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It’s all in the voice

What makes a customer really listen? There’s a lot more to it than people think, certainly more than just good articulation, though obviously that’s hugely important.

The volume needs to be appropriate so the caller can hear the information, but we’re not deafening them! Pitch and tone should encourage engagement. We always say that if you smile when you’re talking, the caller won’t be able to see that, but they will be able to hear it in the positivity of an agent’s voice. There also needs to be a degree of energy in the voice so there is liveliness and enthusiasm in the conversation.

We also teach something called mirroring - adapting your style of speech to suit the mood and energy of the caller so they feel comfortable talking to you.

Obviously you don’t want to sound monotonous and robotic – that’s just dull – but equally being too sing-songy can come across as patronising or insincere. And mumbling or speaking too quietly just creates the impression that you lack confidence in the information you’re providing.

There will always be times when agents need a voice that’s confident, strong and can deliver firm instructions to a caller, particularly if the information being provided is not necessarily in agreement with the caller. You have to balance an assertive tone with friendliness. Sound too timid or submissive, and that suggests you’re anticipating a negative reaction – and then you might get one…

Getting the pacing just right

Speed also plays a part. We’d expect agents to talk more slowly when dealing with callers who may be struggling to hear, or those who don't speak English as their first language, to ensure the caller is getting all the information and has time to digest it. Dealing with sensitive calls such as death notifications or discussion of personal matters such as illness, bereavement and financial difficulties would be the same, but you have to be mindful that speaking too slowly can sound condescending.

Genuinely caring has its own sound

Sincerity is so important when dealing with all customers; the manner we adopt and the words we use need to be meaningful and genuine. We encourage the agents to really think about the caller’s situation with their 'human' head on first. Be a person before you are a professional with a job to do.

Accents can be useful in creating rapport or adding a personal touch to a call, particularly if the agent and caller are from the same region – and I think these days we’re more used to hearing a range of accents in our normal day-to-day lives, so hearing them in a call centre becomes an extension of the norms we experience in the outside world

Finding your own voice

All these scenarios can be so unique. The voice, tone and delivery used in our responses need to be driven by the tone and manner of the caller rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. We need agents to genuinely care first, and this will then be naturally reflected in their voice.

But, after years of listening to agents speak, I know they can definitely be made aware of the power they have in their voice, and its ability to influence a conversation and create the right perceptions. It’s surprising how simple modifications can make a real difference to the tone of a call. The voice is powerful tool, and using it well is a real skill.

Photo of Samantha Campbell

Samantha Campbell

Customer services manager, Capita Customer Management

Sam has operational day-to-day responsibility for the inbound and outbound customer service delivered from our front line call handling staff, ensuring that the brand characteristics and reputation of our various clients are upheld and enhanced, SLAs are met and the information supplied is fully compliant within FCA guidelines/rules. Sam joined Capita in 2006 as a trained underwriter and having previously held various management positions. She has been managing the contact centre experience for multiple Capita contracts for the last 10 years.

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