Building Rapport on the Phone

Today we will discuss the value of building rapport on the phone.  Rapport is that sense of ease and comfort you get with someone when you feel you’re speaking the same language and you’re on the same level.  Rapport can give rise to feelings of trust and connection, and there are many methods to help rapport develop.  In face-to-face communication, there are many cues which help us build and maintain rapport because we can see the other party, read their body language and observe their reactions and patterns of movement.  Building rapport on the phone, however, can be different.

smile-on-the-phoneAs investors we spend much of our time dealing with prospects by phone; this can be a very impersonal medium of communication.  It adds a significant level of complexity to our effort to establish rapport.  When I can’t see you, I am unable to read your non-verbal cues and you won’t be able to read mine either.  When talking on the phone, what should you be thinking about to increase your probability of building rapport?

First, always remember you have a powerful persuasion tool at your disposal.  It’s your voice.  Your ability to speak with flexibility, fluency, and control can have amazing results.  Now if you’re shy, don’t like talking to people, have a weak vocabulary, and/or a bland, boring or irritating voice, you have a decision to make; become a mime or cultivate some verbal and vocal skills.  With the exception of Marcel Marceau, I’m not aware of any wealthy mimes.

Some years ago I was interviewing a candidate for a sales job and I noticed that she spoke more quickly than anyone I’d ever met. I don’t know if she was nervous or if that’s how she spoke normally. I smiled to myself because I knew one thing for sure: this person spends quite a lot of their time frustrated because they’re listening to people who talk way too slow.

job_interviewYou might be asking yourself, “How did he know that?” People tend to talk at the rate they think, and tend to want others to talk at that rate too.  Being a former New Yorker, when I began traveling on business I was amazed to learn that not everyone in the country speaks as fast as we did in the Big Apple.  Some of my New York friends can speak so fast, you get tired just listening to them.

It was the same with this job candidate, almost no-one could talk at the rate she did, so I knew she would often feel others were talking too slow.  So why was I smiling?  I knew I could give her a much more enjoyable interview experience than she was used to; I immediately set my voice speed to super-fast and the interview proceeded very well. She got the job and was very successful in the territory she served.  A few years later we tried her in the South; she had a very difficult transition until she learned that her voice was a key tool in her ability to be successful.

So how do you develop vocal qualities? Practice, practice, practice! There are five key qualities that you can…and should…develop.  They are:

  1. tonality (movement from low to high pitch and vice versa)
  2. pitch (how high or low your voice is in general)
  3. speed (how quickly you speak)
  4. volume (loud or soft speech)
  5. timbre (like the difference between a pop singer and an opera singer singing the same note – much different)

The best way I have found to develop vocal qualities and speech patterns is to take them to extremes. Some people are naturally soft spoken and therefore viewed by many as timid.  Others are loud and considered overbearing.  Those that speak fast are sometimes thought of as con artists, while a slow speaker is thought to be slow minded.  None of these assumptions are true; nevertheless, if you put a soft spoken person in a conversation with a loud talker, rapport can be very difficult if the loud person scares the daylights out of the other.  I once participated in an exercise where I was supposed to talk as fast as I could while my partner spoke as slowly as they could, the frustration for both of us was incredible.

That was a practice session, but I recall similar feelings of frustration early in my career as the young gun looking for big sales numbers.  I got along great with prospects that were fast talkers, but if they were a slow talker, we just couldn’t get in sync.  Finally, I got the message. Mirroring speech patterns; such as volume, tonality and speed, can make the other person more comfortable because you are dealing with them in a manner that is familiar to them.

tape recorderDealing with people on the phone is definitely a skill and it is a skill that can be developed.  You should tape record yourself speaking normally, at a rate that is comfortable for you. Increase the rate, until you are talking very fast.  Then speed it up until you’re speaking way too fast.  Then speed it up further until you’re speaking so fast it’s coming out faster than you can think.  Then gradually slow it all the way down until you’re speaking way too slow.  Take note of your feelings as you’re changing tempo, volume or any of the other qualities you are practicing.

