Training Callers to Listen
There are some important attributes to look for when recruiting callers. Whether you’re hiring paid students or organizing volunteers, you’ll want to find callers who are personable, articulate, informed, assertive, trustworthy, and, of course, comfortable talking about money. Needless to say, good callers can be hard to come by.
Recruiting may be an important first step, but there also needs to be some training. Many programs host intense sessions to onboard new callers, provide them with an overview of the institution and the program, and teach them skills that will help them be successful on the phones. More often than not, though, this training focuses on teaching new callers how to be effective solicitors, providing them with a script or guidelines for making “the ask” and offering advice for overcoming objections.
But the telemarketing industry has changed considerably in recent years as contact rates have declined and people have become increasingly cynical about large-scale calling efforts. Today, in a world of robo-calls and text messages, there’s another skill that’s increasingly important to teach to callers: being a good listener. That’s because the value of calling programs to schools is becoming less about how much money they can raise, and more about how much they can help to engage alumni and learn about their feelings, interests, and preferences.
Listening doesn’t come naturally to everyone, so it’s important to make it a specific part of the training regimen. Set aside time to talk to callers about the importance of listening and provide them with tips and methods to improve their listening skills. Then, when they are ready to get on the phones, make sure that the importance of listening stays top of mind. Here are a few ways that you can do that:
- Instruct callers to ask probing open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a yes or a no. Encourage callers to find out how prospects feels about the institution, when they were last on campus, if they keep in touch with classmates, the name of their favorite professor, what they’re doing in their careers, why they’ve decided to support the institution (or not), or if they have any unique interests and hobbies. Tell them to try to keep their own talking to a minimum.
- Require callers to take notes. This will force callers to pick out the most important aspects of the call. Writing things down will also reinforce things in their own minds. Make sure that valuable information about each prospect’s experiences, preferences, interests, likes, and dislikes is recorded in a contact report and stored in your database. Then make sure your advancement colleagues don’t let the reports go unread and unused.
- Create opportunities for callers to practice listening on an ongoing basis. Organize periodic group meetings for callers to share some of the interesting things or recurring themes they’ve heard during calls. Invite leaders from around campus (e.g., faculty, coaches, administrators) to visit the call center and talk with callers before shifts. This not only sharpens callers’ listening skills but also helps them become better informed about campus activities and prepares them to engage prospects in more interesting discussions.
Keep in mind that it’s not just your callers who should be listening. You should be listening to them too. Make sure you’re monitoring calls and giving ongoing feedback that will help callers to improve over time. Ask them for their feedback too. Find out what it is they like (or don’t like) about the job and see if there are ways you can help them. If everyone takes time to become a better listener, it won’t be long before you start to see improvements across every aspect of your program.
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