Author:Katie Hamilton

Advisor tone – the words that improve service

Our recent research into advisor tone showed how just changing the way words were said (voice) improved customer satisfaction scores by 76%. We also looked at what happened when we changed some of the words (language) too.

The second test

We used the second test to see what would happen to service scores when we changed some of the language the advisor used in the original conversation. The overall approach for this test was the same as the first. If you’re interested you can read about how we ran the first study in Rob’s previous blog.

For the second study we recorded another call, changing about 10% of the advisor’s words to make them less cold / neutral and much ‘warmer’ or empathetic. Only a small proportion of the words were changed so that the structure and outcome of the call stayed the same. Have a look at our our Advisor Language Golden Rules below if you want to find out more about how we changed the language. The advisor’s voice was also warm.

Once again we asked a panel of 200+ consumers to score the call using some common service measures including Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter Score and Customer Effort.

Changing tone through voice and language makes an even bigger difference to service scores

Figure 1: The effect of voice (the way words were said) and language (what words were said) on service scores (higher scores are better)

An advisor’s tone of voice tells a customer something about their personality, attitudes and emotions. It’s these that actually affect service scores. Tone is just how customers come to understand them.

What ‘sets the tone’ or gives away an advisor’s attitudes and emotions? Clearly it’s the combination of language and voice. But, which has the greatest influence over service scores?

In our study, adding warm language to an already warm voice pushed all the service scores even higher, with Customer Satisfaction climbing the highest – up by 95%. However, given that just a warm voice alone increased Customer Satisfaction by 76%, in this test voice had a greater impact on service scores than language.

What we found is similar to the results of a famous (and often misquoted) study by Prof Albert Mehrabian about what most influenced a listener’s understanding when communicating emotions. Roughly summarised he found the influence was 7% language, 38% voice and 55% facial expression. Between language and voice (facial expression can’t always be clearly understood on a call) voice played the larger part.

Advisor language golden rules

When we changed the language in the call for our study we followed some of the advisor language rules that we use in our spoken tone of voice programmes and when we’re writing scripts for advisors. Here’s a quick summary of those:

1. Be warm and empathetic – it helps if advisors introduce themselves with their first name (they’ll also show that they’re willing to be personally responsible for the outcome of a call too) Using a customer’s name may help to build empathy as well. But, it needs to be handled with care. Also, think about using some of the language that the customer uses.

2. Be positive – say what can be done, not just what can’t be.

3. Be confident – utterances like err, um and erm all show a lack of confidence. As do words like may / could / should. Use positive alternatives like ‘will’ instead, for example: “you will get a confirmation letter in the post”.

4. Be clear – try to be specific if you can. For example, instead of saying: “we’re here most days”, say: “we’re here Monday to Friday”. Also, try not to use jargon that customers may not understand (it’s also possible they won’t query it as they’ll feel stupid if they do). Once again, consider using some of the terms that customers use.

5. Be active – use active rather than passive sentences. An easy way to do this is to put yourself at the front of a sentence. So, instead of saying; “the pack will be sent by us on the 14th”, say; “We’ll send the pack on the 14th”.

6. Be adaptable – not all customers are the same and it’s helpful to adapt language to suit them. For example, some customers may simply want a call completed as quickly as possible and appreciate concise language. Whereas, others may be happier to chat and don’t mind longer descriptions and more discussion.

If you want to know more about how we can help you to develop your advisors’ tone skills please get in touch.

Does an Advisor’s tone really matter?

When industry analysts ContactBabel polled Contact Centre Managers on what makes customers satisfied, ‘friendly and polite advisors’ came second only to first call resolution. Managers certainly think that an advisor’s tone is very important. But, does it matter to customers? And, what effect does it really have on satisfaction scores?

What does ‘tone’ really mean?

Tone of voice is ‘how you sound’. It’s the message that tells the listener about your personality as well as your attitudes and emotions. So it can let someone know whether you’re warm or cold, helpful or obstructive, confident or nervous. It’s present in every conversation and is conveyed through both the words you use and how you say them.

Our research

Working with our consultant psychologist we set out to shed some light on how much an advisor’s tone affects service scores. We took a real service call to a mobile phone company (about getting a replacement sim) and recorded two versions. The first had the advisor sounding neutral. The second had the advisor sounding positive and warm. In this test we wanted just to look at how ‘the way words were said’ changed service scores. So, the words within both calls were exactly the same and only the way that they were said was changed.

