BPA Featured Article

Agents' Tone Can Matter to Call Quality

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor
February 22, 2017

We know that tone of voice – one of the only ways to communicate outside of words over the telephone, since body language isn’t available – carries great meaning. In customer support, imagine that a customer spends a long time on the phone with an agent and then realizes he still has a question. He might call back and ask for the same agent, who might respond with: “You’ve called back again?” in a teasing tone. Alternatively, she might utter the same words, this time in a sarcastic tone. The former comes across as playful and friendly, but the latter could anger the customer and make him feel embarrassed and angry. Tone matters, and machine methods of quality monitoring won’t be as good as a human ear for monitoring tone for a long, long time…if ever.

For this reason, human methods of listening to calls, often by managers, are still appropriate to ensure that agents are getting their tone right. The way we say something is at least as important as what we’re saying in any type of conversation. Where managers can’t listen to more than a few calls a month (or a quarter), more regular human monitoring may be required. Third-party remote call monitoring services can listen to calls, measure tone and benchmark the calls against any number of quality metrics.

Tone aside, call monitoring services can ensure that the tone is right in cultural aspects, as well, particularly if your organization is serving international customers, according to a recent blog post by BPA Quality’s Helen Beaumont Manahan.

“Avoiding the use of language-specific figures of speech as fillers rather than making meaningful statements, and having a sound understanding of culture-specific etiquette are both key elements for success in soft skills,” she wrote. “A prime example: whereas U.S. and European customers might expect agents to express empathy for their situation at the opening of the conversation, in some Asian cultures, displaying unsolicited empathy is not appropriate, and monitoring should take account of these differences.”

While it’s the contact center’s job to set the right tone with customers, and the agent’s job to uphold the tone, it’s not an easy task to ensure that the right tone is being maintained and recommended rules are being followed to ensure the correct language, setting and tone are being followed. Manahan noted that calibration can help with this task.

“Establishing appropriate tone for agents regardless of language and method of contact is best achieved by frequent calibration sessions, taking all of the above considerations into account,” she wrote. “Calibrations should take place on a regular basis with key project stakeholders, ideally using sample interactions across all languages and channels in which the project is delivered.”

Of course, phone calls aren’t the only place you need to be setting the right “tone.” Word choices, language usage and grammar in emails or Web chats are also critical to communicate the right message to customers, so these media should also be monitored regularly and calibrated to ensure consistent quality. 

Edited by Alicia Young