Trouble Understanding A Prospect/Customer on the Phone

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be offensive or to generate any offensive comments. Merely here to gather outside opinions, advice, and experiences.


I'm assuming a fair amount of us have had a phone call with a prospect who was hard to understand, for one reason or another.


I've had these phone calls, and I've had some brutal conversations because I couldn't understand them due to strong accents or speech impediments. It's uncomfortable, and I always feel bad.


I've been able to work through plenty of these, and others I've been able to redirect to email, but not all of them.

I have a buddy who manages multiple clients in India and had problems with the language barrier, so he learned Hindi.

At my last company (f*ck that company), I had multiple coworkers who wouldn't call certain leads in order to avoid a potentially awkward call if the lead appeared to be a foreign name, which is blatantly racist and literally illegal.


How have you dealt with this before?


Is there an ideal way to deal with this?

๐Ÿ“ž Cold Calling
๐Ÿ˜Ž Sales Skills
๐Ÿง  Advice
15
paddy
WR Officer
4
Director of Business Development
Honestly, no. If you can't understand then you just can't. That's nobody's fault. My best advice (and I mean this sincerely) is invest in a good quality headset and sit in a quiet room. Also, don't be afraid to just say "I'm sorry, can you repeat that? I'm having a hard time understanding". You can even blame your phone line or something.
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
2
Agency Recruiter
I mean yeah I've blamed other things plenty of times before, but you can only do that so many times. I've reached the point a plethora of times where I have literally had to stop the call and say things along the lines of, "Look, I'm sorry but I can't understand you, I'll follow up via email" after asking them to repeat the same thing like 4 times. And then I feel like a total asshole.
funcoupons
WR Officer
1
๐Ÿ‘‘
Not much else you can unfortunately. It sucks. Selling is tough enough with both people speaking clear English. A language barrier makes it damn near impossible.ย 
paddy
WR Officer
2
Director of Business Development
Well that's kind of on them as rude as that sounds...
funcoupons
WR Officer
1
๐Ÿ‘‘
Not rude, just real.ย 
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
1
Agency Recruiter
@funcouponsย Yeah, it's unfortunate really, for both parties. You could have a monumental deal/partnership but you can't even get it off the ground because of something as trivial as a language barrier.
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
0
Agency Recruiter
@paddyย Meh, that's tough to say - situational at most. If I'm calling a prospect out of the blue and I can't understand them, that's on me.
CoorsKing
WR Officer
3
Retired King of the Coors Knights
Yeah... I get this daily. Sometimes I ask them to just type in the chat live, other times I start directing the questions to a different team member if there are multiple.ย 

It is not anybodies fault, so just be as polite as you can be. Nothing wrong with not being able to understand. I definitely agree with @paddyย , a good headset is key. If you are already having trouble, don't make it harder.

I will say though, after getting on calls with certain accents enough times, it does start to be slightly easier to understand.ย 
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
0
Agency Recruiter
I'm with ya Meech, I always try to be as polite as possible. I think that's key, and a fair amount of the time, the prospect will be appreciative of that when they're aware that you're having trouble understanding them.

Yeah, I've caught on to a few and especially lighter accents, but there are some outliers for sure.
poweredbycaffeine
WR Lieutenant
3
โ˜•๏ธ
"I am sorry, but I am having trouble understanding you. Can I send you an email with questions/details and we can reconnect after you have a look?" -- just be honest.
funcoupons
WR Officer
1
๐Ÿ‘‘
I would also like to know. I encountered this situation just today. Lady I spoke with had a very strong accent and I could only make out every third word or so... Really awkward.ย 
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
1
Agency Recruiter
Me too coincidentally, that's what prompted my post.

In my job and in my personal life, I'm a very level-headed and confident person, rarely rattled, but nothing will make my cheeks flush like one of those phone calls.
funcoupons
WR Officer
1
๐Ÿ‘‘
I'm with you there. I'm also impatient as hell and really have to work to remain calm and polite in these situations lol.ย 
BigCheese
Notorious Answer
1
Agency Recruiter
Impatience is a tough thing to deal with as a salesperson lol I'm the same.
SalesPharaoh
Big Shot
1
AM BDR
Annoying when you can't understand their accent
TheRealPezDog
Notable Contributor
1
Account Manager
First off, "Am I pronouncing your name right?" is an excellent cold call ice breaker....

Secondly,ย 

Fight through it.ย  I have several clients who were very hard to understand at first but in the subsequent meetings over the months and years it does become easier and your comprehension goes up to nearly 100%.ย  It is not rude to ask someone to slow down, repeat what they said for clarification, or even ask them to spell out the word you are having trouble understanding.ย 
JuicyKlay
Politicker
0
AM
I use studio headphones which help and if I canโ€™t understand them, I say my reception or service is bad and ask them kindly to repeat themselves.ย 
softwaresails
Politicker
0
Sales Manager
Eliminate other distractions when you are having these conversations.ย 

If you are sitting near coworkers, go take over a conference room.ย 

If you have the tv on or are listening to music, shut it off.ย 

Unfortunately there is only so much you can do but you need to make sure you are doing what you can.ย 
Beefany28
Politicker
0
Account Executive
Do the best you can, maybe have someone else reach out next time. If a language barrier is the issue, then maybe someone you work with speaks the language...it's a tough one tho, mainly be nice, and agree.
CoastLife
Good Citizen
0
Large Enterprise Sales
Try getting your ear accustomed to people whose first language is not English. Listen to podcasts,watch TV, talk to coworkers etc. It is much easier for you to try and understand vs someone to speak perfect English.
TheFemaleWolf
Opinionated
0
Director of Sales
Living in Miami this happens a lot in native Spanish or Portuguese speakers communicating in English. It's so hard. We have to hire bilingual sales reps for this reason because we'd miss 50%+ prospects and deals because of tough communication.ย 

For me? If I don't have the ability to speak their language I'll put an email together or send a thoughtful linkedin message, because that's really my only option.ย 
Justatitle
Politicker
0
Mid Market AE
Super awkward situation as you allude however the prospect understands the language barrier most of the time and provided you donโ€™t get annoyed repeating yourself or saying sorry I didnโ€™t catch that it usually is okย 
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