Trainee troubles: Fear of the phones

Accountancy is a challenging career, not just for its technical complexities, but also the requirement to deal with all sorts of people in potentially stressful situations. One budding practitioner brought their concerns recently to our Any Answers page and received some useful advice from the AccountingWEB community.

Speaking to clients for the first time can be particularly daunting. But having to talk to stranges on the phone appears to be a doubly stressful event for some accountants - trainee or experienced alike. 

"Anonymous_student", an AAT student working in practice confessed they have "never been very good socially" and never liked using the phone in public.

"I am OK if I am alone and no one is listening, however as soon as I have people around I struggle. Obviously as part of my job I am required to call clients to confirm or request information. This is very difficult for me as it is in an office environment," they wrote. 

The fear factor was raised by others listening in and the anxiety that a client might ask questions to which they do not know the answers. 

One technique the student uses is to write out what they're going to say before the call, but they still get sweaty palms and palpitations when they have to dial a client. 

Have a little patience 

Many AccountingWEB members recognised the syndrome and reassured the student that it was part and parcel of the job; eventually you get used to it.

Register for free and log in to see all of the members' advice and practical tips on dealing with phone phobia.

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Comments

So I Was Not Alone!    2 thanks

PG1234 | | Permalink

Enjoyed reading that.  I recognise all the above symptoms from when I began my training so it is reassuring to realise that I was not alone!

 

I think the main worry when you start out is your lack of confidence in your technical knowledge and that the client 'will find you out'.  I used to get so nervous sometimes that my voice started shaking and then the whole office stopped to listen in.  It was awful.

 

14 years later I have hardened up and don't give a rat's derriere when I deal with clients on the phone.  If I have a difficult client on the line my technique is to match their rudeness with an exaggerated politeness.  It gives me an overwhelming feeling of moral superiority when I finish the call!

johnjenkins's picture

Takes me back a few years

johnjenkins | | Permalink

We had an old type switchboard and when the "girls" went to lunch us juniors had to take it in turns to man the phones. Talking to a bank manager or tax inspector (I'm sure my boss used to set us up sometimes) for the first time was really daunting. My boss gave us few instructions. If not sure of name ask and ask again until you are sure you've got it write. Take a message and write it down clearly. Always get name and telephone number.

One thing that always struck me. There were never any lies told on the phone (like if you're in say you're out). Even the tax office put you through to whoever you wanted to speak to. There was no pushing from pillar to post. No need for security questions. It was an honest time. These days you get more phony than real calls.

Flash Gordon's picture

There's a lot to be said    2 thanks

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

There's a lot to be said for a good old-fashioned letter! (Or failing that an email). Far less stressful. Personally I think Alexander Graham Bell has a lot to answer for. I'd have strung him up by his telephone wire!

I'll stick to good old avoidance. It may not win me clients but it saves my sanity. Far more precious...

Those early days are tough

pr27 | | Permalink

I remember just starting out and dreading the phone call to the client part of the job. I hated speaking to the client as in reality I had know idea what I was doing and had no idea why I was asking the questions that my manager had got me to ask. The worst thing was using the phone in front of my colleagues. It was an absolute feeling of dread and was the thing I used to worry about the most in respect of my job.

 

I can remember having to call a client and slinking off to another (empty) office to make the call. I also recall being asked to phone a client and the thought of talking to them in front of everyone was that horrifying that I phoned my own mobile number which is was on silent in my bag and left a message as if I was talking to the client. 

 

It seems silly now as I'm more likely to call a client than email or write to them as I find it a far more efficient method of communication and allows you to dig a bit more into their answers. Of course it is just one of those things that gets better with age, the more you do it, the more experienced you become in your role, it just becomes second nature.

 

Of course, calling a client to let them know their massive VAT liability is always a daunting prospect!

.    1 thanks

ireallyshouldkn... | | Permalink

When I started at KPMG as part of the week long induction course we have about an hours session on "how to answer the phone" which was a bit of a giggle, but to be fair was rather useful.  Somewhat more than watching the corporate song. Which even the people running the course thought rather silly!

This a very good article.

Arielqiang | | Permalink

This a very good article. Glad I am not alone. Being English is not my first language makes it even harder for me to fake any sort of confidence. But don't they all say, practice makes things perfect! 

Still tough after all these years

DexterDog | | Permalink

I've been in practice on my own 20 years and still hate making or receiving calls; applies to all calls, not just work related.  Hated it when I was training at KPMG, still do.  Fortunately these days I receive/send far more e-mails than phone cals and encourage clients to e-mail rather than call.  

But had I been better at making calls I'm sure I would have found it easier to build up the practice.

