coming across like it should. In a phone call, it's a lot more difficult to control your message.

But still--a lot of clients love the phone. And if you're not readily accessible by phone, it could lose you business. Here are a few things that help when it comes to getting yourself to quit worrying and love the phone.

Get a business line. I don't have a business line now, but I used to--and let me tell you, it made client phone time so much easier. When the business line rang, I knew it was a client--I didn't have to worry about whether I should answer with "Catalyst Writing Services, this is Jennifer" or a plain "Hello" when the phone rang. There's something to be said for being mentally prepared to pick up when the phone rings--and if you don't know whether or not it's a client calling, that can be difficult.

Script it out. Whenever I need to call someone for business purposes, I take a quick minute to write out what I'm going to say and read it aloud. This way I ensure I don't suddenly blank on my own phone number when leaving a message. Trust me, it's happened.

Call when nobody's home. Peter Bowerman advocates a sales cycle that starts with cold calling. Really, I'd rather have my toes bitten off by wild beavers than cold-call anyone. I know my strengths, and phone sales is not one of them.

However, at that 15-Second Pitch seminar I can't quit talking about, the instructor told a story that really struck me--she taught a client of hers who also hated phone sales (a photographer--huh, maybe phone phobia is a creative-person thing) to call at odd hours when she knew nobody was going to answer the phone, then leave her pitch on the answering machine. Not surprisingly, she got a ton of business this way.

I'm still going to communicate more by email than by phone. But hopefully as my business grows, I can find ways to be more comfortable on the phone. Maybe it's not my ideal method of communication--but it's not worth losing business over.

5 comments:

Lillie Ammann said...

Jennifer,

I don't think it's a Gen Y thing. I'm a senior citizen, and I hate phones. My husband says I'll do anything to avoid talking on the phone. :-)

Thanks for these helpful tips.

Mark said...

Hi Jennifer - the following comment was posted over at the Brazen Careerist network -

Jennifer,

I really like this well-written post. I like it because you acknowledge your preference for not using the phone (inefficient) and your clients preference for using it. Some ideas are then presented to "love" the phone - gotta love that. :)
I think the last paragraph wrap-up and particularly the last sentence is most critical - "Maybe it's not my ideal method of communication--but it's not worth losing business over." - because your business is all about your customers. This type of customer is the one to be concerned with - " ... And maybe that's what gets to the heart of it for me; I've spent an hour on the phone before trying to get information from someone that it could have taken ten minutes to gather, if I could only get the person on the other end to quit going off on tangents." I would recommend working on keeping the customer focused on the business at hand in a succinct and yet pleasant manner. Also develop phone exit strategies if you feel the customer is taking an inordinate amount of your time - maybe request an email at this point or ask to set up a time to call them back depending on the customer and their needs/preferences.

Mark

Irreverent Freelancer said...

I agree with Lillie. I'm a Gen Xer, and I don't play well with the phone either. When I break down and consent to phone conferences, I usually do fine off the cuff. So it's not a matter of intimidation for me. I simply believe that phone calls take up too much of my time. With emails, I can respond whenever I have a few free moments. With the phone, I have to drop everything on demand. And one of the reasons I like freelancing is that I don't have to contend with demands!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@Lillie: I have friends of all ages who can't stand talking on the phone, but in my experience the Baby Boomer crowd tends to be more happy on the phone. Gen X is a mix--and I can say that because the boundaries are a little blurry and I'm not sure if I'm officially Gen X or Gen Y; it depends on who you ask.

@Mark: Thanks for your kind words! Exit strategies are KEY, and I tend to be reluctant to cut conversations short because I feel impolite doing it--but when I'm spending hours on the phone, I need to. Great advice!

@Kathy: I see what you mean. I tend to do fine on the phone--I just am not a huge fan of it. And demand is a HUGE part of it too--when I'm open to phone calls at any time of day, I have to be available. And I have to drop everything. Too much like having a conventional job!

Lance said...

I think doing what you've done and acknowledging what you like and don't like and realizing that in some situations, you're going to have to just choose the right communication method is the right way to go. I've seen people cling to e-mail despite its inefficiency in certain situations too and it isn't pretty. I've seen hundreds of hours of productivity go down the drain thanks to a problem that could have been solved with a well planned, half hour conference call.

Talking on the phone is a skill that can be learned. Don't be scared of it! Love the phone for what it is just like e-mail, texting and twitter. :)