Calling up a stranger on the phone can be intimidating. It’s like you’re on the bridge of a spaceship making first contact with an alien species. If the conversation goes wrong, you may end up causing an interplanetary incident. Or at least get yelled at.
I used to work in a call centre as part of a customer relations team. Our job was to call customers who had complained about our company’s products and resolve the situation. When I first took on that job, I had doubts about my survival. How could I possibly talk to upset people every day? It turned out to be the best learning experience I have ever had. I now feel confident that I could ring up the Grand Poobah of Alpha Centauri and not break into a sweat. Why? Because I’ve learned how to master first contact.
The first thirty seconds of a phone conversation are critical. Here are five things I’ve learned about how to create a good first impression:
1. Watch what you eat before you call.
Never make an important call right after you have eaten a large lunch. Your body is too busy digesting to have any energy for brain work. And stay away from certain types of foods. Dairy foods, for example, can thicken up your throat and make it harder for you to speak clearly. Drink some water before you pick up the phone. And whatever you do, stay away from that spicy alien food!
2. Prepare your first sentence ahead of time.
Think about your purpose for calling. After you get through the initial greeting, what is the first thing you are going to say? How will you start the conversation? Everyone is busy, so you need to cover off your key message in the first sentence. You could be selling services, responding to an inquiry, or asking nicely for those energy weapons to be pointed away from your ship. Whatever your purpose, plan it out so you don’t stumble on it during the call.
A strange but true fact: when you smile while talking over the phone, the tone of your voice automatically changes. Even if you are feeling grumpy, force yourself to smile as you talk. You will sound friendly and approachable. Try it. Right now. See? It works! And because you’re on the phone, it doesn’t matter how fake it looks. (Although those aliens probably wouldn’t be able to tell anyway.)
4. Start with a greeting.
It’s amazing how often people forget to say a simple “Hello” before launching into a speech. “Hello” is an amazing word. It means “I acknowledge that we are about to have a conversation, and I’m happy to have the chance to speak with you as a fellow traveler through the universe.” Don’t skip this! A greeting ritual is valued by all beings as a sign of respect. (And saying “Hello” is much easier than trying to bend your hand into a Vulcan “live long and prosper” gesture.)
5. Get the name right.
No one wants to listen to their name get mangled. It doesn’t matter that there are no apparent vowel sounds in WxrtHltl-jwlpklz. That is no excuse. Look up the name, and if you can’t find it on the internet, take your best guess and go with it. Then ask, “Have I pronounced your name correctly?” before you speak any further.
Now that I’ve covered off the secrets to a successful first contact, it’s time to go eat lunch. Mr./Ms. Reader, it’s been wonderful speaking with you. Thank you for your time. May you have a fabulous day!