No matter how good we think we are at communicating on the telephone and taking control of the conversation, there is always one caller who just loves to talk! Is it possible to control them?
Christine Knott of beyond the box tells us how.
Some people just never seem to come up for air. They could, as the saying goes, ‘Talk for England’ or any other country that would allow their representation.
The first thing to remember in such a situation is to be mindful that the person in question may not have spoken to anyone for some time, and the opportunity to do so could be overwhelming. My suggestion in this instance is to be aware and not offend them. Not that we would be aiming to offend anyone else either, of course, but it is something worth thinking about.
So how can we control the runaway talker?
1. Ask a question that will elicit information
When we want to encourage someone to talk to us we use open-ended questions: who? what? where? when? how? and why? Quite simply we ask a question that will elicit information.
The list is endless and such questions help to speed up a call by giving us the information we need quickly and promptly.
There are some people though that:
- Don’t need open-ended questions to encourage them to speak.
- View an open-ended question as an opportunity to talk and talk and talk, volunteering more information than was requested and in some instances information that is too far removed from the topic of discussion to be of any use.
To take control of the conversation and limit the opportunity you give your caller to talk at length:
2. Use more closed questions
These are questions that will deliver ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers or specific information that you request.
Closed questions reduce the opportunity for your caller to talk at great length and sometimes even digress. If necessary explain to the caller that you have to ask some questions requiring yes or no answers in order to complete the fact sheet. Word your questions accordingly so that you take control of the receipt of short answers.
If you are recording information as the caller speaks, short or one-word answers will help you enter the details into the computer or write it down as quickly as you hear it. If necessary politely request shortened answers so that you can enter them into your system as they speak.
3. Chunk the conversation
When we chunk a conversation it means we break it down into manageable parts. Big chunks are used for general ideas, the big picture so to say; small chunks are used for detail and precise information, the minute detail.
People who run away with conversations may be small chunkers, and consider the detail of all situations. In this case, if the details are not relevant to the call, keep the chunks of information as large as possible and avoid asking questions that would allow the caller to move to a small-chunk conversation.
The caller has been diverted from adding to the statement because the call handler swiftly moved to the next stage – booking the call.
Control the conversation so that it flows in ‘big chunk’ mode, but only if it gives you the information you need. Avoid the use of open-ended questions – which encourage small chunking.
To chunk up, or to take a step back from the details, look for the purpose and overriding point of the information you are being given and repeat it back to the caller.
For example: “What I’m hearing is that you are looking for a call-out. Thank you for the information you have given to me but in order to help you, all I need to know at this stage is that we need to arrange for an engineer to come out to you. We can get someone out to you…”
In this instance the conversation has been controlled by ‘chunking up’ up to the purpose or overriding point of the information exchange – the need for a call-out. The caller has been diverted from adding to the statement because the call handler swiftly moved to the next stage – booking the call.
For more information about chunking the conversation for customers, read our article on Call Control Techniques
4. Runaway callers are sometimes experts at introducing new subjects into the conversation in order to prolong the call
If this is the case keep directing it back to the main discussion which will give you the information you need to resolve the call.
For example: if the person comments that your accent sounds southern and asks if you know a certain area, respond with something such as: “Ah yes. My family is from… but I don’t know the area well.”
You have responded but possibly cut off the next question. Anything less would probably be viewed as rude by the customer. Anything more could invite additional discussion. Your next statement should then be business-related (e.g., “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”).
5. Manage the conversation through questioning and through statements that let the customer know your objective is to serve customers
You might say, “I know you said you are going out this afternoon so I won’t keep you any longer. Thanks for calling and please let me know if I can assist in the future.” Imply that you are ending the interaction to benefit the customer.
When someone is talking and talking and talking to us and showing little sign of stopping we spend our time waiting to jump in and respond. During this waiting period we usually stop listening because our concentration is taken up with waiting for a ‘slot time’. If this is the case the conversation has suddenly become pointless! Do be aware that you may be missing key information.
We usually stop listening because our concentration is taken up with waiting for a ‘slot time’ to jump in. If this is the case the conversation has suddenly become pointless! Do be aware that you may be missing key information.
For more information about questioning techniques and conversing with a customer, read our article: Practical Tips for Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques.
6. Use the customer’s name
If none of the ideas above help you to interject in the call use the old faithful – the customer’s name. We love to hear our own names – it stops us in our tracks.
For example: “Oh, Mr Smith, that has just made me think…”. The pause will allow you to take control.
Do be patient with those who clearly just want someone to talk to whilst being mindful that you have a job to do. Respect costs nothing but will go a long way to making someone feel special and retaining a customer through good service.
Christine Knott is MD of specialist training company Beyond The Box.
For more questioning techniques to improve customer service, read our articles: