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Research shows the average business call lasts two minutes longer than it needs to. The bitter truth is most of us spend far too much time on the phone with customers and co-workers in idle small talk or listening to the whiner, rambler, or storyteller.

So how do you politely end a call when you know it’s no longer productive?  I’ll give you six of my favorite strategies for politely bringing a long winded caller back to focus.

One. Apprise of a time limit early

This doesn’t mean you state that you only have a couple of minutes.  It’s the reverse of that and it works like this:  “I don’t want to take up too much of your time.” Or “I’ve taken up enough of your time” (even when they’ve called you.) “I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll make this quick.” “One final thing I need to cover...”

Statements like these setup time parameters for you and help you end the call quickly and politely.

Two. Interject with a question when the caller pauses – This is something you’ll do with the long-winded caller, the rambler, and the storyteller. As they are going on and on, wait for a pause and interject: with a statement like…

  •  “The first thing we need to do is…”
  • “The reason I’m calling is …” 
  • “Listen, I need to get some information from you.”
  • “Real quick, I just need a couple of numbers from you…”

Three. Use the point question technique

Point questions help you bring the conversation back to focus…back to the point of the call after a few seconds of small talk (or rambling). Examples of point questions include:

  •  “How can I help you?”
  • ”What can I do for you?”

Four. Give a minimal response

When your customer asks you an open-ended question like, “How are your children?” you can give a minimal response this way: “My children are great. What can I do for you today?

Five. Ask closed-ended questions

Avoid asking a talkative caller an open-ended question because they will go on and on in their response. Ask closed-ended questions that require only a one-word response like, “Will tomorrow at 10:00am work for you?”  Generally speaking, asking two to three closed-ended questions back to back will put you back in control of the call.

Six. Use closing statements – You’ll use closing statements to signify the ending of the call. Closing statements help you get out of a conversation with a rambler or long-winded caller. Here are two simple closing statements:

  • “Before we hang up, I need to make sure I tell you…” Informs the caller that the call is ending.
  • “One final question for you…”

Don’t let calls get out of your control. The call should last just long enough to be productive. Rambling, storytelling, or any idle talk is wasting your time and the customer’s time and it negatively impacts service with callers who are waiting. Use these call control techniques and you’ll get the storytellers and ramblers to cut to the chase and you’ll be polite in your approach.

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