Business Communication Part 1 – Phone Communication

I can go on for days about communication, so rather than turning this into an essay, I’ve broken this into a series of blog posts.

As part of my job, I do a lot of communicating with a very wide and diverse group of people. Some are starving college students, others are multimillionaires. Men and women, young and old, tech savvy and old school, married and single, blue collar and white collar, domestic and foreign born, first time homeowners and real estate tycoons, and everything in between. Over the years and with my experiences I’ve learned quite a bit about the dos and don’ts of business communication – what works, and what doesn’t.

This advice is not your typical “their vs they’re”, “are vs our”, “to, too, and two” spiel you can find anywhere. Assuming you are already literate, here is some communication advice you can actually take advantage of. Despite my intro, not all of this is not strictly business communication advice, but advice that will prove useful in any context.

For Part 1, the you need only relearn your ABCs, and your 123’s.

Relearn your ABC’s.

“B like Boy, A as in…. Apple, N like Nancy, C like….. ummm….. Cat?” If this sounds like you spelling out “Bancroft Street” to a stranger over the phone, then you are putting yourself and others through a lot of unnecessary trouble.

Every day I hear my clients struggle with reading off VIN numbers to me over the phone.

It’s about time you learned and memorized the US Military Phonetic Alphabet, also known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This handy system will save you time and embarrassment when spouting off an endless series of letters. The system was specifically designed so that when reading off letters over radio transmission, it is easy to distinguish between one letter and another.

"Oscar Mike Golf! That was hilarious Sarge!"
“Oscar Mike Golf! That was hilarious Sarge!”

Military Phonetic Alphabet

The list is as follows.

  1. Alpha
  2. Bravo
  3. Charlie
  4. Delta
  5. Echo
  6. Foxtrot
  7. Golf
  8. Hotel
  9. India
  10. Juliet
  11. Kilo
  12. Lima
  13. Mike
  14. November
  15. Oscar
  16. Papa
  17. Quebec
  18. Romeo
  19. Sierra
  20. Tango
  21. Uniform
  22. Victor
  23. Whiskey
  24. X-Ray
  25. Yankee
  26. Zulu

When it comes in handy:

  • Driver’s License Numbers
  • Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN)
  • Hard to spell names
  • Hard to spell street names
  • Policy numbers
  • Anything where you’re spelling out a word with tons of letters.
  • A surefire way to garner respect from military clients and peers.

A is not for Apple. From now on, it’s Alpha. Familiar yourself with all 26 letters and practice them regularly. Memorize it. Learn it. Love it.

Relearn your 123’s

Another task I do daily is collect phone numbers, street addresses, and credit card numbers. Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to do this.

I doubt you’re pronouncing the numbers wrong, but you could be reading them aloud the wrong way.

Do Re Mi... ABC... 123... Baby, you and me!
Do Re Mi… ABC… 123… Baby, you and me!

Credit Cards

Credit cards are conveniently broken down into four groups of four digits, with the exception of American Express. When reading your credit card to someone over the phone, make sure to read the numbers the way they are commonly displayed:

For example: 1234 pause 5678 pause 1234 pause 5678. American express displays their numbers in groups other than four. In this case, try to break them into groups of 4 anyways.

Phone Numbers

Another big one I noticed people botch often is reading off phone numbers. First of all, always read the area code. Never assume the other person knows the area code. More and more, even “small towns” have multiple area codes as populations swell. San Diego County for example has three area codes, 619, 858, and 760. Los Angeles probably has twice that.

Second, remember that people write slower than you can talk. So when reading off a number of any kind, make sure to sllllooooowwww down. The pauses let the person listening to you catch up, so they don’t have to ask you to repeat yourself.

Third, just like with credit cards, read phone numbers the way they are commonly displayed. For example: 619 pause 555 pause 6789.

Numbers In General

Do not use the letter “O” for the number “0” (zero). This can be especially confusing for alphanumeric chains where either a letter or number can possibly be correct, such as an account number or email address.

Read each individual digit. Do not combine digits to make larger numbers.

For example:

The chain “7-8-5-2” should be read “seven-eight-five-two”.

The chain “7-8-5-2” should NOT be read “seventy eight-fifty two” because this can then be misinterpreted as 70-8-50-2.

Regardless of what the number is, try to break down long chains of characters into groups of four, and pause between each group, just like you would with a credit card. This makes it easier for the person on the other end.

Conclusion

That’s it. Relearn your ABCs and your 123s. If you can do that, you’ll make life easier for yourself and anyone you communicate with over the phone.

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