12 Tips For Handling “Runaway” Talkers (Part I)

Runaway talkers are customers  who will talk your ear off.  I don’t mean those who chat two or three minutes but those that go on and on and on.

The Cost of a Runaway Talker

Of course, the real dilemma is that runaway talkers ARE customers – sometimes VERY good customers- and we don’t want to terminate the call and risk their discontent and possibly lose their business.  Consequently most telephone based sales reps ‘suffer’ through it and accept it as a necessary part of business.

But long winded talkers come with a cost.  They cost you time, money and opportunity.  Every moment you spend in idle chatter is moment you could have spent on new business development,  other customer calls, projects, paperwork, the whole gamut.  Runaway talkers can cause frustration and anxiety when you get behind on tasks and activities.  They can cause resentment if you have to work overtime or you miss a deadline or fall short on your objectives.

So it is important that you know how to diplomatically manage a runaway talker and get back to work.  Here are six tips to get you started.

Tip #1: Plan Your Call Before You Call

All calls should be planned but with runaway talkers you need to take a few extra moments to plot the approach to your call.  Determine the objectives of the calls. Prepare questions to keep the call on track. Expect their conversational segues and review the tactics below so that you can turn to them if and when needed.

Tip #2:  Use an Opening Statement that Conveys Time Sensitivity

Use your opening statement to establish a focus and a time limit up front before the talker begins to ramble. He or she will still talk but at least you’ve created a pre-text for concluding the call when the time comes. Here some good opening templates:

                “Gina, it’s _________ from __________. Gina, just a very, very quick call to check on ________.

This opening uses ‘very’ twice and is delivered with a faster than normal pace.  The idea is to create a sense of urgency; like you’re juggling a half dozen tasks, and that THIS call is going to be very quick.  Your words and tone reveal that to your client. Here’ another:

“Hey Mark, _______ it’s _________ calling from  ________. Mark, I have 3 quick reasons for my call today before I have to rush off.”

This opener alerts the listener to your agenda (3 reasons).  Again, the word ‘quick’ is tossed in for good measure.  The idea is that you have some specific things to accomplish and you’ve laid out the plan.  Speed up the pace of your voice. Here’s one more:

“Ron,  it’s ________ calling from ________ I wanted to touch bases before I leave for my 9:30 meeting in about 7-8 minutes.”

In this case, your caller knows your precise availability. The meeting is your excuse to terminate the call if necessary and since they were warned about it, it is easier to interrupt without feeling rude.

Tip #3: Do NOT Volunteer any Extraneous Information

Be careful to avoid the rapport building questions that will take you down endless verbal trails.  The  trouble with most runaway talkers is that they are generally very nice people.  When you say, “How was your weekend?” they dive right in, open up and tell you EVERYTHING about their weekend from Friday at 5:00 till Sunday at 10:00.

Similarly, when you say, “Hey, how ‘bout those Flyers over the Penguins?” you’re asking for long winded trouble.  If you have time, go ahead and ask but if it’s a busy day, avoid mundane questions.

Tip #4:  Limit YOUR Responses

If you’re asked about ‘those Flyers’ give a one line reply to acknowledge the remark and then move to a question to refocus the call.  “Yes, it was quite a game.  By the way Ron, did you get that proposal I sent you about the next implementation phase?”   Don’t make a remark about Sydney Crosby’s on ice behavior unless you want to chat about hockey for the next 18 minutes.

Tips #5:  Minimize Your Use of Open Ended Questions

Open ended questions are generally very good for selling situations.  With runaway talkers it can be their ticket to chatsville.  This is not to say you should not use open ended questions but rather minimize their use.

Tip #6:  Maximize Your Use of Close Ended Questions

In Tip #4, the rep asked a runaway talker a close ended question: did you get the proposal? It narrows the focus and reduces the client’s chance to open up.  Very quickly, follow up with another close ended question such as, “Were the quantities correct?”  “Was the price in range?”, “Would you like to proceed?”  Questions like these may seem a  bit abrupt but that’s what is often necessary.

NOTE: Runaway talkers can still open up and ramble on even if you ask a close ended question but using close ended questions helps reduce the tendency and helps channel the direction of the call.

In the next article you’ll find six more tactics to politely ‘manage and direct’ talkative clients and get you back to work.

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