Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The historical focus for communication skills in large call centres has been on the spoken voice as this has been the main channel for customer contact. The improvements in technology have driven the introduction of intelligent self-service channels that provide customers with the option to ‘self-serve’ on simple transactions. As IVRs, websites and mobile phone technology increase self-service capability, the requirement for simple transactional interactions between customers and advisers will reduce to that of only those customers who choose to speak to someone over the phone. This choice is important and should not be removed; however, it is expected that this will be a minority of calls into centres. This is expected to reduce all forms of transactional contact and in turn impact on the profile of the customer service adviser. Voice contact will be driven by more complex queries and with an increase in the internet channel, the split between voice and written contact is expected to change. Induction programmes in call centres focus on developing brand identity through voice communication and it is a huge challenge to transfer this identity to the written word, particularly in large organizations.

Basic skills challenge

Contact centres attract a wide range of people, from graduates to school-leavers, with varying ranges of qualifications – in some cases none at all. Most contact centres recruit advisers by attitude and behaviours rather than academic skills or qualifications. Recruitment activities usually assess basic skills in English, maths and computer skills during recruitment, although it is not certain that this provides evidence of someone’s correspondence ability. A recent evaluation of the skills in an established correspondence team in a contact centre demonstrated that basic grammar, spelling and punctuation was poorly applied to e-mails and letters sent to customers. The individuals in these roles were recruited internally as having the ability to write effectively, so this implies that there are even lower standards in the general customer service population.


To address the skills described above and be ahead of changes to the profile of advisers, customer contact organizations should ensure that advisers are multi-skilled to respond to complex calls and written correspondence whilst maintaining the quality of the brand and customer experience. A number of companies now align the written voice to their brand, which is communicated in external marketing material that is easy to read and uses warm, engaging, conversational language. This same approach should be reflected in written communications used by customer service organizations, but this is rarely addressed.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


During recent years there has been a considerable evolution with call centres becoming contact centres to reflect the increasing use of other channels of communication. Customer contact centres involve additional forms of interaction than solely using the telephone eg, mail, but the main area of growth is in e-mail communication.
Written communication requires complementary skills to those used in verbal communication. Accurate spelling, suitable use of vocabulary and correct grammar are necessary to present the organization in the best light. ‘As more call centres evolve into contact centres, literacy will be a key labour skill’. This development could be an increasing problem because a large number of trainees have limited basic skills, especially spelling.
Below are two case studies that illustrate how an organization has recognized the increasing importance of written communication and the necessity of matching the language used in correspondence with corporate brand.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tactics for active listening | COMMUNICATION SKILLS TRAINING

Make notes

In more detailed conversations or when one is tired it may not be possible to remember all the details. In cases such as these it is practical to write brief notes or use the computer system to store key information.

Building rapport

This can o en simply be achieved by mentioning the weather, or saying something like, ‘That happened to me once.’ Connecting like this with the customer personalizes the interaction and moves it away from being a standard mechanized procedure.

Avoid interruptions

Normally, it is much better to let a person complete what he or she is saying rather than interrupt. This not only demonstrates respect it also indicates that what the CSR has to say is not more important than the customer.

Use the customer’s name

Nearly all of us like to hear our name, so careful use of the customer’s name indicates that he or she is receiving attention and is valued as an individual. The fact that the CSR has also given his or her name indicates that he or she is willing to take responsibility for the transaction. The important thing is to use the name in moderation; if it is used too o en the conversation becomes too false and rapport with the customer will be lost. If you are not sure about the name because it is a new one or you couldn’t hear it properly, one strategy is to ask the customer to spell it. This can sometimes be done indirectly when getting the customer details.
Using the customer’s name is a simple way to develop rapport; however, one certain way to lose it is to use the wrong name. This can be very easy to do when dealing with many people during the shift, as the following example illustrates:
CSR: ‘Well, Fiona, we have a great deal for you.’
Customer: ‘That’s good news, but my name is Michaela.’
CSR: ‘Oh, I’m really sorry!’
Much more energy and attention is then required to retrieve the empathy and rapport during the interaction. If in doubt use ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’.

Don’t become defensive

When customers describe their situation this is o en how they interpret it and, normally, this should be acknowledged by the CSR. It is best to try and understand their situation, even though it may appear unreal (or perhaps even untrue), and find a solution that is satisfactory to the customer and the organization. The important thing to remember is to keep an upbeat conversational tone even when things are not going in the desired direction.

Friday, November 18, 2011


The ‘Invite’ stage of the conversation cycle is a very useful means for taking control of the dialogue. This is generally done through asking questions and drawing the other person into the conversation. There are a number of forms of questions, which are described below.