By going to the extremes you can develop the flexibility you’ll need to start matching people’s speed.  Matching someone’s speaking speed is a quick way to start establishing rapport.  Tip for doing this: listen to them.  Before long, you will be able to pick up someone’s speed in the first few seconds of a conversation.

Once you’ve mastered vocal speed, practice similar exercises for the following vocal qualities: pitch, tone and volume. Once again, take it to the limits, then go beyond them.  As for timbre (voice character); this is a bit more difficult to change, however, it can be done.  If you think (or someone has told you) that you have a strange or annoying (some call is ‘distinct’) voice, you can try to modify your timbre by impersonating another voice.  At first this will be very strange and unnatural, but eventually it will be easier.

confidence-coaching-picAs with any new skill, you may find these exercises a bit unnatural.  Most people are not familiar with talking outside their usual range.  With a little practice you will quickly begin to see the benefits as you start to develop more flexibility.  In my workshops, I like to create environments where people feel comfortable going outside of their comfort zone, so allow yourself to have that experience with these exercises.

Once you have learned to control and vary your vocal characteristics, you are one step closer to mastering the art of rapport building in both face to face and phone interactions. When it comes to the telephone:

  1. Think about your objective for the call: What do I want to accomplish on this call? How will I know I have achieved it?
  2. Put yourself in a positive state of mind: This is the best way to put someone else in a positive frame of mind. If you want other people to feel relaxed and at ease, make sure you feel relaxed and at ease. Did a cranky person ever cheer anyone up? (This is easier to do when making scheduled calls, but you can develop and learn skills to do this virtually on command.)
  3. Establish rapport: some of the best ways to do this on the phone include:
    1. Talking at the same speed as the other person. This will make for easier listening for your client and not threaten or frustrate them. People like what’s familiar and their rate of speech is something their subconscious will recognize and appreciate.
    2. Smile when talking on the phone; it projects a positive attitude
    3. Adjusting your voice tone so that it is similar to theirs – listen to how they speak and sound, match them when and where appropriate.
    4. Matching your volume and excitement levels as needed. Speak softly and they have to focus more to listen, use volume to express excitement or gain agreement.
    5. Matching voice pitch so it’s similar to theirs. At the end of a statement, a rising pitch can make you sound weak or confused whereas a downswing will sound confident and assuring. Try it with the tag phrase, “Don’t you agree?” When you end with a downswing it sounds more like a confirming statement. With a rising tone it sounds like you’re not really sure whether they’ll agree or not.
  4. Visualize: The voice on the other end of the phone is a real person, so create a mental image of that person. Imagine the expression on their face; observe their verbal responses to what you say. And always begin by believing that the call will have a positive result for both parties.
  5. Show genuine interest: Be curious. Learn their needs and motivation. Some of the most powerful messages you can give to someone are “I am interested in you”, “I care about your well-being” and “You are important to me.” Remember the best outcome is a win/win conclusion. And the quickest way to get these ideas across in your communication is to mean it. When you mean it, you come across as being genuine, and the communication will flow more easily. Another term to describe this is congruent. This means that what you say, feel and believe are all in sync.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the technology of rapport (matching body language and speech patterns, etc.) that we forget what it’s about: connecting with another human being. The behavioral elements of rapport are just a way to allow that connection to emerge more rapidly.

As a side note: Scripts are a critical tool for communicating but if you can’t build rapport with your prospect, knowing all the scripts in the world won’t help you to be successful. Building rapport remains one of the best methods for building bridges and closing sales, so why not start sharpening your tools today!

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34 Responses to “Building Rapport on the Phone”

  1. Greg Woodley says:

    Hi,
    I was a B2B salesman for many years and sold lots of big orders over the phone (not really the done thing) and I did it by using many of the skills you mention in this article.
    All your readers should take note because this stuff works.
    Greg

  2. Augie says:

    Greg-

    Thank you very much for the comment. I really appreciate the response. It’s nice to obtain agreement from the readers.

