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call center agent language tone

Above the Clouds

Call center agent language & tone

Travel is part of my job as a call center agent language and tone trainer with BPA Quality, and I’ve journeyed all over the place for many years. But don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with the clichés of the business traveler: upgrades, airline miles, hotel points, jet lag, ‘red eye’ flights, the obnoxious kid kicking the back of the seat….blah, blah, blah and yawn.

The truth is – at the end of a long assignment spent mostly on my feet – all I need from an airline is a flight that guarantees to get me where I most want to be (home!), in the quickest way possible. Luckily I’m quite small, so even the most meager economy seats can usually accommodate me without too much discomfort. That, and my ability to fall asleep the moment I hear a jet-engine start-up, usually ensures a palliative experience.

Given all that, I’m sure you’ve realized that I’m not particularly tolerant of fellow travelers in adjacent seats who seem hell-bent on preventing me from gently snoring. And, my goodness, I’ve had experience of all of them on one flight or another.

However, there are exceptions, and my companion on a flight back from Phoenix a few weeks ago was one of them. For a start, he was reading a real book. When was the last time anyone read a real book on a flight? Secondly, he was eating a bit of cake with frosting in a dainty napkin. “From my wife and daughter,” he explained, showing me a little card that had ‘Daddy’ written on it in crayon, “It’s my birthday”.

Well, having demonstrated both his intelligence and humanity, it was kind of easy to have a conversation, and naturally, it turned to what we did for a living. It turns out that he’s a quality control scientist with a plastics engineering firm (I think that’s correct), so we weren’t able to get much further with that. But when he found out that I trained customer service agents, he was anxious to share some of his own experiences of ‘customer service’ with me.

Apparently, he’d just tried to book an air miles flight with his preferred airline, and after a good start with (let’s call her) ‘Stacey,’ he’d had a less than impressive follow-up call with (let’s call her) ‘Donna.’  I’m not going to tell you how Stacey and Donna got the dates mixed up, and the consequences in terms of costs of upgrades/hotels/car hire and general inconvenience, because occasionally such things happen. And, as you know, it’s not always possible to get to the bottom of these matters and allocate blame like a teacher giving bad marks for wrong spellings.

Anyway, like most situations like this, the matter was resolved after a manager’s intervention and some intensity on the part of my new friend. No doubt, there were also a few ruffled feathers on the part of Stacey and Donna and the manager too.

No. What was interesting here was that this was a perfect example of how telephone language & tone – two things I teach as a trainer for BPA Quality – can immediately influence customer behavior.

So after listening to his long tale of woe, I asked, “At what point did you lose it? What was the final straw?” and he told me it was when Donna had bluntly told him that “Stacey wouldn’t have told you that” as a firm rebuttal to something he said. To him, it was tantamount to calling him a liar, and he had exploded with anger. Seeing my expressionless face he proceeded to add other crimes to Donna’s inadequacies up to that point: “She was dismissive,” “She didn’t give a XXXX,” etc, etc.

Now, this situation was always likely to need a higher power to solve it (in this case Donna’s manager). But a great deal of unpleasantness and bad feeling could have been avoided, if Donna had simply:

  1. Used less confrontational language
  2. Adopted a more personable ‘tonal’ demeanor

Donna probably didn’t even know what had caused the sudden outburst from the customer, and as a BPA Quality trainer, I see this time and again.

Even when the language issue is staring training groups in the face, they don’t always get it. For instance, I used Donna as an example recently, and found some quite sensible members of the group defending her choice of words as ‘not offensive’!

My approach here is to put the group in a hypothetical, similar situation and ask them to rate the interaction using a scale from 1-10, negative to positive, and this usually works well in gaining consensus with a training group.

“So what would you have done?” asked my new friend. “Possibly the same as you,” I reassured him. “My job is to prevent such scenes before they occur. I really can’t do much when they’ve already been provoked!”

By Yvette Renda, VP of Training Excellence at BPA Quality

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