Closed questions

Closed questions are generally used to narrow down the conversation and find out specific answers. They are questions that normally result in one word answers such as ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ or a short phrase. Closed questions normally begin with the following phrases:
Do/did, eg, ‘Did you load the so ware?’
Will/would, eg, ‘Would you confirm your address, please?’
Isn’t it?
Wasn’t it?
Closed questions serve a number of purposes:
  • They enable the questioner to keep control of the conversation.
  • They provide quick information and facts.
  • They allow the conversation to be led in a particular direction.
  • They check understanding.
Closed questions may sometimes be used to slow down or halt overly cha y and rambling customers eg, ‘So, you would like your new furniture delivered on Thursday afternoon, is that right?’

Checking questions

These are closed questions that enable the CSR to identify if the customer has understood and is following the discussion. The challenge is to do this without appearing to patronize or imply that the customer is not intelligent enough to understand. The use of tone here is very important and incorrect use may convey the wrong impression. Rather than saying, ‘Did you understand what I just said?’, it is much safer to turn it around with, ‘Have I explained that ok? I would be very happy to go through it again.’

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


The ‘inform’ stage of the conversation cycle sets the stage for the adviser to guide the interaction with the caller. It also allows the conversation to keep momentum and flow naturally.
There are a number of strategies that can be used to encourage the conversation to flow and help achieve a successful outcome. A number of these are described below.

The KISS principle

KISS stands for ‘Keep it short and simple’, or, ‘Keep it simple, stupid!’ The aim is to keep the conversation as simple as possible and get to the heart of the customer’s wants as quickly and politely as possible.

Tell ’em

One of the main principles of communication is to explain what you are going to explain to them; then tell them; then repeat what was said. This can be summed up as:
  • Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  • Tell them.
  • Tell them what you told them.
For example:
  • Tell them (’em) what you are going to tell them: ‘I will begin by asking for a few personal details to confirm your status. Then I can take a look at your bank account and arrange payment of the bills.’
  • Tell them: ‘Right, let’s begin. Would you give me your date of birth. . .’.
  • Tell them what you told them: ‘Well Mr Federer, I have paid your electricity and credit card bills. Is there anything else I can help you with?’

Positive language

Use positive language as much as possible. For example, try not to say, ‘We cannot deliver on Wednesday.’ Instead, use, ‘We can arrange delivery for you on Tuesday or Thursday, which would suit you best?’ In this way the customer feels like they have a choice although in fact they are two options chosen by the CSR.

Keeping the customer informed

The CSR should always keep the customer informed when they are carrying out an action. Phrases that help the customer include:
‘I am just going to check what happened to your shipment. This may take a little time.’
‘Please bear with me while I book the ticket for you.’
‘The computers are running a little slow today. We should have your information soon.’


The term ‘dead air’ is o en used to describe situations when there is no conversation happening between the CSR and the customer. A span of approximately four seconds silence is unlikely to be noticed by the customer but beyond this we get what can be called a ‘pregnant pause’. When there is no communication this can be unsettling for the customer and it is important that the CSR explains what will happen so that the silence doesn’t become oppressive, eg: ‘I am just going to explore our computer system to see if I can find a solution to your situation. Please hold the line for a moment.’ When there is a space it can also be filled with, ‘Sorry, to keep you waiting’, or, ‘Just looking for you.’ If it is going to be a long time then the offer should be made to call the customer back.
On occasions the CSR may need to use the mute control when he or she wants to sneeze or cough; or ask a colleague or supervisor for information. This is normal use of the technology; however, it should not be used to make fun of or abuse a caller. There have been recorded instances when the mute did not work and the customer heard this ‘private’ conversation. Naturally, this is not good for business and, furthermore, indicates a culture that suggests a lack of respect and professionalism.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


The conversation cycle (Figure 1 describes in a simple yet effective way the basic structure of many conversations. In particular, its main value is to allow the customer service representative (CSR) to effectively guide the interaction so that the customer feels valued, and the call achieves a satisfactory outcome in a short period of time. The whole conversation should have a balance between speaking and listening so that the customer feels he or she is being listened to and action is being taken.

Figure 1: The conversation cycle
It is especially important that the CSR takes responsibility for the conversation because it is less likely that the caller has the same degree of communication skills. If the CSR feels the other person is talking too much, or they are not making themselves clear, or that they don’t understand properly, then it may be the result of the CSR not using his or her communication skills effectively and he or she should recover the situation as quickly as possible:
  • Inform: Provide information/explanation so that the other person knows what you are doing or planning to do.
  • Invite: Invite the other person into the conversation or encourage them to make a response.
  • Listen: Stop talking and actively listen to the other person.
  • Acknowledge: Verbally acknowledge what they are saying by using: I appreciate; I understand; ok; I see, etc.
Once the cycle is completed you continue with ‘Inform’ and so the cycle begins once again, eg:
  • Inform: ‘Good morning/afternoon/evening, Home Banking, Jane speaking.’
  • Invite: ‘How may I help you today?’
  • Listen: ‘May I check my account balance, I need to see if I can pay a large bill?’
  • Acknowledge: ‘Yes, of course Mrs Jones. Just let me get you the details.’
  • Inform: ‘You have £867 in your account.’
  • Invite: ‘Would you like me to make a payment for you?’ etc.

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