ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Train for Casual Conversation

talking Have you noticed lately that there seems to be a lot more inflammatory language being used in these challenging times in which we live? Slammed. Ripped. Skewered. Criticized. Torched.

Words like these frequently make their way into newspaper headlines and social media tweets, posts, and podcasts. While using these words can drive home an author’s point, they also can serve to divert attention from the core message the author is driving to send to the reader or listener.

Perhaps we need to pump the brakes a bit and lessen the intensity of our language. Words and phrases matter. And they especially matter when your contact center agents are the primary communicator with your customers.

We live in a much less formal world than we did 20 years ago. That said, I question if customer interactions are the best place to demonstrate that informality.

Many organizations want to move their contact centers away from being transaction-focused cost centers and towards relationship-based profit centers. As contact center leaders seek improved customer loyalty, they often will train agents on a revised set of skills, but not on the enhanced behaviors they want them to demonstrate in this new environment.

Shifting away from scripts, conversion rates, and time-limiting performance metrics requires leaders to train agents on how to behave differently than in the past. These enhanced behaviors require agile agents that can think and act in response to unique customer requests. They may need to use language that is fluid and spontaneous, both of which can be quite different from the comfort of a well-scripted customer interaction.

I worked with a client in the building trades who wanted help improving the tone of the language used by their agents. The agent population had long-term experience and had dealt with the same customers for many years. They knew their customers’ children, what they liked to do on weekends, the kind of car they drove, and the way they preferred to interact with the company.

The reality was that many building trades customers used some salty language from time to time. The agents started doing the same – thinking that this was a familiar way to relate to their customers. While the intent of building better relationships was good, the execution was not.

Leadership felt good about the effort agents were taking to relate to customers, but worried that it would adversely impact the perception of its brand, products, and services. Their desire was to retain the intent and improve the execution. The importance of aligning the customer experience to the brand promise was never more apparent.

I compiled a list of words and phrases that I think we should eliminate from our agent’s vocabulary:

  • Greetings that begin with, “May I have your account number?” rather than “Thank you for calling us today, we appreciate your business, how may I assist you?”
  • Greetings such as “Mr. Bob” or “Bob” versus “Mr. Azman”, as well as terms like “dude”, “friend” or “bud” to address customers during the interaction
  • Commands such as “Hold on while I look up your account.”
  • The use of slang in any form
  • “My computer is slow today.”
  • “Let me check with my supervisor.”
  • “A different department handles that issue.”
  • “Have a nice day.”
  • “They” as opposed to “we” when discussing a policy or procedure.

Given some time, I’m sure you could add more to this list. There is a difference between being friendly and being my friend. The language used by your agents reflects your culture, and, more importantly, your brand. Clearly defining to your agents the message and tone is the first step in changing behaviors.

It’s not fair to tell agents, “Be customer focused” and then not give them the necessary guidelines for them to be successful. In the absence of guidance and information, agents will be left to fend for themselves to achieve this customer focus. The result will be inconsistent experiences for your customers and a frustrating work environment for your agents. We need to give agents the tools to be successful, and it starts with shifting the language used by them when working with customers.