7 Best tips for phone banks: politics, non-profs, customer service

Phone banks–large group of people calling through your list with a call to action of some sort–are really effective. They work for Get Out the Vote efforts for candidates; dialing for dollars for non-profits; or even for small businesses doing a customer service survey or other activity. Better than social media, better than mail. Not quite as good as in-person (really hard to tell someone know when they ask you to do something face-to-face). Very effective. Especially in the age of email, text and social media where we communicate, but not really.

But they need to be done well.

  1. Write a script. But write like people talk. “Hi, my name is Alison, a volunteer with x. How are you tonight?”. Breathe. (Yes, write “breathe/space” in the script). “Is Juana available?” Wait for response.
  2. Create natural spacing gaps so  the caller can make the call more natural conversation and not just reading the script. I’ve conducted many a phone bank and wait patiently for the poor soul who has to read the entire thing. I listen to them because they have a job to do (paid or volunteer, it’s still not easy work and people are nasty). But geez, let me get in edge wise–hey I work for that company, really I already gave at the office.
  3. TRAIN THE PHONE BANKER. Whether you are asking for people to vote, or to donate to a cause or as a business seeking input from customers, make sure the people making the calls are equipped to not read the script in a monotone. They have to make it conversational. And talk naturally. If they have to read the script line by line, make sure they can do so where it sounds real not read.
  4. Make information about frequently asked questions available and assure your call team are able to answer questions, at least some simple ones.
  5. Be sure the script indicates the approximate length of call and purpose. “Not calling for a donation [unless of course you are], just want to give you information about the election (or ask your opinion about company xyz). This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”
  6. Track the type of call–you should have a mechanism to know if it’s the wrong number, the party moved or died (happens and is creepy=prep the caller on what to say!). Mark if there is a language barrier, if the number is disconnected, if the recipient even likes your company or not. Ideally you’ll respect the “do-not-call” and have a list management system. Even customers you have had for years may just hate phone calls at home they aren’t expecting; doesn’t mean they don’t want to be a customer, they just don’t want to be called at home. Find another way to connect with them. And don’t call them the next time. Scores a lot of points.
  7. Use staff/volunteers who can smile while making the call. Makes a difference and can generate the right tone and approach to reaching your voter/donor/client and getting them to take that call of action whether it’s voting, giving, or sharing.

Calling people to ask them to do something works. And well. But be very careful about the reason you do a phone bank: GOTV comes with every election; donations may or may not work via phone; surveys can be done other ways. It’s worse to do a bad phone bank and not get good results than it is to try another communication tactic. Know your audience. And train your peeps. And when someone calls you for a market survey or a phone bank–recognize they are just doing a job and don’t take your frustrations out on them. Makes for better experiences all the way around.

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