How Tone of Voice Affects Customer Service

Customer Service | 5 minute read

As the old saying goes: “you can hear a smile through the phone.” It may be a bit cheesy, but it’s true. Studies have proven that tone of voice in customer service is even more important to a successful interaction than the specific words that are being said, and that an agent’s energy will translate to their customer even without face-to-face interaction.

University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, conducted a study which found that when it comes to communication, 7% of meaning is interpreted from the words used, 38% from tone of voice, and 55% from accompanying body language. The 7-38-55 rule indicates that the way in which words are communicated holds more significance than the words themselves.

What does tone of voice refer to?

We know that tone of voice in support and customer service makes a difference, but what exactly do we mean when we refer to “tone of voice”?

The term is used to describe how a voice literally sounds while speaking. People can pick up on each other’s emotions because of the tone they’re using. If someone tells you to “have a nice day,” but in a tone that sounds agitated, you’ll likely leave the interaction with the impression that that person is upset and doesn’t actually want you to have a nice day.
One study found that #communication is interpreted using different percentages of 3 factors: 7% of meaning is taken from the words being used, 38% from tone of voice, and 55% from body language. #callcenter #agentinteractions Click To Tweet

How does tone of voice improve call center metrics?

When considering the 7-38-55 rule in the context of a call center, it’s important to remember that body language, the most essential piece in the communication puzzle, is missing from agent interactions. Because phone calls rely solely on the spoken word, the tone an agent is using becomes that much more imperative to creating a positive customer support experience.

There are a few ways tone of voice can improve customer service and positively impact call center metrics:

  • It develops brand loyalty and conveys the values of your company, securing the right type of customers.
  • It builds trust between callers and agents, leading to satisfied customers who are likely to recommend the service to others.
  • It leads to positive interactions that boost agent self-esteem, ultimately encouraging future employee growth and success.

Assisting agents on tone of voice.

The best way to ensure call center agents convey positivity to customers is to keep their work environment positive. Happy customers start with happy agents, after all. If agents feel tired and burnt out, that will most likely come across in their interactions, leaving customers with a negative impression of the brand.

Start by ensuring that agents have the technology they need to get the job done as efficiently as possible. Tools like Voice Call-Backs and Web Call-Backs (formerly Visual IVR) help to reduce call spikes and take pressure off the agents to get through as many calls as possible, creating space for longer and more authentic customer interactions.

Top 3 methods for training tone of voice.

It’s essential for call center managers to take tone of voice into consideration when developing an agent training program. Although some of us were born with top-tier communication skills, many of us have to work at it.

Building tone-of-voice training into a new hire’s onboarding plan is an excellent way to ensure success in the long-term—they’ll be able to help a customer to feel heard, know how to deescalate situations and communicate in an authentic way.

Here are 3 tips on how to train tone of voice to call center agents:

1. Be a brand-voice champion.

Communicate what your brand stands for throughout the training process. How should customers feel when speaking with agents? What are some key phrases you’d like agents to use that reflect the brand’s values and culture?

These questions will help narrow down specific verbiage agents can fall back on if they’re unsure how to handle a situation and make them feel more confident that they can resolve even the more challenging calls.

2. Encourage empathy.

Arming agents with active listening skills can be incredibly helpful when it comes to keeping customers calm and building trust. Terms like “If I’m understanding correctly, you’re saying…”, “I see, please go on”, and “I understand how that could be frustrating” are all ways agents can express empathy for a customer’s situation and show customers that they really want to help them resolve their issues.

3. Make mirroring a part of training.

Proper energy mirroring is vital when it comes to ensuring that customers feel understood. Set up role playing activities to help teach agents how to mirror. The employee playing the customer should be given scripts with different scenarios and distinct emotional reactions.

Have the agent learn how to interact in a way that mirrors the tone of the customer. If a frustrated customer is agitated, ensure the agent calmly expresses that they understand the frustration in a tone that isn’t overly positive, so as not to further agitate the customer.

In another scenario, you may have the customer express excitement over connecting a new service, in which case the agent should be encouraged to mirror that excitement back to the customer with a positive tone and bubbly disposition.


According to the 2021 Customer Experience Trends report by Zendesk, 66% of customers say they’re more loyal to companies that demonstrate empathy and understanding when a customer has a problem.

Don’t forget your online channels.

Mirroring in the social media space and online text chats is also very important. If a message is received that reads as stressed and frustrated, it’s essential that the reply the customer is sent matches that energy. Empathy phrases like: “I understand your frustration” are a key component of empathetic text replies.

Communicating every step of the solution during a live chat can also help to calm a frustrated customer. Before any action is taken, it should be precisely communicated so the customer is in the know about what’s happening. Typing things like “I’m currently accessing your account to see where the error is. This should take me approximately 2 minutes”, ensures the customer knows exactly what to expect, which builds trust in the service they’re receiving.

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