Improving Tone. Improving Customer Experience.

By Amy Skelley and Cendie Stanford

Customer service is like good music, you know it when you hear it.  

It can be frustrating, as a customer, to spend your precious time calling a company for assistance and then hearing the monotone, robotic voice of a customer service representative that doesn’t appear to be happy taking the call. You immediately cringe and wonder if this person will go above and beyond to help resolve your problem. When a customer service agent comes across disengaged or uninterested, the person on the other end can usually sense this within a matter of seconds. 

“Hi Mr. Johnson, my name is Cindy. How can I help you today?” This opening is off to a great start, just like the start of a new song you might hear. This type of greeting, coupled with a caring tone, immediately sets a customer’s mind at ease. It’s almost as if the caller can feel the customer service agent smiling on the other end. Regardless of the outcome, this is the type of interaction customers expect when calling a company for support.

Customer service is not about the words that are being spoken, it is all about tone.  You can use a customer’s name and apologize repeatedly, but if there isn’t sincerity in your voice, your caller will not have confidence that you will resolve their problem. Additionally, scripts are great for solving universal issues, but many scripts come across as inauthentic and usually make matters worse. 

How do you get your employees to have the tone that will come across sincerely?  

First, you hire the right people. As companies compete for the best talent, more attention should be placed during the actual interview. Since customer service agents are usually entry level positions, many companies will scramble to fill positions based on availability, prior experience, or salary requirements instead of focusing on the one tell-all that the person is right for the role: their tone.

If a candidate sounds robotic, even when you are casually conversing with them, chances are they will sound robotic when they are on the phone conversing with your customers.  So, LISTENING at how the person comes across during interviews is crucial, if not just as important as their experience or credentials. 

This Call Will Be Monitored or Recorded for Quality Assurance

How familiar does that sound? If you have an employee that could improve their tone during customer calls, here are a few proven strategies you could try.  First, you’ll need to make sure your employee understands why tone matters and that they are willing to work to improve their tone. Being able to effectively articulate to your employees why tone matters should create a lasting impression on how the employee performs in your absence. 

Second, you will need to have examples of good tone for your employee to listen to and this is why many companies use monitoring and recording for training purposes. Many office phone systems include features that allow you to record incoming calls, so by utilizing this feature, you instantly create in-house training opportunities for current employees. 

If your employee says they are willing to try, then share with them examples of good tone.  Let them listen and share with you what was effective about the tone observed and how they intend to implement what they learned. You will need to listen for them to exhibit the behavior that you are looking for and give them the opportunity to improve. This is your best case scenario. 

There are a few cases, however, where an employee might say, “This is how I sound, I’ve always sounded like this.” If this happens to be that employees’ own truth, it’s important that they know that the best customer service agents thrive when their communication skills are on point. Explain to the employee that their tone needs to have inflection and sincerity to help them be successful.  Because you are asking them to change a part of themselves, they may take this feedback personally.  You will want to assure them that this is a coaching opportunity just like any other opportunity and that you will provide them with tools to help them improve.

Different Strokes for Different Folks 

In some situations, you may run across an employee that does well with their tone in casual conversations, but still struggle with customer service calls. If this is the case, try and identify if the employee needs more training with addressing difficult conversations.  

If you determine it is a matter of poor tone, provide the employee with different styles of outstanding tone. Let them decide what they are comfortable with and what they would like to emulate.  If possible, have them sit with an employee with excellent tone.  If they can hear the interaction with the customer and how the customer responds to the employee with excellent tone, it can help sell the need for improvement.  Record the employee so that they can hear how they sound, especially while expressing empathy (i.e. I’m sorry to hear you are having that trouble or I apologize for the confusion). Consistent reinforcement, observation, and feedback is crucial.

As we all know, habits are hard to break, so if the employee continues to struggle in this area after multiple coaching attempts, identify other roles within your company that align to their strengths.

Keep in mind, positive tone is key to strong customer interactions and satisfied customers.


What tips on tone can you share with the world? Send us a message!

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