No matter what words you use, the tone of your voice reveals what you think and feel. Let’s look at a few examples:
- A flat and monotone voice says to the customer: “I’m bored and have no interest in what you are talking about.”
- A high pitched and emphatic voice says: “I’m enthusiastic about this subject.”
- Slow speed and low pitch communicates the message: “I’m depressed and want to be left alone.”
- An abrupt speed and very loud tone says: “I’m angry and do not want your input!”
- High pitch combined with drawn out speed conveys: “I don’t believe what I’m hearing.
The following skills can help you to be a winner!
Inflection is the wave-like movement of highs and lows in your pitch. It is the peaks and valleys in your voice that let your customer know how interested (or uninterested) you are in what they are saying. Inflection also reflects how interested you are in what you are saying to the customer. When inflection is missing, your voice can sound monotone or unvaried.
If you have ever read a story to a child, you know that the words of the story are far less interesting than the inflection you put in your voice. Have you ever tried to say, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” without using inflection. More than likely, your child stopped you to say, “Come on – read it like you mean it!”
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times
When we say the same thing over and over again, it is easy to slip into the habit of speaking in a monotone voice. But even if you have said something a thousand times, your customer may be hearing it for the first time. So remember, using inflection is as important the first time as it is with the last!
Improving your inflection
Some of us are born with naturally interesting voices and inflection seems effortless to them. Others of us, who are not so fortunate, need to practice it. Here are four simple things you can do to improve the quality of inflection in your voice:
- Smile when you talk – the reason for doing so is not psychological but physiological. When you smile, the soft palate at the back of your mouth raises and makes the sound waves more fluid. For those of you who have ever sung in a choir (or in the shower), you know that the wider you open your mouth and the more teeth you show, the better your tone. Smiling helps your voice to sound friendly, warm and receptive.
- Practice stressing words – be aware of how stressing certain words changes the feeling of what you are saying. The following sentence “What would you like us to do about it?” changes in feeling, meaning, and tone when you:
- Say it defensively (emphasizing the words “would you”) “What would you like us to do about it?”
- Say it with curiosity (emphasizing the words “like us”) ’”What would you like us to do about it?”
- Say it with apathy (not emphasizing any of the words) “What would you like us to do about it?”
- Breathe – believe it or not, the inflection in your voice can be greatly increased by learning to take long, slow deep breaths. Most people become shallow breathers when they are under pressure. The next time you are in a stressful situation, try to notice what happens to your breathing. The more upset you become, the shallower and quicker your breath will be. When this breathing pattern happens, your vocal cords tend to tighten, making your pitch go up and sound strained. When you are aware of your breathing patterns you can slow down your breathing thereby relaxing your vocal cords, bringing down your pitch, and creating a calmer tone of voice.
- Exaggerate your tone – the old adage proves to be true: Practice makes perfect! Try these three simple steps to improve your inflection:
- Take a short and uncomplicated sentence like, “Bill isn’t here right now,” and say it out loud with your normal level of inflection.
- Think of inflection on a scale of one to ten, with one being monotone and ten being a disk jockey. Now say the same sentence over, but this time exaggerate your inflection all the way up to a ten.
- Now say the same sentence again, this time taking your inflection down a couple of notches to a level eight. Say the sentence one more time taking it down to a level five or six. This is the level most people are comfortable with. If you find yourself slipping over time, go back to step one and repeat this process.
Volume has an uncanny power and magnetism. People at a party will strain their heads to hear someone who is speaking in a lowered tone.
If a customer is angry and speaking loudly, don’t yell back (even though your instinctive reaction may be to do so). Instead behave like a professional and start out by speaking at a somewhat lower volume than the customer. This will gradually bring the customer’s volume down to yours.
Pacing is approximately matching your customer’s rate of speech and intensity of feeling. Pacing is the single best tool you have for creating rapport with your customer.
By focusing on the similarities instead of the differences between you and your customer, you meet the customer at his or her level and make him or her feel at ease.
Rate of speech
The average American speaks at a rate of 100-150 words per minute. The average listener is capable of listening up to a rate of 600-650 words per minute. By pacing a customer’s rate of speech, you can have more matches in your communication with your customer.
As a service provider, your job is to pace the customer – not the other way around! If you notice that you are thinking bad thoughts about your customer, wondering why he is not slowing down or speeding up to your rate of speech, quickly shift gears and move into a pacing mode.
Intensity is the strength of emotion that is projected along with the words you are saying. Your level of intensity changes with your level of concern.
How your customers feel determines their level of vocal intensity. If they are calm and relaxed, their level of intensity will probably be fairly low. If they are upset or angry, their level of intensity will rise. Imagine leaving your wallet, keys, or date book at a restaurant. What level of intensity would you be projecting when you call the restaurant on the phone? Probably very high. In this situation, the service provider’s job would be to increase her intensity in order to show you, the customer, that she understands your concern by reflecting your intensity back to you.
After your next interaction with a customer, ask yourself these questions:
- Did I speak with inflection to show interest and concern?
- Did I use a level of volume that gained the customer’s attention?
- Did I pace the customer by adjusting my rate of speech to match his or hers?
- Did I pace the customer by adjusting my intensity to match his or hers?
As you become more aware of how you are saying things, you will improve your ability to create rapport with both customers and employees.
It doesn’t take long for your customers to pick up on your attitude – so, let your customers know just how much you do care! Because . . .
Every Customer Counts!
-The Team at Measure-X
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