Coaching for Vocal Performance – Improving “How” to Say It
By Penny Reynolds
You may worry quite a bit about what your frontline agents are saying to customers. Many call centers provide scripts for calls to ensure just the right wording and then monitor calls to check for accuracy and compliance. While what you say is important, it may not be as important as the other part of the conversation – how you say it. Studies show that often the biggest part of the image left with the customer may be from the vocal impact – the way in which words are said, and the tone, pitch, and pace of the call.
As a coach, try these tips to improve your vocal messages and help your staff become better communicators.
Tip 1: Record your voice.
All your agents should know how they sound to others. If you have a quality monitoring system in place, it’s pretty easy to provide recordings back to your staff. If no sophisticated system is in place, simply use a voice recorder.
Have each agent do a voice self-assessment and then put them in groups of three or four to point out each other’s strengths and opportunities for improvement. A voice doesn’t have to be radio announcer perfect, but simply pleasant to listen to, easily understood, and free from distracting elements. Have each person make a list of strengths and areas for improvement and be aware of these on every call.
Tip 2: Smile.
A voice has the amazing power to convey a full range of emotions. A smile on your face puts a smile in your voice and provides instant warmth. It can also increase energy level, generate enthusiasm, and instill trust and confidence.
Coach for cheerfulness and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm words such as “sure,” “absolutely,” and “certainly” convey a helpful attitude, but they’re not as powerful without an enthusiastic tone of voice. Some coaches suggest agents use a mirror to make agents more aware of an actual smile so they sound like they’re actually happy to hear from the customer.
3. Use positive voice tones.
Customers form an impression of the agent and the company simply by the tone of voice used. Voice tone is immediate and often registered unconsciously. Negative voice tones sound cold, bored, angry, snooty, and disinterested. Positive voice tones sound caring, warm, friendly, enthusiastic, and energetic. The initial greeting with the customer could be all it takes to register a negative or positive tone of voice. Even if the scripted words are right, a negative voice tone will get a conversation off to the wrong start.
As a coach, you might have a small group of agents practice saying the same sentence, “Thank you for calling our service department. I’d be delighted to help you with the return” with each of the following voice tones:
A flat voice tone may indicate a lack of interest in the job. An indifferent voice tone may indicate that the agent is not interested in the caller or conversation. A cold voice tone could be interpreted as hostile. An enthusiastic or caring voice tone, on the other hand, shows the agent is interested in the caller, and that the agent is anxious to help.
Tip 4: Avoid distracting vocalisms.
Distracting elements are non-words or annoying mannerisms that creep into our speech. Most of the time these mannerisms are unconscious, contagious (we can “catch” them from others!), habitual, but most importantly, they are curable. But what are these mannerisms? Are your agents unknowingly or consciously using any of the following?
- You know
All of the above phrases are considered distracting elements since they are not needed to convey a message, and may “muddy up” the message. If they’re not needed, then why do we use them? In most cases, we use these phrases as “fillers” when we don’t know what to say, or if there is a break in the flow of the conversation. One way to help eliminate these phrases is to replace the annoying phrases with a quick breath or a 1-2 second pause. By using a breath or a pause, it allows your customer to absorb what was said, prevents “over-talking,” and enhances listening.
Tip 5: Perform vocal warm-ups.
To be fine-tuned, a voice needs to be warmed up just like any other instrument. A daily vocal warm-up can improve voice health and prevent speech muscles from becoming weak and flabby. Sounds like an exercise program, right? It is! Vocal warm-ups can help eliminate morning hoarseness, improve the clarity of speech, and help make voices more rich and resonant.
Vocal warm-ups can be as simple as reading a series of “Mother Goose” rhymes but should also include difficult consonant and vowel sounds. The book Speak to Influence by Susan Berkeley of The Great Voice Company contains a collection of effective vocal warm-ups to prepare voices for the day.
Even though the words we use are the most obvious part of communicating effectively, the nonverbal aspects of speaking are also very important for building rapport. As a coach, it’s important to help agents understand that communicating effectively is not just about what you say. It is also about how you say it. These five tips may help identify some areas where you can assist agents in making some vocal changes to create a positive impact on every call. n
Penny Reynolds co-founded The Call Center School and has written numerous books and over 100 articles related to call center performance and training. A semi-retired consultant, Penny provides training programs and serves as an Educational Advisor for QATC and SWPP. She can be reached at 615-812-8410 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.