I hate to disappoint but...

jane@lymmtax.co.uk | | Permalink

I have been qualified for nearly 25 years and I still don't like speaking on the phone in front of people. I am now self employed and work from home but I still prefer my husband not to overhear me on the phone. After 25 years its not a lack of confidence in my technical ability but something more personal, not sure what! And I wouldn't dream of initiating a call on my mobile when I'm on the train.

don't forget you are in control    1 thanks

Rita shah | | Permalink

We are an answering service and we speak with hundreds of people everyday and the one piece of advice we would offer is remember you control the call, so if they are calling you they want help or information, make notes and don't be shy to say that you will find out and call back, because sometimes you need to think about a response not just give a knee jerk one. Our clients find that because we take the details of what people are calling about, they can be forearmed before they return the call and it also means that they control their time, as too many people want things done immediately.

Ann Lovatt's picture

appointments calls

Ann Lovatt | | Permalink

When I started with Deloitte's a long time ago, the only time juniors were "allowed" to phone clients was to make appointments for clients to see the partners, which to be fair was a nice simple introduction to over come nerves of phoning scary clients. I was also put on "reception duty" using an old fashioned flick switchboard, which again helped any anxiety as no-one expected the young girl on reception to know anything about anything, phew!    

Think switchboard is a good introduction to anyone who is a bit nervous, although I do remember, I did panic when I said someone would phone back, when the client laughed & said he doubted it as he was phoning from Australia!

fear of phone

Rosalinda Taylor | | Permalink

I never like telephoning clients. The reason is NOT fear. I am a hard woman. I prepare sending emails when I ask for information. there are a few advantage with requesting information by emails:

1. There is a written evidence that you ask for information and also you have evidence if they did not give them to you in time for the deadline. Most people have smart phones and they receive emails through their phones. Therefore it is as quick as telephoning them. I also have a read receipt on my email.

2. It saves time. It cuts down chatting time or excuses for not giving you the information and promises that they will send it to you.

3. emails prompts a reminder to follow up.

Of course it is nice to talk to client from time time as for good relationship. However most of them are afraid to talk to accountants for fear that it will costs them.

 

that was the good old days    1 thanks

Rosalinda Taylor | | Permalink

We will be here all day talking about the good old days. How nice it was. Inland revenue was efficient then and so as the bank.

Excited

The Accountant | | Permalink

Just for the other perspective.  I was really excited when my boss told me to phone the client for information and not to bother him.  Wow - he trusts me that much!!  That was 40 odd years ago.  Now I have my own practice it's not half as much fun.

Phone calls

philiprjones | | Permalink

Having been brought up from a young age in the only house in the whole street in the early 1960's with "The Telephone" which was kept in its revered place in a cold hallway, I was taught to answer it politely giving exchange name Sandiacre 2632 and surname saying "Can I help?"  Neighbours also called round with their 2d as the nearest red phone box (buttons A & B) was some walk away and I dialled the number contacted the operator for long distance calls if I could as well.

So I had no fear of it and was quite confident. Indeed meeting clients face to face many years later was far more daunting as even now I do not pick up on social interactions well

I do however prefer a phone call to an email or letter as these can give an even worse and wrong impression.

Starting full time work in 1974 at 20 years of age I was occasionally allowed to use the then modern GPO PMBX with toggle extension switching and 3 lines too!

As with most things its all down to confidence and these days being less formal you can have a chat too! I then follow it up with an email confirmation for the obligatory records/evidence of course.  Things were simpler then! 

 

 

 

Flash Gordon's picture

Impressions

Flash Gordon | | Permalink

I'm more likely to give a wrong impression if I actually talk to someone (face to face or by phone) - I'll either ramble on about the weather (my standby topic) or talk utter drivel in an attempt to be friendly, leaving the recipient thinking they've encountered the local halfwit! In an email I may come across a bit too formal but that's probably better than the alternative. And at least there aren't any awkward moments where I either can't think of a response or where I waffle on while they're trying to finish the conversation. 

It's a shame that when I left school no-one suggested the option of joining a religious order where they take a vow of silence - it would have suited me down to the ground. A nice routine, no talking and plenty of time in my head - perfect :) 

Stammer

brian.barrett | | Permalink

One concern that does not seem to have been mentioned is those, such as myself, who have a bit of a stammer.  I don't actually stammer; I just come across words that I simply cannot say.  This is made much worse when there is pressure and/or you are nervous.  Sadly a telephone call is a time when something has to be said, unlike when you are with someone and are better place as to when you actually say something.