  3. Will says:

    Thank you. I really liked your tips in your Establish a Rapport section.

  4. Well, since it’s much smaller than a video camera, I think it’s more useful when you don’t have much time, but you want to record something

  5. Garden Sheds says:

    Great post. Its always difficult to build a rapport when talking to someone over the phone and trying to sale or develop business. I like how your post really promotes the importance of preparation.

  6. Augie says:

    History has proven time an again, proper planning prevents poor performance. Be ready and be engaged. Happy investing!

  7. Great post, it always interesting to read about different views on using the phone as a business tool. It is often the case what people expect them to say such as hard selling does not work or that you should do other certain things but this is a refreshing read.

  8. Augie says:

    Thanks for your input!

  9. Devika says:

    Really like this post! Lots of great practical tips for building rapport. I am a trainer. Can I use this information with staff in my training? Please confirm if I have permission to do so. Thanks

  10. Augie says:

    I share this information so that people may benefit from it. Please feel free to pass it along to others. You can always point them to this blog or suggest they subscribe for e-mail up date or RSS feed. Glad you liked it.

  11. rentcabins says:

    been subsequent your blog for about 3 days now and i have been completely reading and love alot of your respective post, now how do i subscribe to your web site? would like to sugest some articles to add…

  12. Awesome! i believe today is my lucky day, i found the perfect match of what i wanted to read. Keep up the good work. how can i susbcribe to get info about latest additions to your blog automatically? Thanks

  13. Augie says:

    Simply click on the RSS feed button in the upper right hand corner of the homepage (its right next to the little blue Twitter bird) That will subscribe you! You are also welcome to subscribe to my newsletter, The Intellectual Capital Report. Thanks for visiting.

    To your success…

    Augie

  14. Augie says:

    There is an RSS feed button in the upper right hand corner of the homepage right next to the little blue Twitter bird. Click on the orange and white button and you should be good to go!!

    To your success…

    Augie

  15. Staircases says:

    Augie, when having to cold call someone and they plainly don’t want to speak, is it best to end the conversation and just try to build a rapport with those who, at the very least, sound slightly interested in speaking to you?

  16. Augie says:

    While you can’t get blood from a stone, when talking with sellers it pays to get a handle on their motivation. If they aren’t motivated then moving on makes sense. One tip that has helped many of my students is to follow up a couple of weeks later and you might find that time or circumstance may have changed their situation.

    Last month, two of my students followed up within 30 days and both found the sellers had both reversed their hard-nosed position and both students completed successful subject to transactions. Each with significant profits. So may a note in your calendar to follow up, you never know what changes lie ahead.

    Happy investing…

    Augie

  17. Jamison says:

    Phone skills are definitely a dying art. However my question is similar to the one asked by Staircases. At what point do you decide or realize that the conversation is leading nowhere and give it up? Are there some clues to look for?

    -J

  18. Augie says:

    The goal is to locate motivated people, our dialogue is designed to be intentional so don’t forget your goal. If we are building rapport and gathering pertinent information which allows toy to assess motivation we’re making progress. However, if they withhold information. are belligerent there is no need to stay in an unproductive conversation. Simply say, as much as I’d like to buyyour house, I don’t believe we’ll be able to work together. Thank you, and leave… One of two things will happen, 1 is they let you go or they have a change of tune and call you back and start a more meaningful dialogue.

  19. andy says:

    In my role as Director of Senior Studies for a High school I am so aware of the importance of how your voice is used and can only echo your sentiments entirely.
    I do have dealings with people over the phone(parents, local businesses etc) but most of my time is spent addressing large gatherings of 16-18 year olds, often giving lectures and tutorials.
    However over the phone or talking to people face to face your thoughts still apply.
    If you cannot capture your audience and engage them by the use of your voice then you can have all the gadgets,gizmos and powerpoints in the world and it won’t make a jot of difference. The students will switch off(customers for a business person) and you’ll really struggle.

