What to Say When You Can't Hear Someone on the Phone

Have you ever had an experience where you simply can’t hear a caller? What do you say when you can’t hear someone on the phone?

We’ve all had experiences where we find it difficult to understand what the other person on the phone call is saying. Receptionists are no exceptions to this and Abby’s professional receptionists have become well-accustomed to politely and efficiently asking a caller to speak up or letting them know when we didn’t understand.

Whether the line isn’t clear on a mobile call, the caller speaks softly, or the caller is in a loud environment, there are many reasons for having to ask someone to speak up on the phone. It can be hard to determine when you should interrupt and how you should approach communicating that you can’t hear them. If you don’t say anything, you can’t help them. This is why it’s important to what to say when you can’t hear someone on the phone that is both polite and effective!

Even when you are paying full attention to what the customer is saying, factors out of your control can make it hard for you to hear them. Here are a few ways you can urge the caller to speak up.

1) What to Say When You Can’t Hear Someone on the Phone

Before addressing the issue with the caller, make sure your phone and equipment is in working order. There’s a chance the problem is with your Bluetooth or headset, or the audio jack isn’t working. And you don’t want to address a problem with your caller until you’re sure it isn’t with your equipment. We recommend making a test call at the beginning of every shift, or before you start receiving calls for the day, to make sure that all your equipment is working properly.

If everything is working as expected, urge the caller to speak up in an indirect manner. You don’t want to ask them directly to speak loudly. It’s important that your callers don’t feel like you’re blaming them for any miscommunications. Instead, use “I” phrases.  Apologize and let them know that you aren’t able to hear them properly.

Here are a few things you can say when you can’t hear someone over the phone:

Do not say: Can you speak up?

Say: I apologize, I am having slight difficulties hearing you OR I’m sorry, our connection is a bit muffled. 

Do not say: Maybe there is something wrong with your telephone.

Say: Would you mind saying that one more time please?

2) What to Say When English is a Second Language

Sometimes your callers will be attempting to communicate in their non-primary language. This can be difficult or frustrating for them so it’s really important that you are patient and helpful and, most importantly, don’t get frustrated yourself. If you sense that there are some language barriers, speak deliberately and directly in a helpful, calm tone. Take your time and listen carefully, and repeat back what you’ve heard for confirmation.

It’s important to avoid confusion on both ends when there may be language barriers. You can also offer to follow up by email directly after the call, as written communications can be easier to translate.

Say: Before we make that update, I want to confirm that you wanted {whatever they needed done}. Does that sound right?

Say: Did we get everything you needed? I’d be happy to follow up next week by phone or email, which do you prefer?

3) What to Say When You Can’t Understand a Caller’s Accent

English is spoken by many people with a wide variety of accents. When you can’t understand someone over the phone because they have a different accent than you’re used to, it’s important to prioritize clarity. Once again, being polite is key. To ensure you’re not frustrating your caller, and to ensure accuracy, you can include confirmation statements throughout the conversation. It’s fine to ask for clarification, but it’s not okay to make it seem like any miscommunication is their fault.

Say: Great! Just to confirm you were hoping to {whatever they wanted to do}. Does that sound right? 

Say: Sorry, can you repeat that? I want to make sure I’m getting you what you need! 

4) What to Say When The Caller Speaks Softly

A soft voice + background noise can make it difficult to hear what a caller is saying. Many people have a naturally softer voice that can be harder to hear. You can prevent some of these problems by preventing background noise or distractions on your end. If you still can’t hear them, you can politely ask them to speak to repeat what they said. If it’s still hard to hear, you can also mention connection issues that may be making them more difficult to hear. If you can’t get over the sound hurdle, you can also move them to digital communications like email or even texting to get their issue resolved!

Pay attention to your own tone and pitch. Usually, shy callers will increase their volume the more comfortable they feel on the phone with you. 

If you need them to speak up, say something like this: 

I’m having trouble hearing you.. Would you mind saying that one more time?” OR “My ears aren’t working today. Would you mind saying that one more time?”

If you think the volume problem can’t be solved, you can attempt to shift to a digital communication channel.

Say: “I’m so sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you. Would you be willing to move this conversation to texting or email? I can send you a summary of what we’ve discussed so far.”


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5) What to Say to Refocus the Conversation

Sometimes callers can ramble or pause for long periods of time when they’ve gotten off-topic or distracted. This can cause confusion, stress, or move the conversation too far off-topic. In this case, you’ll want to politely recenter the conversation.

Don’t say things like “are you still there?” or “let’s get back on topic”. Try to avoid sounding frustrated or irritated. Instead:

Say: “Before we move on, I want to make sure we’ve solved your issue.” 

Say: “So sorry, I didn’t catch that!”

6) What to Say When You Still Can’t Hear Someone on the Phone

You’ve tried everything but interference, background noise, or volume is still a problem and you can’t understand your caller. When this happens, you have a couple of options.

You can

  • Offer to call back. Let your caller know you can’t hear them but you want to help. Offer to call them back immediately or at a set time in hopes of a better connection.
  • Offer an alternative. Offer to reach out to them via email or text for faster conversation.

Miscommunications or missed communications can be a big problem when it comes to phone calls. When things get frustrating, be sure to apologize to your callers, assure them that you care, and offer a follow-up. You want your callers to feel prioritized, especially when things get frustrating.

Partner with Abby Connect

Of course, answering your own phone isn’t always the most efficient or affordable choice! That’s where Abby Connect comes in. We’re a Human Receptionist Service powered by A.I.-technology, providing businesses like yours with high-quality, human customer service. Our advanced technology gives our receptionists superpowers so they can more effectively and efficiently answer, transfer, take messages, schedule appointments, and impress your callers. You get a dedicated receptionist team who get to know your business so it sounds like they’re sitting in your office, for a fraction of the price of a full-time hire.

See how it works!

Written by

Marlene Cosain

Marlene Cosain

Marlene started with Abby Connect 7 years ago as a receptionist and was won over by the culture and care the company has for its employees. The minute she took her first phone call, she fell in love with helping people. Since then, Marlene has been a pivotal piece of growing Abby Connect – having been a long-time leader in hiring, training, developing, and managing the receptionist floor. Outside of work, Marlene and her husband also run an online retail business. Marlene’s personal mission as a certified Life Coach and as an Abby Way Co-Director is to inspire, empower and educate others in the Abby Way.

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