It would be nice if managers of new, nervous staff, realised that there are people out there who prima facia do not appear to have a problem because they have learnt to cope with it, often by thinging ahead and chosing other words to say rather than the word they can see themselves getting blocked on.  These prima facia people may, however, need support when they are giving lists of people to call for information.

Phone calls

AndrewV12 | | Permalink

Good point this, never easy taking calls, especially when the clients dont know what they are taking about, Its probably best to always take calls, some people say I cant take this call at this moment in time I am busy, or tell them i am in a meeting.

If you are unsure of anything, build in a escape clause, 'i will check my information and call you back' but always make sure you do call them back ASAP.  We have all tried to contact someone and they call us back a week later, very poor show. 

 

Another option is to go on and on, the caller will become confused and lose interest in the call and hopefully goes away.  

 

But never forget the answer phone option, just leave it on, even if you are not actually out, a lot of people do this.  We have all left messages on a answer phone only for the person you have called contacts you a minute or so later (they were in all along) I sometimes feel like shouting 'I know your there pick the phone up'. 

How I wish    2 thanks

susanreed | | Permalink

Accounting web was around when i was training !!!I still get shivers when I think of that audit room and having to make phone calls to get answers for the manger's audit review points. Eek. I spent far too much time running around the office looking for an empty room to make my call and then sit cross fingered hoping my manager wouldn't walk in....Good luck to those starting off now. Remember it's ok to make mistakes and faff up. It's the only way to learn.

Phone Tips

Barbara French | | Permalink

One thing you can do is to have a session every 6 weeks or so for the juniors with someone who is experienced on the phone. Listen to calls together and see what comes up. In our practice we have regular comms sessions and people with talent help those who find it more challenging. Listening to calls makes things very clear and helps trainees to understand from listening to each others calls where they can improve and to naturally pick up ideas without too much of a training format.  One important thing is volume. If you can increase your volume, confidence will follow because the volume will give confidence to the caller as well. Also, sit up and 'be' on the call, breath and get clear what your intention is, this is important whether you are making or receiving calls. Be proud of what you are doing, you are serving the client as best you can with the information you have so far.

Thanks Barbara    1 thanks

susanreed | | Permalink

This sums it all really. Employers really need to help with soft skills such as talking on the phone and dealing with clients. My training firm was so prehistoric in this respect - juniors were left to sink or swim. So my advice to anyone who does struggle with these soft skills is that the problem is not really yours, it is the employer you work for.

"Switchboard!"

ken of chesterl... | | Permalink

It takes you back!

50 years ago, I was filling in for the telephonist who was on holiday. The real problem was fellow apprentices, who played on the fact that it was impossible to tell what was an internal call, and wasn't. So I would get a call from  "John Smith deceased", or Prince Chulu of Siam. So often did this happen that when a partner who was not know to his gentleness of manner rang, expecting me to recognise his voice, and said "Get me my wife, please!" I thought it was my colleague , and put the phone down. Then I thought, "was it him?" rang, and  asked "Was it you who asked me to ring your wife, Sir?" "Yes!" clunk. 

There the client who said" Just go and get someone who knows how to work the bloody thing!"  and "I've got a call from Mr ****", Sir." "Oh,. Have you lost it?" the equipment was primitive, even for those days.

But no, we didn't tell lies on the phone. 

"Switchboard!"

ken of chesterl... | | Permalink

It takes you back!

50 years ago, I was filling in for the telephonist who was on holiday. The real problem was fellow apprentices, who played on the fact that it was impossible to tell what was an internal call, and wasn't. So I would get a call from  "John Smith deceased", or Prince Chulu of Siam. So often did this happen that when a partner who was not know to his gentleness of manner rang, expecting me to recognise his voice, and said "Get me my wife, please!" I thought it was my colleague , and put the phone down. Then I thought, "was it him?" rang, and  asked "Was it you who asked me to ring your wife, Sir?" "Yes!" clunk. 

There the client who said" Just go and get someone who knows how to work the bloody thing!"  and "I've got a call from Mr ****", Sir." "Oh,. Have you lost it?" the equipment was primitive, even for those days.

But no, we didn't tell lies on the phone. 

incoming calls    3 thanks

ken of chesterl... | | Permalink

The real fear to me is, and always has been, incoming calls. You may have display systems, but they don't always work, so you don't know what the client, tax office, etc, wants. He of course expects you to remeber all about him, and answer his questions.

This is the boon of e-mail. You know who it is, you know what he wants, and you have time  to read the file, or the legislation,  before you reply, or indeed if you want to reply. 

As for overcoming your fear, practice makes perfect.  If you're into that sort of thing, pray!