Then we asked a panel of 200+ consumers to score both the calls using some common service measures including Customer Satisfaction, Net Promoter Score and Customer Effort.

We also set up an experiment to find out what happens when the advisor used warmer language too, you can read about the results of that study here.

Changing the advisor’s tone with voice made a big difference to service scores

Figure 1: The effect of ‘the way words were said’ on service scores (higher scores are better)

The results took us a bit by surprise. Only altering the way words were said ‘significantly’ improved all of the service scores with Customer Satisfaction climbing by 76%.

Customer Effort was the measure that showed the lowest improvement at around 33%, but this was still significant. The reason for this smaller increase might be that ‘effort’ is more of a ‘rational’ (e.g. how long did the call take, did the caller get what they asked for etc.) concept rather than an ’emotional’ one.

In this test we kept it very simple with a neutral tone and something positive and warm.

However, in our tone of voice training and consulting we talk more about what tones of voice have the most impact on service scores. And, what the traits of these tones are. If you’d like to know more about what tones are likely to cut and boost your service scores, and what goes into them, just get in touch.

How to Mind Your Tone – 3 steps

Our research shows that advisor tone of voice is very important and that managers are right to put it towards the top of their list of things that satisfy customers. So how can tone get the attention it deserves?

Here are some things that I think should be looked at to improve advisors’ tone and make the most of this very real opportunity to improve service scores:

1. Recruitment – Research showed Southwest Airlines that one of the things that customers wanted the most was simply warm and friendly service staff. They went away and ‘recruited for smiles’. Now they have some of the highest NPS scores of any business – not bad for a ‘budget’ airline. Take a look at how you assess candidates and see what importance you attach to a good tone.

2. Training – Invest time in training not only for advisors, but for team leaders, managers, coaches and for those scoring calls too. Also, take a look at the scripts you use and see if they’ve been written with a smile in mind. 

3. Management – What gets measured gets managed. Work with your quality and MI teams to find out if advisor tone of voice is a reliable predictor of what customer’s think of your service. And, begin measuring and managing it like any other KPI.

Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more about our tone of voice research, consulting or training.

Make your on hold funny for money

Every day in the UK about 5 million callers wait on-hold for their calls to be answered. We thought, how about using that not-so-good time for an oh-so-good cause – Red Nose Day?

We’ve been working with Comic Relief to create some FREE messages that are fun and ask your callers to get involved or donate. They feature the well-known voices of artists like Su Pollard, Redd Pepper (the Hollywood film trailer voice) and others.

The messages are absolutely FREE for you to use. Just download and use them. Please, please use them.

It doesn’t matter if you have 10 callers or 10,000 – every one could make a difference. You’ll be helping to raise much needed money for the many life changing projects that Comic Relief support.

The lovely Sue Pollard in our studio making waiting a good cause. 

This year Red Nose Day is Friday 13th of March and you’ve probably already seen some of the great publicity. With your help it could be better than ever.

What phone numbers should be used for financial services?

On the 13th of June last year new laws were introduced that meant most businesses had to provide service phone numbers charged at a ‘basic rate’. Although financial services organisations weren’t covered by the new laws the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) responded to a letter from consumer champions Which? saying that they supported the principles of the changes. And, that they would look into the possibility of asking financial services organisations to make changes.

Just before Christmas the FCA published a consultation paper that covered this area: Thematic Review on Complaints handling [TR14/18]. In Section 4 on page 22 you can read about the suggested changes for numbers and call charges.

Which new number should you choose?

Because of the amount of bad press surrounding 084x numbers some banks, mutuals and insurance companies have already stopped using these. If you haven’t already done so, now is a good time to start looking at what your options for new numbers are. If the proposals do go through you’ll definitely have to make a change.

The blogs we posted last year will be of help as the rules that were introduced for businesses back in July last year are very similar to the new FCA proposals.

The first of the blogs outlines what the options for numbers are, as well as their pros and cons.

The second summarises the market research that ICM carried out for us looking at what consumers feel about the numbers they’re asked to use and whether this alters their willingness to call.

No need to panic, but start thinking about the implications

At the moment the FCA has just published a consultation paper. So, there’s no need to alter your numbers right now. After the consultation period ends the FCA will confirm what changes will need to be made and by when. We’re guessing that this will happen some time towards the middle of this year.

As ever, if you have any questions just get in touch and we’ll do our best to help.