When communicating in person, we use much more than just our words — body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and of course, tone of voice. In fact, the majority of human communication is comprised of non-verbal engagement.
Even with phone communication, tone of voice is powerful and can influence a customer’s perception of your brand. Just think: you can tell if someone sounds bored, unenthusiastic, or even hostile from their tone of voice.
That’s why tone of voice is an important area of practice for call centers. Here we’ll run through how tone of voice affects customer interactions, best call center practices, the 7-38-55 rule, and everything else your call center management team needs to know on this subject.
Why Tone of Voice Matters in Customer Service
Customers are human beings and like everyone else, they have emotional awareness. This goes for phone communication as well as online communication through live chat or social media. But these interactions don’t get easier just because they can’t see you – in fact, it can be more challenging for agents to establish a positive interaction for this very reason.
UCLA professor and expert in psychology Albert Mehrabian discovered the key elements of communication through his 7-38-55 rule. He found that communication comprises three elements: words, tone of voice, and body language. Surprisingly, words make up only 7% of communication. Tone of voice makes up 38% of communication, and body language makes up 55%.
Now, we know that call center communication doesn’t include body language. But removing that substantial 55% of communication leaves us with an immense focus on tone of voice. That means that tone of voice can make or break a customer experience!
Expert voice coach Maria Pellicano found that 28% of call center agents’ tones of voice sound “strained and tired.” Of the call center agents that participated in the study, 38% admitted that speaking on the telephone was “tiring.”
28% of call center agents’ tones of voice sound “strained and tired.”
Tone of voice plays an important role in customer experience and loyalty. So, all call center customer support strategies should include standards for tone of voice. Here are some specific reasons why:
Call center agents are called “representatives” for a reason. Customer interactions with agents dictate a customer’s perception of your brand. Your call center’s tone of voice should reflect your brand values and be nuanced with individual customer profiles and the situation at hand.
A personable, friendly tone builds trust and improves your company’s relationship with your customers. Many customers communicate with call centers to settle inquiries with large, corporate brands. A human, friendly tone of voice helps customers feel at ease and trust that you want to genuinely help them.
With trust in place, your customers will be more open and honest about their challenges and have more patience as your agent searches for a solution. It can also help frustrated and angry customers feel calmer.
Improving customer satisfaction.
As mentioned above, a call center agent’s tone of voice can really impact a customer’s mood and perception of your brand. More positive customer interactions mean higher customer satisfaction, which leads to referrals and a higher net promoter score!
Best Practices for Tone of Voice
Let’s explore some best practices for tone of voice.
Match the customer’s tone.
An agent’s tone of voice should be polite and patient, no matter the situation. However, many agents rely on their professional “phone voice” that can feel out of place and make customers uneasy. For instance, if the customer is in a foul mood, responding in a high energy voice may come off as condescending.
Encourage agents to match the energy of the customer on the line and respond genuinely. If they adopt a more light-hearted, casual speaking voice, you can adjust your tone of voice slightly to make them more comfortable. Similarly, if a customer is a direct speaker and moves through the engagement swiftly, agents should take their lead and match their pace and tone to show you’re on the same wavelength.
COVID-19 sparked a new customer expectation around empathy, especially when dealing with contact centers. This isn’t just a soft skill you’re born with – it’s a skill that should be instilled in your team members through training and coaching.
For example, if a customer begins to vent, agents should allow them space to do so, then respond in a calm tone and validate their feelings before pursuing a solution. If a customer feels understood and heard, they’ll likely be more open to the solutions offered.
DID YOU KNOW?
Long call queues are one of the biggest causes of customer frustration. Call-back technology eliminated the need for hold time, so your agents can start their interactions off on a positive note!
Stay calm and in control.
Customers might be emotional or even angry when they connect with a representative. Call center agents must remain calm and professional throughout all interactions. It’s not just about representing the brand – it’s about keeping control and not letting emotions drive the conversation.
It can be tough to maintain composure when dealing with an irate customer, but there are many techniques your agents can use to stay in control of the conversation. Pause a few seconds before replying to a customer, don’t interrupt, and be sure to validate their frustrations before providing a solution.
Don’t use cliches.
Customers see right through clichés and platitudes. If you use lines that sound impersonal or overly scripted, the customer might not feel like the interaction is personalized. Agents should avoid generic lines like “we’re committed to your satisfaction,” in response to a complaint.
Instead, agents should be genuine and communicative about how they plan to address that customer’s complaint. Ensure your reps are not overly reliant on scripts, and encourage them to practice more conversational approaches when providing support.