Seven Tips to Avoid Dead Air Time in Phone Conversations


Here are seven pieces of advice to help minimise dead air time and enhance the quality of customer–advisor conversations.

What Is Dead Air Time?

Dead air time, which is the common name for periods of silence during a customer–advisor interaction, is a damaging part of the rapport-building process.

However, it is often difficult to avoid when an advisor is given a tough query, has slow software or a knowledge gap.

The Seven Tips

1. Teach Advisors Some Polite Phrases

Customers are usually very tolerant if you keep them informed and they feel that you are really trying to help

Carolyn Blunt

It may be useful to arm advisors with some examples of phrases to use when the line goes quiet, as leaving the customer “stranded” not only damages rapport but could also be considered rude.

As Carolyn Blunt, MD at Ember Real Results, says, “if a customer says ‘hello? Are you still there??’ Then that’s the best feedback that you haven’t got it quite right.”

“Working as quickly and efficiently as possible, while the customer is on the line, and making good use of manners goes a long way.”

“So, advisors should be using phrases such as: ‘Sorry to keep you waiting, thank you for your patience'”

“Customers are usually very tolerant if you keep them informed and they feel that you are really trying to help, and that you not just being slow or ignorant.”

2. Ask Advisors to Tell the Customer What They Are Doing

In terms of what contact centre advisors can do to reduce dead air time, Carolyn Blunt thinks that it is “important for advisors to keep customers informed of what they are doing.”

Not only will the customer appreciate the update, but they will recognise that the advisor is still actively working to solve their query.

 Carolyn Blunt

Carolyn Blunt

But, Carolyn Blunt stresses: “It’s not necessary to jabber on senselessly all the time, especially if the advisor is reading notes or thinking.”

“Phrases such as ‘I’m just going to go quiet for a minute while I read where this is up to’ works.”

“Equally, using hold appropriately works so the customer receives hold music and knows they haven’t been cut off.”

Doing this helps to avoid the dreaded “tumbleweed moment”, as Carolyn calls it. This is where the “customer makes a joke or a little comment and the agent ignores it.  There is usually an awkward, brief silence before the agent moves on.”

[Find more on how to “avoid the tumbleweed” in our article: Rapport-Building Tips]

3. Review and Update Your Knowledge Management System

Dead air is often the result of slow search systems or poorly indexed systems that advisors struggle to navigate.

As Carolyn Blunt explains: “advisors may be looking for an answer or an update and can’t find what they need quickly enough because of the lack of updates or adequate indexing or searchable tags in the knowledge management system.”

So, reviewing the navigation and speed of the contact centre’s knowledge management system is a useful activity, as Carolyn Blunt concludes: “these things need to be addressed in the first instance.”

4. Inform Customers of Promotions and Incentives

While this won’t work when handling a tough query, as it may look as though the advisor is side-tracking, this will certainly provide an advisor with enough material to fill dead air, while also promoting the company.

So, this can be a useful when waiting for slow systems. But an advisor must be careful when choosing which customer to give this information to.

Advisors should avoid informing angry customers of promotions or incentives when handling their query, because opportunities to spend more money with a company they are already upset with will be the last thing they want to hear.

[For more on this topic, read our article: “Calm Down, Dear…” Words and Phrases an Advisor Should NEVER Say to an Angry Customer]

5. Engage in Small Talk and Retrieve Customer Information

While some advisors may be more skilled than others when it comes to small talk, it can be a useful tool to put the customer at ease and find out more about them.

If an advisor is sociable, general chitchat – about the weather, for example – can help pass the time, while buliding rapport.

Moreover, the customer information that the advisor retrieves can be entered into the CRM system for the next advisor who handles a call from the very same customer to see. This will make it easier for them to build rapport.

For example, if the customer were to say that they were originally from Scotland, the advisor could note this in the CRM system.

If the customer were to then call back, the next advisor could then reference a piece of recent news related to Scotland as a shortcut to building rapport.

[Find out some more similar tips by reading our article: 27 Effective Ways to Build Customer Rapport]

6. Press the Hold Button When Needed

It is true that being put on “hold” can irritate customers, but the sound of music is an improvement over complete silence.

While this function should only ever be used for long waiting times, it must also come after a warning that prepares the customer for a period of dead air.

This warning should be phrased in a way that is similar to the following example: “To help you resolve this matter, I am going to [INSERT TASK]. So, I am going to put you on hold for [INSERT TIME] and when I get back we should be able to…”

The time guarantee is important as it will allow the customer to gauge if they have enough time to attend to other tasks in the meantime.

For any duty that will take longer than a couple of minutes, offering the customer a callback is best practice, so frustration doesn’t build while on tenterhooks.

7. Target Call Anomalies in Quality Monitoring

Dave Salisbury

When working with contact centres, Dave Salisbury MBA, a Professional Customer Interactions Developer, reviews Average Handling Time (AHT) to see how it can be reduced without compromising quality of service.

In doing so, Dave Salisbury says, “I am looking for anomalies, calls that are too long, and listening to them using standard call quality software.”

This increases the chances of pinpointing advisors who are struggling to reduce dead air time.

These advisors can then be given on-the-job training, where they are taught “techniques to physically move to avoid dead air time,” such as those listed above.

[For more on this topic, read our: 30 Tips to Improve Your Call Quality Monitoring

Do you have any other suggestions for minimising dead air time?

If so, you can leave your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper.

Published On: 9th Oct 2017 - Last modified: 13th Oct 2017
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , ,


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