Lunch & Learn’s are a good opportunity to target skill sets and techniques that we may already have, but don’t always remember to use day to day. An example is our day to day communication and focusing on the messages we send, intentionally or unintentionally, to our patients, clients and vendors. When on the phone we are communicating without visual cues, but we are still sending many signals to the listener. How can pauses, breathing, tone, and even gestures or smiling improve your success in effectively communicating what you mean, and not just what you say?

Saying what we meanWhen you are working in customer service and calling patients to let them know they need to pay their $1000 deductible on the day of service, to give them news about their test results, or to let them know their appointment will have to be rescheduled, saying what you mean is critical. It doesn’t take long after a customer hears the tone of your voice to pick up on how you feel or your attitude. Your customers will know within ten seconds of initiating the call what kind of day you are having. That’s why developing excellent telephone customer service (in both tone and words) is one of the more valuable skills you and your staff can acquire.

First, take a moment to think about what “friendly” sounds like to you. While there are qualities that send a message that a person can be relied upon, is calm and reassuring, and can be trusted, these qualities can be hard to define. Speaking with a natural tone, with confidence, clearly and without tension in your voice are key to building a friendly impression. In the reverse, anyone shouting, yelling, speaking quickly, mumbling or sounding irritated are not conducive to being friendly.

One way to increase your ability to perceive voices is to listen to the radio for how tone and pronunciation are manipulated to send a specific meaning to the listener. You can even watch your favorite actors on TV to learn how to say what you mean. At first, you may think that watching TV and speaking on the phone are two different things, but how you are physically on the phone can impact how you are perceived on the other end. One of the most basic tricks is to have a mirror at your desk. Before you pick-up the phone check yourself and make sure you are ready for the call. Secondly, take a drink of water to lubricate your voice and put your body at ease. Take a deep breath and correct your posture to ensure that you are relaxed and your voice does not sound constricted from not enough air.

Most people reading this article are thinking “I sound just fine, it’s my co-worker or employees who need the help.” It is often difficult to really hear how we sound. The easiest way is to record yourself while on the phone. This can be a little intimidating at first, but it’s a lot better to embarrass yourself little than to learn about your mistakes from a customer. Another way is to grab your smart phone or other recording device and find a paragraph in a book or newspaper to read. Speak as naturally and normal as possible for the recording.

Another way to get a reading on your own voice patterns is to pick a partner and practice using tone to say the same words with different meaning. For example:

  •  Say it defensively (emphasizing the words “would you”)
  • “What would you like us to do about it?”
  • Say it with apathy (not emphasizing any of the words)
  • “What would you like us to do about it?”
  • Say it with curiosity (emphasizing the words “like us”)
  • “What would you like us to do about it?”

The most important point of any of these exercises is identify the areas you need to improve and create a plan of action. Pay attention to these common problems:

  • Inflection and varying pitch: Avoid having a monotone voice. Raise and lower your voice to emphasize or de-emphasize the points you are a trying to make. Put a little feeling into your words. Pitch and inflection vary by region and can be a significant challenge to communication.
  • Volume: It is important to have a strong voice, but not a loud voice. Speaking from your core, with a good breath beforehand will be equated with confidence and being firm. A voice without enough air can sound sqeaky or soft and impact your message significantly.
  • Tone: Relaxing your body in the neck, shoulders and abdominal will ensure your voice is pleasant, not forced and tense. Always smile, or just consciously think about a smile, when you speak as it impacts how you sound. The wider you open your mouth and the more teeth you show, the better tone you get. The same applies on the telephone. Smiling helps your voice to sound friendly, warm, and receptive.
  • Using gaps: Someone who speaks continuously or interrupts sounds impatient and uncomfortable. Using pauses with a medium pace will help with the delivery and pronunciation of words, thus drawing the listener in and making them calmer.
  • Clear mind and message: Lastly, always watch your thoughts and language. Using thoughtful, courteous and caring language can go a long way. A genuine belief in “I will do my best to listen and help this person with their deductible” will come across in your voice as well.

People working in the medical industry must be there for people who are in need, and this can be a stressful job. Saying what you mean and using a friendly voice can make the job you and your staff are faced with just that much easier. It can also improve your ability to collect payments, help those in need, retain patients, and ultimately grow your business.

Read about another recent ORI Lunch & Learn


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