Why Your Intern Is So Bad at Talking on the Phone (and how to force them to improve!)
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Why Your Intern Is So Bad at Talking on the Phone (and how to force them to improve!)

Interns have a thirst for knowledge and experience. Learning to talk properly on the phone may be one of the areas they are seeking to improve.

So, your company scored a bright and bushy-tailed college intern for the summer. He seems generally capable and pretty chill… until you ask him to work reception or sales calls for the day, and he suddenly looks like you might as well have asked him to iron a foreign diplomat’s outfit while advising her on foreign policy.

Many young people and introverts really hate talking on the phone (and perhaps could relate to this Buzzfeed article, Things That Only Make Sense to People Who Hate Talking on the Phone). While this trend has caused many companies to eliminate voicemail or reduce phone expenses, millennials do not run the world yet (try as they might!) and a lot of business is still done over the phone. Depending on the industry and situation, phone calls may be more efficient or more compelling than an email, and can convey more emotion. Phone etiquette and abilities are still essential workplace skills.

Here are some reasons why your intern may be struggling with phone responsibilities.

  1. They don’t want to sound incompetent

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    They don’t want to sound incompetent

    Because young people opt for texts or emails so frequently across all dimensions of their lives, their experience for what a business call even sounds like may be limited to the movies and making hair appointments. They may be anxious about sounding stupid to the person on the other end or to you and the other employees in the office who overhear the call– all of which can add to your intern’s crippling fear of being discovered as an intellectual imposter.

  2. They feel rushed

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    They feel rushed

    A common tactic from solicitors is to make the call feel rushed and important, which plays to a young person’s aversions and vulnerabilities. In written conversation, you can choose your pace, edit at your will, and take your darn time. Phone calls can be very quick and energy taxing for young people who aren’t used to quick verbal communication.

  3. They have to stay focused

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    They have to stay focused

    Remaining laser focused on listening to the caller, assessing what to do with the call, and then sending it in the correct direction can also be very difficult for individuals who are used to multitasking but never needing to devote their full attention to one quick task. Texts and emails can be accomplished leisurely while doing other things, but accepting and directing calls requires pristine attention.

  4. They feel ambushed by another person’s needs

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    They feel ambushed by another person’s needs

    Let’s face it, they have a point. Phone calls are a large disruption. An unanticipated call implies that the caller believes that you probably aren’t doing anything super important and if you are then they have something to discuss that matters more. It lacks manners, which young people may find selfish.

  5. It could be literally anyone

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    It could be literally anyone

    The unexpectedness of many phone calls puts young people on edge. Literally anyone could be calling or picking up a call, which means that in the next 5 seconds to 10 minutes, any words could be coming out of your intern’s mouth that they can only anticipate to a degree. They may need to improvise, which can be scary.

While these are reasons that your intern may use to explain why they hate calls so much, they are not excuses for being so gosh darn awful at them! Here are some tips that you can use to help the young people in your office improve their skills at the great forgotten art.

  1. Emphasize that telephone skills are marketable

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    Emphasize that telephone skills are marketable

    For all of us, sometimes it’s difficult to become invested in something boring or potentially difficult unless it is made explicitly clear how it will benefit us down the line. Explain to your intern that practicing phone etiquette and becoming more comfortable on the phone now will help them during phone interviews and in sales later in life.

  2. Invite them to listen to your phone calls

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    Invite them to listen to your phone calls

    Many young people do not have a very firm grasp of how phone calls may go or what they should say. Inviting your intern to listen as you receive or make calls (with the person on the line’s permission, of course!) will help improve their skills and help them get a better picture of what you actually do day-to-day.

  3. Practice the kinds of calls or responses they may get

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    Practice the kinds of calls or responses they may get

    Similarly, acquaint your intern with the sorts of calls they may receive or responses to their calls they may be met with, and how they should respond. Give them a feel for “normal”.

  4. Give them talking points

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    Give them talking points

    Scripts are generally frowned upon as sounding, well, like a script, but if your intern is receiving calls or making multiple of the same sort of call then tell them to make their own talking points.

  5. Know which clients your intern should call

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    Know which clients your intern should call

    It is generally a good idea to dedicate an aspect of your CRM strategy to recording what your client’s preferred form of communication is. If you have a particularly difficult client or someone who needs a quick answer, warn your intern or intercept the call. On my second day working reception for an internship (not CMG!) I was yelled at by the company’s biggest client for not recognizing his name and asking too many just-trying-to-make-sure-you’re-not-a-tactful-solicitor questions. It was awful and I could’ve used a warning. Be thoughtful and save your intern some worries!

  6. Have them write on a memo pad

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    Have them write on a memo pad

    Have your intern write down calls they receive or results from a call they sent out in order for them to stay focused and on task

  7. Remind them that it’s a person on the other line

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    Remind them that it’s a person on the other line

    The most important thing to remind your intern, and yourself, is that there is a human being on the other line. Be natural and authentic. It’s okay to mess up or say something embarrassing, everyone’s been there and you’ll learn along the way!