  20. Rebecca Wolf says:

    I have been thinking about purposefully changing the pitch of my voice because it is so low, I have a hard time being heard in noisy settings. You have given me some excellent food for thought in my decision, especially that it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing change but can be adapted as needed. Thank you!

  21. Steve S. says:

    I had to laugh at the last of your article when you mention:

    “Scripts are a critical tool for communicating but if you can’t build rapport with your prospect, knowing all the scripts in the world won’t help you to be successful.”

    I remember my first attempts at “selling” over the phone. I was so dependent on the scripts that it was a real disaster if I lost my place or the person on the other end of the phone took me off in an unexpected direction. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it was from their end!

    Fortunately, those days are over, but it certainly doesn’t mean I am not still learning things from great sources such as your article.

  22. Boris Elias says:

    I’m a business man. I ran a heating ,ventilation, and air condition service. So it’s really important for me to build a good impression to my clients even when speaking into the phone. This site is really a good help especially for those who are still trying to build good camaraderie to their clients. Great job Augie!

  23. Augie says:

    Thanks Boris!

  24. Donald says:

    Thanks for the great info. I work in sales, and over the past few years I have really come to understand how people’s impressions of you can truly make or break a deal. Sometimes we may feel silly recording ourselves or practicing our conversation skills, but these type of things really do work as they can help you notice things about yourself.

    I am always trying to improve my rapport with clients, and I will definitely try some of your suggestions.

  25. Julie says:

    This is good info. For anyone interested in taking things and developing their communication and rapport skills I would highly recommend going on a course in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). I did a course in this a few years ago and it will definitely help you master these skills (and much more!).

  26. Adam says:

    I must say that it’s a great article! I think many people have problems Building Rapport on the Phone, will you create a video on the topic? (you really should)

  27. Julie writes
    “This is good info. For anyone interested in taking things and developing their communication and rapport skills I would highly recommend going on a course in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).”

    I second this, NLP is the ultimate communication course.

  28. Procera says:

    I think you give some great tips here for how to build rapport over the phone. One thing that helped me though was when I switched my attitude.

    Initially I could be qiute negative when cold calling a prospect. I would already be visualizing all of the potetial issues that could crop up and how difficult the call may be. However, a succesful collegue told me before every call they visualize the outcome they wanted at the end of the call. Initially I was skeptical but it is amazing the difference it can make when you have a visual image in your mind of where you want the call to go.

    I found it easier to overcome objections and even had the confidence to ask outright (in a respectful manner) what was holding the prospect back. This avoided me just going through the motions and actually having a goal at the end of the call.

    Of course not every call was successful, but I found using this simple method enbled me to build a rapport and establish a relationship in a more natural way without sounding needy or desperate.

  29. Augie says:

    Attitude is a critical part of everything we do from how we visualize outcomes, to how we view others. It prevents up from jumping to conclusions and affects how we are perceived by others. Project an attitude of gratitude and it can work wonders in the realm of building rapport over the phone and everywhere else!

    To your success…

    Augie

  30. Paige Potts says:

    Excellent article on building rapport on the phone! I have employed the techniques you have mentioned for many years now and they are definitely the cornerstone of my success. If people do not establish rapport with you, nothing good will come out of a call, a one time opportunity you have with people. Thank you for putting up the importance of voice personality in business and sales.

  31. Paige says:

    Just to comment on Steve S’ response, I also experience that when I was working for a small sales & company agency. At first, I really had to rely to the scripts. It was really difficult making adlibs but eventually I got the hang of it and was able to adapt to the situation of the call.

  32. James says:

    It is about memorizing the script then after that, you can have a stronger way of communicating on the phone by deviating from the script and including some things that will not make the call boring. :)

  33. Tim Charles says:

    Yes indeed it is a skill to talk to and establish rapport with somebody on the phone. Recording a phone conversation is one way to check if you need to modulate your voice or talk faster or slower.

  34. Augie says:

    You are right on target. When you don’t have to focus on what you’re going to say you can be a more attentive and effective listener.

    Happy investing!

    Augie

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