Anatomy of a Good Call – Best practice… The Call



During their job interview your agents will have said that they are great communicators. You will have assessed their language skills, their ability to do the job technically, their levels of empathy and their general demeanour. You thought they were of a high standard (you did hire them, after all!), so now could be a good time to perform an audit?

We have outlined some of the most important elements of the call below, and industry expert Carolyn Blunt (Real Results Training) has agreed to add some coaching tips for us.

Tone of voice

Most of us will adjust our tone of voice during everyday personal conversations. When we talk to our managers, colleagues, grannies, children or even our pets, we will use a slightly different tone to match that of the other person.

What tone should your agents be looking for? Your customers are important and so your agents should be trying to match their tone of voice. This will create some level of empathy and will help the conversation/interaction.

At a base level, your agents should be reasonably confident and upbeat.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

Our tone of voice and how we articulate ourselves is so important. It represents your brand. But how we think we perform on a call can be very different from how we actually come across.

Have you ever listened to a recording of your own voice? Most of us have at some point, and more often than not we are surprised at how we sound. This is the most powerful way to learn how you really sound to others!

Carolyn Blunt

Coaching tip:
A scorecard will give a measured/consistent account of the agent’s performance. What it won’t do is give the real ‘feel’ of the call. Sitting side by side to listen and evaluate a few calls together every month is invaluable. It is important that they don’t feel bad or embarrassed so try to make them as comfortable as possible. Treat it as an opportunity to learn; remember you don’t have to be ill to get better! Having your agents so confident that they choose the calls they struggled with and want to review together is a sure sign that you’ve cracked it! Ensure you document the outcomes of coaching sessions and continue to encourage and support them daily when you hear them trying out what you discussed.

Listen carefully

This will sound obvious, but listening is still the most important skill of all. There is nothing worse than knowing that you aren’t really being listened to at the other end of call, chat or email. Your agents will have answered the same questions over and over, but they can’t afford to be complacent.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

Agents are generally under pressure to deal with customers and close the call as quickly as possible so as to open the next call ASAP. When the call centre is extra busy, agents will sometimes not pause for breath. This might look and sound like they are performing at an optimum level, but how is this speedy performance being perceived by the customer at the other end of the call? It also quickly fatigues your agents. The risk is that when an agent rushes a call, the customer will feel that they are not being listened to.

Coaching tip:
A rushed call will mean that the agent will not be able to listen carefully to the customer, and as a result they will miss clues and signals and won’t be able to personalise the call. Personalisation is important for a good customer experience.
Work with your resource planners and the agent to ensure that they take a brief pause between calls. This brief pause can be used to process any data from the previous call, or even just to take a breath! It pays off in the long run not to rush through calls, as this can cause errors, escalations and/or repeat call volume.

Speak at a normal speed

This is customer service… not sales. We are not trying to convince the caller to buy something, we are trying to help them with a problem. Their issue is important to them, they have taken the time to call… your agents should take the time to have the conversation with them. Speaking too fast can cause a sense of duress, and that could turn what would be a run-of-the-mill call into a complaint call.
Let’s not forget that when your agents are on a call they are relying on their listening and speaking voice alone. Speed is the obvious area to look at first, but don’t forget about accents and dialects.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

An experienced agent will adapt the speed at which they speak on a call to suit the customer. For example, a busy professional won’t want to hang around, but an elderly caller or someone who doesn’t have English as a first language may require a slower pace. However, even the most experienced agents can be prone to speed issues at the end of their shift, or at the end of their working week. This speed can occur as a result of the desire to finish a call when their shift is over or it can come from the excitement of an approaching weekend.

Coaching tip:
This tip is really directed towards the management team. Put simply, it’s about paying your agents back when they continue calls past the end of their shift. Most call centres use a system that measures the time that an agent is engaged on a call. This system is often seen in a negative light by agents and is essentially seen as ‘big brother’. Controlling and monitoring toilet breaks and talk time negatively is what gives call centres a bad name. Think about the culture you want to create. Are you supporting your agents to be happy and positive about their role?

If your agents work overtime ensure that the time is returned to them. This will change the perception of the IT system, the management team and will of course improve the culture in the call centre.

Use of language

Did you know that “55% of the meaning in our words is derived from facial expressions, whereas only 7% is in the actual words spoken”? (Albert Mehrabian). This helps to remind us of the importance of language when your agents aren’t face-to-face with your customers. A couple of tweaks to how your agents engage with your customers can make a big difference to the overall call/result.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

For most call centres, the pursuit to maintain a consistently high quality of call (with a high turnover of staff, often from different nationalities) means that certain call types, or at least parts of them, are given guidance with scripts. A loosely scripted call does have its merits; for example, it keeps things on track and negative language can be taken out of the call completely. However, in modern times, we don’t want to feel like ‘just another caller’. We want the agent to personalise the experience to suit us; and that rapport is vital in order to reach that top level of customer service.

Coaching tip:
You’ve trained your agents well… give them the freedom to be themselves. They should be encouraged to use appropriate humour, especially in live chat and social media interactions. Explaining to agents why you want them to feel like they can express themselves will promote a sense of trust between the management and the rest of the team. Help them understand what is appropriate and what isn’t by sharing examples and practising answers together.

Effective questioning

There are a few types of questions that are often used during your average call/email or chat. Open questions get the conversation started, probing questions enable the agent to get into the nitty-gritty of the issue. Closed questions have their place too… as long as that place is at the end.

Always start with open questions about the subject at hand. This will give you all the information you require to take the conversation further.

