When an agent ‘mutes’ a customer, they turn off the microphone or headset on their phone so the customer cannot hear them. They might choose to do this in order to ask a colleague for advice. It is also common to use mute as a courtesy when the agent needs to cough or sneeze.
Sometimes, especially with sensitive or difficult information, the agent may use the mute function to quickly practice how they will frame a message.
Most telephony equipment has this function, and alerts the user when the device has been muted, usually with a blinking light.
Muting is also an automatic process on some systems, which is activated for compliance. When an agent needs to take customer information that the contact centre cannot legally record, the device is muted.
The pros and cons of using mute
Many customers express anxiety about being put on hold once their call is answered. Hold is often interpreted as a sign that the call will take a long time or that the agent is not qualified to answer their query. Using mute instead can limit this anxiety.
The agent should still advise the caller that they are being muted; otherwise the silence on the line may lead them to think that they have been disconnected.
Muting the caller or putting them on hold
Agents have also been known to use mute instead of hold to alter their handling statistics. This usually occurs when agents are incentivised to avoid using hold and will give contact centre planners a false understanding of hold and talk time. Whether or not this is a common and damaging practice, is a question which contact centre leaders should address with their agents.
What to consider
While a customer is muted they are still occupying the line. This usually means that the agent cannot dial out to a third party as they might otherwise be able to do if the customer was on hold.
Periods of hold are not commonly recorded, either on the agent side or the customer. This is not always the case for mute, and it is advisable to let agents know that they should maintain their usual high standards at all times. Otherwise their comments may well be heard during quality control sessions.
Agents should also be extremely careful to double check that a customer is on mute before discussing their situation with colleagues. Many contact centre managers will be familiar with incidents of agents making indiscreet remarks in the belief that their customer cannot hear them.
Similarly, there have been several notable cases of customers, often in the insurance industry, revealing incriminating information while muted. However, it is unlikely that this would be a successful technique for gathering information on a regular basis.