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Managing your loyalty program: Improve telephone skills with older customers


Mike Sullivan

Telephone communications can be difficult, especially with older customers. The normal human ear can hear 20,000 cycles of sound; the telephone can deliver only 600. That means the sounds your voice makes must be compressed greatly, resulting in some distortion. Put that on top of normal hearing loss that occurs with age and the hearing problems can increase.

Here are telephone tips for bank staffs.

1. Introduce yourself, giving your full name. Use the proper form of address — Mr. Smith or Mrs. Jones — unless the person suggests differently. Refer to people by their full names frequently during conversations. Most older people grew up when oral communications were more formal and personal. Use “please” and “thank you” frequently. Ask for their permission: “May I … ?” or “Would it be OK if I … ?” Politeness pays.

2. Speak clearly and slowly. Articulate your words; good diction is critical. Pay attention to pronouncing the beginnings and endings of words. Slow your delivery somewhat. Avoid background distractions such as co-workers, room noise, side conversations.

3. On inbound calls, give callers time to say what they want. Listen actively. Don’t be doing other activities at the same time. Ask questions to clarify points not understood and to let the caller know you are listening. Give the person time to respond to your question.

4. Don’t rush explanations or directions. Pause and clarify that you are being understood. Restate the subject in different words, creating different speech sounds to make sure the person understands. Alert the caller when changing the subject. Avoid interruptions while the caller is talking.

5. Be empathetic. Empathy increases the human connection and creates a positive interaction. Provide feedback: “Yes, Mrs. Smith, I understand what you are saying.”

6. On outbound calls, allow enough rings for the person to get to the telephone. Physical changes that occur with aging often have an impact on mobility. Some people need extra time for getting to the telephone.

7. Be sensitive to difficulty. If you think there is a problem, politely ask if the person is having trouble hearing or if anything else is interfering with the communication. Be alert to regional dialects, which may make understanding more difficult.

8. Avoid obstacles to effective listening such as hearing what you want or expect to hear, thinking of what you are going to say next, talking too much and talking when you should be listening.
9. Practice speaking. You have a set group of words and phrases you use over and over again. Try pronouncing each word and syllable in any series of sentences you often use on the phone. It will sound slow to your ear, but with practice it will become more natural.

10. Use words the person understands. Keep technical words to a minimum. Explain them by using analogies or metaphors: “Mrs. Smith, it’s like this … .” Visual words are very effective in helping people of age comprehend what you are saying.

Share these tips with your associates. They’ll appreciate it.

For information about my training programs, contact me at Michael P. Sullivan, president, 50-Plus Communications Consulting, Charlotte, North Carolina, 704-554-7863, consults and trains staff at banks, financial services and health care organizations. He is listed on LinkedIn under Michael P. Sullivan. His book, “101 Easy Ways to Increase Business with Boomerplus Clients” is available on his website,