That’s Rich! By Rich Lindblom

Fox launched a new gameshow last fall, maybe some of you have seen or heard of it.

It’s called “I Can See Your Voice” and it’s hosted by Dr. Ken Jeong of “Community and “The Hangover” fame. The premise is that contestants have to guess which singers sing well and which sing badly — without hearing a single note. 

So let’s turn that around and play a game of our own called “I Can Hear Your Smile.”

When you are talking to a customer on the phone, it’s not just what you say that matters, it’s how you say it. You can follow the textbook to the letter and tell your customer the absolute perfect thing, but if you come off as apathetic, defensive or sarcastic, it doesn’t matter. Customers can pick up on your feelings or your mood through your voice. 

Think about it. You can’t tell me this has never happened to you:

You call a retailer looking to find something or maybe you have a problem you need help with. Eighteen-year-old Zippy gets on the phone and every other word out of his mouth is “Yeah,” “Uh-huh,” “Sure,” and “OK.” Or the best of all, “Whatever.” Did Zippy make you feel important?  Did Zippy sound like he cared at all about you or your needs?? 

Believe me, I know, because I was Zippy. Before I was old enough to drive, I was answering phones and selling appliances to people old enough to be my parents, grandparents and even great grandparents. To this day I can still vividly remember one customer in particular who actually said to me, “I’m sorry, am I bothering you?” Wow, talk about a slap in the face! But she was right; like all of you I was trying to do a bunch of things at once and she wasn’t getting the attention she deserved.

Try putting yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you sound disinterested in their needs or problems, why would they ever want to do business with you? You may still get their business this time, but I can all but guarantee that they won’t call back the next time they need something.

When someone has a problem, empathize with them. The customer needs to believe that you know and understand how they feel, because there’s nothing worse than false empathy.

And whatever you do, if you are having a bad day don’t take it out on the customer! It’s not their fault that the truck got a flat tire or that your service tech called in sick again. Put that stuff aside when you’re on the phone with a customer and treat them the way you’d want to be treated. They deserve your 100-percent undivided attention while they are on the phone with you.

Here are a few tips that might help you out:

  • Raise the tone of your voice a bit when you pick up the phone. It makes it sound like you are genuinely excited to be answering.
  • Try smiling while speaking to customers over the phone. It may sound corny, but it works. It’s harder to be grouchy when you’re smiling.
  • Imagine that the person on the other end of a call is standing right in front of you in your store.
  • Instead of treating the person on the phone like they’re just another customer, try treating them the way you would your grandmother. Let that one sink in for a minute because it’s a biggie.

The bottom line is that customers really can hear your smile when you pick up the phone. So remember to do so when you answer.

Rich Lindblom is a former principal of Advanced Maytag Home Appliance Center in Schaumburg, Ill. He recently sold the 64-year-old family business and retired after four decades in independent retail. You can reach Rich at