I sat down with seasoned storyteller and telephonic sales superstar Matthew Smith to go over the seven steps you should take to have more productive conversations with customers on the phone.
A Rocket Referrals client recently asked us about how to have better customer calls. So, I turned to Matthew Smith on our business development team to get some answers.
In case you don’t know, Matthew has almost twenty years of
customer service experience. He’s done insurance, real estate and even started
a few entrepreneurial endeavors of his own. Around the office, he’s known as
“The Guy Who Knows a Guy” because he can get you set up with just about any pro
I knew he’d have a good story to tell about having more productive conversations. And he didn’t disappoint. Here’s what he had to say.
“If you don’t know how to have more productive conversations,” Matthew began, “it may be that you’re asking questions that end them and lead to uncomfortable silences rather than those that begin conversations.”
“Author David Sedaris says one of the challenges most people have when it comes to talking is they don’t ask good questions. Good questions lead to good conversations. So, practice!
Questions like, “How’s your day?” and “How was the drive in?” don’t go anywhere. Try something more daring.
“The questions you ask should be interesting enough to get people to open up, but pointed enough to lead somewhere.
“‘How many plumbers do you know off the top of your head?’ (that can lead to conversations about home or flood insurance), ‘What’s the biggest vehicle you’ve driven?’ (an auto insurance chat) or ‘What are common misconceptions about your job?’ (this one helps build the relationship).
“These kinds of questions go places. And ideally, you’d like to stay on a path that you’ve marked out. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t be afraid to saunter off into uncharted territories if that’s where the client leads you.
“That may seem to contradict a little of what I’ve said, but I’m only following Dale Carnegie‘s sage advice here. He taught us that the two ways to get your clients to like your agency more are:
- Become genuinely interested in them.
- Be a good listener while encouraging clients to talk about themselves.
“Following these two tips alone is a sure way for you to have more productive conversations.”
Matthew suggests that you have a very strong sense of where a call should go before you even pick up the phone—even if you don’t control where it ultimately ends up.
“Write a list of objectives, even if it’s just one. Is the reason for the call just to try to catch up with the person… to get to know them? Or is it about reestablishing the relationship for referral purposes? Are you looking to get a defined result from the call… to save the account or something like that?
“Get it very clear in your head what you want the call to achieve so you can take care of it before it’s over.”
You should have a couple of go-to items you can hit immediately. It’s a good idea to pull up the client’s account details and read through them so they’re fresh in your mind. Then draw from the practice questions you’ve been asking to see which yield the best results.
Matthew says “A good warmup can include good fact-finding questions like ‘How’s your son Roger? He’s got to be 15 by now. Have you taken him out driving yet? Does he have a learner’s permit?’
“You might just get a ton of great info out of a line of
questioning like this. You know there’s an additional driver that’s not on
their policy. A good warmup can help you both strengthen the relationship and re-underwrite
“Plus, the more you incorporate those kinds of talking points into a conversation, the more the client feels you’re part of their circle of trust. You’ve taken the time to remember their kids… their names. It’s a topic they care about a lot, of course. Something relevant.”
More productive conversations shouldn’t come across as sales calls. No, they’ve got to be about relationship-building.
Matthew’s advice? “The client should feel like you’re their advocate… that you’re here to make sure their risks and needs are fully accounted for rather than going after a commission for yourself.
“So, let them talk through what’s going on. No interrupting. The more comfortable they feel with you, the more open they’ll be. Repeat back what was said so they know you’re really listening.”
With good fact-finding and warmup questions, you’ll be able to identify needs and then offer the right solutions. That might even mean scheduling a follow-up call. That kind of conversation should go something like this:
Hey John, the reason I’m calling is I really appreciated you taking the time to give us feedback in the survey. We’re looking for ways to improve, and I wanted to get more details about your comment.
Also, if you have [NUMBER] minutes, I’d love to go over [ITEM 1], [ITEM2] and [ITEM 3].
No problem. Let’s schedule a follow-up call so I can make sure you’re taken care of. What works for you?
Something else to consider: Say your call is in response to negative survey feedback, like the example above. This is a time to learn.
Start by thanking the client as a way of defusing any anxiety on their part (and maybe on your side too). Then ask them to explain what they’d like to see changed. Let them be the teacher. People are generally happy to help when asked.
“It’s a pretty simple formula,” says Matthew, “warmup, fact-finding, identify needs, confirm the need has been heard correctly and solve the problem.”
But before you end the call, you’ve got to warm it down. Repeat back the important points you covered and thank them for being a customer or taking the time to chat. That way, it reinforces that the conversation was truly relational and not just a sales call. You’re not rushing them off the phone, you’re taking the time to confirm you heard them exactly right.
Then, if you want to do something for them after the call, use Rocket Referrals to send out a thank you note.
If you don’t get through to the client, it’s a good idea to leave a message. To avoid getting caught out in the moment and fumbling, remember this formula:
- Say hi and tell them who’s calling.
- Give them the reason why you’re making the call.
- Build interest and/or add time-sensitivity.
- Include an action for them to take.
With these in mind, here’s an example of how a voicemail could go:
Hey Jane, it’s John Smith here at ABC Insurance. I was looking at your auto policy and noticed a gap in coverage. We need to get that fixed so you and your family aren’t at risk.
Since it’s pretty time-sensitive, please get back to me today or tomorrow by 5. My number’s 555-123-4567. It should only take 10 minutes.
Above all else, make sure the call to action is clearly defined. And more productive conversations don’t always have to be via phone.
“I follow the belt-and-suspenders approach,” says Matthew.”
That means I leave a voice message and send an email or text. This is also
to be more empathetic. I don’t know how they prefer to communicate, so I’m
giving them a few options.
“With the follow-up email, write a quick subject line. Grab
their attention so they open it. Make sure the internal message is consistent
with the voicemail you left. Maybe even give them something to click on like a
link to your schedule, etc.
Hint: If you find yourself doing this regularly, set up a custom email template in Rocket Referrals that you can have ready to use after each voicemail.
It’s a pretty simple formula. Warmup, fact-finding, identify needs, confirm the need and solve the problem.
If you don’t get through to the client, how long should
you wait to follow up?
“If it’s time-sensitive, 24 hours is enough,” says Matthew.
“Otherwise, it’s okay to wait 2+ days.”
If the call goes off the rails, how do you get it back?
“Think of a potentially challenging client call like a bout of aikido,” suggests Matthew. “When a client comes at you with what feels like a personal attack, don’t do what they expect and counterpunch. Remember: you’re being empathetic.
“Oftentimes, the best way to defuse a potentially heated call is to simply redirect their energy by agreeing with them and then leading them to a mutually beneficial solution.
“Just go with the flow. If things do breakdown during the conversation, make sure the client understands you hear them.”
Example: You’re right, Bill. That is a big problem, and I’d be frustrated, too. Would you be interested in hearing how we can get that fixed for you and make sure it doesn’t happen again?
“There’s this phenomenon called switch tracking: ‘when someone gives you feedback, and your reaction to that feedback changes the subject. Often, neither person even realizes that they are talking about two different subjects.’ This can be a big reason for conversations flounder.
“When in doubt—and like I’ve already said—repeat back what you heard the client say, and if you’re not getting the gist of it, they should set you straight. Really, it’s their conversation, not yours.”
Where’s a good place to look for interesting questions to ask?
This article on Conversation Starters World is pretty useful. Have a look through these ice-breaker questions and see if there are any you could adapt for your client calls.