The Tone of Voice is Everything

The Tone of Voice is Everything

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The Tone of Voice is Everything

Excellent tone, backed by confidence, improves conversations with customers.

At my first call center job, I learned the ropes and learned the most that I could from my trainers, team leaders, mentors, and neighbors.

I recall listening to my colleague who sat in front of me. She sounded professional and had a particular knack for handling every sort of call.

I paid attention to how she timed herself while on calls, the way she would engage a distracted caller, i.e., call control, and how she would tactfully de-escalate challenging calls.

But my co-worker would say the most darned things to callers, which would leave me scratching my head. Yet as this was my first call center job I thought I could use the things she did.

My instinct was right: which I found out the hard way.

One day I decided to use what I learned. A caller calls in and I do my greeting and ask for her identification number. She doesn’t have it, so I ask for the Social Security number. But she gives it to me so fast that I could catch just the first two numbers.

I’ve heard my colleague say the following exact phrase before for a similar situation. Namely “Ma’am I’m sorry, but since that’s not my social could you please repeat it a bit slower so I could bring it up to your case?”

So I decided to use it. And guess what happened next? The caller started screaming for a supervisor.

“10% of Conflicts is due to a difference in opinion. 90% is due to wrong tone of voice.” —Ritu Ghatourey

I didn’t lose my job and was thankful. But as I reflected on the situation, I recalled that I felt sleepy since this was my first call for the day, and I started scratching my head.

Right Tone, Right Language

What did I do so differently? Why didn’t I achieve the same results?

That was the last time I decided to practice what I learned from my colleague.

Then one day, a caller reached her line and started talking. She let the caller speak. Then when she stopped, she gently said “Ma’am this is not the vent line, but I can help you with your plan selection if that’s what you need?”

My colleague didn’t get into trouble. No escalation to a supervisor or anything.

It seems that my employer would do quality assurance to her calls, but she would never go through any form of disciplinary process, and this had made me feel that it was okay to do these things. I realized I should have trusted myself and not picked up on following through with how she treated callers.

Then I understood that it wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. It was her gentle tone; she could get away with telling tennis great John McEnroe that he fouled when he didn’t, and he wouldn’t know how to react.

My co-worker was capable of delivering bad news or using sarcasm on the phone. She had over 20 years of experience in customer service and working in call centers.

She had a certain knack to her delivery of information; she placed things in almost a poetic tone where her words would mean something totally different.

Now I must say that saying something out of line to a caller is completely inappropriate, and I learned that lesson.

But don’t try to use the right tone to cover inappropriate language. You might not be able to get away with it. Instead, have both the proper tone and wording.

Improving the Tone

I teach trainees how tone is vital on a call and even more than the words you use. The tone of voice constitutes 70% of the communication, while the words we use on the call constitute 30%. A Yale study in 2017 determined that our tone of voice conveys our emotions to the listener.

Here are a few elements that can help improve the tone of voice while taking calls:

  • Pitch. Not too high or too low, and not in the middle. It must regulate between the upper and lower ends to display energy and build trust
  • Pace. At a comfortable level. If it’s too slow you may put your caller to sleep. If it’s too fast you may make the caller feel rushed. Pace helps to build energy and allows your caller to understand information
  • Volume. Can’t be too soft where your caller has to strain to listen to you whispering in their ear, and not too loud where it comes off that you’re yelling at the caller
  • Emphasis. What is communicated can be changed, based on the focus on certain words. Add stress on what you can do versus what you can’t
  • Pause. Effective pausing helps your caller understand the information in small chunks before moving on to the next piece of information

A study done by Michigan University, called Persuasive speech: The way we, um, talk sways our listeners, discovered the following:

  • At a rate of about 3.5 words per second, people who speak moderately fast were much more successful at getting people to agree with performing a task, versus someone who spoke very fast or very slowly
  • They also found that people who engaged in frequent short pauses were more successful than those who didn’t pause

Right Mindset Key

However, for our tone to positively impact a call, our mindset must be positive with a genuine desire to help our caller’s needs, which to me is the golden rule to improve our tone of voice when interacting with a customer, whether this interaction is over the phone, in-person, email, chat, etc.

If our words, tone, and mindset are out of sync, I feel a caller can recognize that over the phone.

If our words, tone, and mindset are out of sync, I feel a caller can recognize that over the phone.

Moreover, I feel it’s not just the tone of voice that counts, but a few other factors, such as posture and confidence, that shape how you communicate with others. Even when you cannot see them.

Have you ever apologized for doing something or apologized about a situation, but you thought they deserved it in your mind?

Did you pay attention to your tone and body language, and do you feel the other person believed you?

Reflecting on my earlier mentioned experience, I realized that though what I said was wrong. I believe that way I felt and how I said it negatively impacted the caller, which resulted in the call being escalated.

Further, my colleague had a calm, gentle, welcoming, and strong demeanor when she spoke. She was never slumped over or distracted. Her callers received her full attention. She didn’t allow the baggage from a previous challenging call to impact the next call.

I feel the tone of voice training is crucial for the overall success of call/contact centers, and a genuine smile can be communicated to our callers.

I remember distributing small mirrors to our agents, which helped them to be mindful of the expressions, body language, and attitude they communicated to their callers.

I noticed that this significantly helped agents who got irritated with angry callers. I asked them to change their posture, to sit upright, and be attentive to their caller.

The agents started noticing a gradual change in the way they perceived the situations and callers, which, in turn, improved their ability to assist callers and de-escalate the matters. Which ultimately enabled them to provide excellent service to customers.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira is a Trainer and On-Site Supervisor at Briljent LLC. He is a Certified Professional Trainer (CPT), Certified Customer Service Professional (CCSP), and Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (MCCT). Mark is a learning leader who applies what he learns to continuously add value to his team while also implementing proven teaching methods to improve retention while taking calls, effective coaching, engaging agents for increased productivity, and leading with empathy. Mark has a bachelor's degree in Commerce (B.Comm.), and currently lives in Indianapolis, Ind.

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