May 9, 2015

Tips on Handling Calls with US Clients

Whether you are new to attending calls with US clients or have been doing it for some time, here are a few tips that can get you started or refresh you to improving the flow and feel of calls with Americans. 

Time Management
Always be on time! If you are a moderator, enter the room 10-15 minutes early. Initiate the call 5 minutes early. One hour calls start on the hour and end 45-50 minutes later. For instance, a call scheduled for 3-4pm, starts at 3 and ends at 3:45-3:50. This seems a bit strange for most in India, but remember to start the next meeting at 4 means the person (or you) have to be in the next room or initiate the next call before the start of the next hour. 

Crisp Agenda 
Always always always have an agenda. You are the service provider. Americans expect the service provider to initiate the session. Even if you have been handling calls for sometime without an agenda, and even if the client never asked for one, believe me, starting the agenda even now, even if it is late in the game, will show your client psychologically that you are taking charge and build credibility in your expertise.

Crisp agendas break down sessions into three managable chunks, and show the time and speaker for each section. In between each section, leave time for questions. Use this format for routine meetings or special meetings like demos, project kickoffs or project closeouts. I have coached teams to create agenda templates for these kinds of meetings, which are stored as blank templates and filled is as per each meeting. During the meeting, the tempate/agenda is opened, and the note taker can easily take notes and send it immediately upon ending the meeting. Having this process in place saves time and builds credibility and trust with Americans. Why? Not only do you have an efficient communication strategy in place, but a way to easily document what has been discussed. Documentation and having things down in writing goes along way to building trust with Americans. 

Learn about the Workshop Meetings A-Z

Small Talk 
In addition to speaking clearly on the phone, it's also important to learn a little about how to make small talk with Americans. It's not important to have long drawn out conversations, that's a time waster for you and them. Also it's pefectly fine if you don't know everything! Americans won't know what cricket. Indians won't know football (not soccer)! It's ok to ask questions to build conversation. Here small talk takes about 2-4 minutes in the beginning of the meeting and a few mintues at the end.

In the beginining of the meeting you can ask about their weekend (if it is a Monday), or anyfollow up topics from the previous weeks, the weather, traffic, etc. Do not ask about family, martial status and relationships until and unless you know them for awhile and it is not a group call. At the end of the meeting small talk is professional and personal - summarizing the meeting and action items, setting the next meeting and wishing them a good day, weekend or related wish. 

Conversation connectors in English 
Moving from Small Talk to Business Talk

Meeting Request - Asking and Answering Tips
When requesting the next meeting time always ask in the form of a question with a question mark at the end. Do not use statements which are more acceptable in India. Native speakers of English in the US, Canada, UK, and Australia often take the tone of meeting requests shaped as statements as a demand (rude) and not a request (polite). For instance: 

Do not use: We will meet tomorrow at 5.
Instead turn this into a question: Shall we meet tomorrow at 5? 

Better, give choices:  Are you free to meet Friday at 5 or Monday at 6? (They pick one.)
Best, open ended: When would you like to meet next? 

Likewise, if they ask you a question like this, answer with actual times, saying 'yes' is not an acceptable answer.

Tips on saying no diplomatically. 
Tips on declining a meeting invite. 

There other tips in handling a client call with Americans efficiently. Do note that in managing a call we can use the word, 'handle' but when talking about clients (people), do not use the word 'handle'. This gives a bad tone to native speakers. For instance, to say, "I am handling clients today." gives a tone like you are not really interested in the client or possibly there was a hostile situation and you feel nervous to talk with them. Instead, it's better to say, "We will meet with the client." or "We interact with the clients today." There are other similiar synonyms that offer a more friendly tone. 

Jennifer Kumar helps Indians to more efficiently and effectively build client relationships with Americans. She provides interactive sessions for onsite team members in communication and minset skills that help Indians to understand Western and US business culture in a fun, supportive environment. Contact us today for more information.

Related Posts: 
3 Mistakes Enthusiastic Indians Make When Interacting with Americans  
Speaking clearly while sitting and talking on the phone 
Tips for Group Client Calls  
Why won't Indian team members speak up on the phone? 

*Image credit, Philippe Put @flickr, used under creative commons.

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