Open questions: Using closed questions at the start of a conversation will set the call off to a bad start and make getting the information a lot more painful. An open question will identify the issues quickly, while developing empathy. An open question begins with a Who/What/When/Where/Why/How and can’t be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I’d re-write that question to ‘When did the problem first start?’

Probing questions: This is the stage of the questioning which will allow you to delve deeper into the customer’s answers, finding out the reasons and emotions behind those answers.

Closed questions: Asking closed questions (i.e. questions which only allow a yes or no answer) allows you to confirm both your and the customer’s understanding of what has been discussed in that specific line of questioning. It will also show the customer that you have been listening!

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

Questioning is one of the most important skills in the agent’s arsenal. The agent would start off with a few detailed questions such as membership numbers, name, address etc.

‘Floodlight questions’ will then enable the agent to develop a real understanding of the customer’s needs and how best to serve them. ‘Spotlight’ questions will allow the agent to focus in on the more specific details.

Different questioning types will serve different goals. For example: If I wanted to know what your favourite colour was I would just ask you… ‘What’s your favourite colour?’

A ‘floodlight’ question like this will get your agent the information they need, as efficiently as possible. If I used ‘Spotlight’ questions ‘Is it red?’ ‘Is it blue?’ we could be there for half an hour until I guess correctly!

Coaching tip:
Floodlight questions work well at the start of the call and then focus can be narrowed down with spotlight questions. Lead by example. Supervisors should demonstrate the mastery of questioning during training sessions (of course) as well as during agent coaching reviews. An agent will stay motivated and learn far better if you stimulate their thinking and ask them ‘What do you think could be even better in this call?’ rather than simply telling them your opinion!

Building rapport

Building rapport with customers is a lot like building rapport with people that we might meet socially. Respect and understanding are non-negotiable and some ice-breaking should be thrown into the mix.

Breaking the ice. As with most interactions, those first few seconds are all important because they can set the tone for the rest of the call. An already happy customer just checking a balance, for example, can have another great experience, and a good start to a call can disarm even the most annoyed of customers.

Listening carefully. This will sound obvious, but listening is so important that it requires a mention… Now that you have broken the ice with the customer, really listening to them is vital. Nothing will annoy a customer more than if they think that they aren’t being listened to.

Mirror the customer. When we are face to face we often mirror the people we are speaking to. This is proven to be a subconscious act in order to build rapport or empathise with people. This could be anything from the way we are sitting to folding our arms, or even flicking our hair.

Your agents need to be behaving similarly. Their challenge here is to be able to get this mirroring across via the phone or chat.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

People like people who are similar to themselves. Building rapport with customers is, of course, really important to the success of the call (and the organisation as a whole!). There are some easy comments that an agent can make that will immediately warm the customer to the agent. For example: if the customer has lost their eye glasses and cannot read their membership number, the agent could respond with an “Oh yes, I lose my glasses all of the time!” Phrases in their kitbag like “I do that too!” “Oh I know, I’m exactly the same”, when said with sincerity, can reassure and build rapport.

Coaching tip:
Supervisors should encourage agents, where possible, to introduce little personalised comments into the call. Ideally, the attempt to include a personalised comment should be an element on their scorecard. There is nothing worse than the customer offering a piece of information such as “I’m having a baby” and the agent not acknowledging it and simply moving on with the call and asking “Ok, can I take your account number please?” Often agents will confess “I don’t know what to say sometimes, especially when the customer says they have suffered a bereavement.” So coach your agents to have the right phrases for the right situations: “I’m sorry to hear that” and “Congratulations” are two easy ones to start with.

This might make a call that little bit longer, but those extra few seconds will improve the quality of that call and should be reflected in the scorecard.

Closing the call/chat

Agents (especially new starters) can sometimes be guilty of getting off a call or chat too quickly. A lot of contact centres have tried to address this by scripting the end-of-call message but, depending on the execution, this could come across as just that… scripted.

  • Confirm what is going to happen after the call ends. What will I do, What will you do, etc.
  • Be proactive: Is there something you need to tell them to prevent future problems or unnecessary calls?
  • Ask if there are any other questions. Many customers think of something else just as the call ends, but it’s lost when you rush them off the phone.
  • Genuinely thank them. For their time, their business, for being a long-time customer, for being understanding – whichever response is appropriate. Introduce some personality into the interaction. Offer some appreciation based on the nature of the call.
  • Use their name. Build this into the ending. Using their name during your appreciation statement is a great way to personalise it.

Comment from Carolyn Blunt

‘Signposting’ is the term I use to describe how the customer service advisor can steer the caller through a call, especially at the closing.

Examples might include:

  • “So to confirm, the application of that credit will allow you to pay our most recent invoice: is that how you’d like to use it?”
  • Where a caller is going off on a tangent- “Coming back to the original query about the returned garments, can I take it you are happy with what we have agreed?”
  • “Just to confirm, Mrs Smith, our engineer will call to your home tomorrow around 11am and you will be available then?”

One thing to watch out for is the use of the contact centre cliché “is there anything else I can help you with?” at the end of the call. It’s like a red rag to a bull if you haven’t actually been able to help the customer in the first place. So I strongly suggest that you don’t make it mandatory signpost phrase on your scorecard!

Dick Bourke

Article written by Dick Bourke of Scorebuddy. For more information visit

With thanks to Carolyn Blunt: Carolyn is Managing Director of Real Results Training and co-author of ‘Delivering Effective Social Customer Service’.

Click here for Part 3 – Anatomy of a good call – Measurement

Author: Rachael Trickey
Reviewed by: Megan Jones

Published On: 23rd May 2016 - Last modified: 4th Apr 2024
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , , , ,

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