Developing a tone of voice for your contact centre
To achieve excellence in Customer Experience, a consistent tone of voice is key for any contact centre. Our customers should be confident they will get the same level of service, and be dealt with in the same way, whenever and however they choose to contact us.
Consistency is even more important when dealing with vulnerable customers, who may already be uneasy about getting in touch without additional worry about the potential ways the conversation may unfold.
Cultivating a congruent tone of voice that truly reflects your brand and your values whilst acknowledging that every customer is unique is certainly achievable, but it also takes some work. Here are some core elements to bear in mind.
What stage of the customer journey are we at?
Doubtless spurred by the pandemic, digital transformation is accelerating. Customers have more choices than ever around communication channels, each with their standard positions in the contact cycle and, with that, their own challenges.
For example, the rise of live chat has made it increasingly likely that initial contact is now text-based, with voice increasingly reserved for more complex or serious issues. So while consistency is key, it’s also important to consider that the customer’s state of mind across those channels may be very different.
Who is our target audience?
When it comes to accessing Customer Service, it’s no great surprise that younger audiences typically opt for live chat or social media before picking up the phone for a voice call – in contrast to customers aged around 55 and upwards, who still tend to choose voice as their preferred channel (for now, at least).
It also pays to consider the reasons why our customers of different ages may be contacting us in the first place – dependent on the industry, a 75 year old might potentially be experiencing more complex concerns than an 18 year old.
However, this is not a given, and the point remains that we should not presume to know at the outset. Tone should be steady but not inflexible – that is, our representatives should know their brand voice, yet be informed by the individual customer in every interaction.
This balance is delivered by doing the groundwork early on in every interaction. It is a learned skill, but advisors can be coached to tune in to each Customer’s stated needs, picking up on subtle cues around individual communication types and preferences in the early stages of an interaction and then confidently responding in kind – even over text.
We can then use the parameters of our defined brand voice to meet each customer where they are, acknowledge their individual query; reassure them that we’ll do everything we can to assist them – and then follow through on that promise.
Taking your target audience into account doesn’t stop at age, either. Any reasons why customers may have certain expectations should be taken into account – a healthcare provider or bank is likely to want a different tone to a tour operator, for example, simply because they’re more likely to be dealing with serious issues where an overly informal tone wouldn’t be appropriate.
Verbal vs non-verbal communication – especially in multi-language contact centres
There’s an inherent difficulty in any text-based contact when it comes to establishing tone – who hasn’t received a brief email or IM in the past and wondered if it was intended to ‘sound quite like that’…?
As communications and technologies evolve, even emoji and emoticon use has become more nuanced, with recent research highlighting generational differences in their meaning and use.
In a similar vein, anyone who learned a language at school knows that many languages possess formal and informal registers (for example, the French tu and vous). Traditionally we’ve used a formal approach in customer interactions, but in recent years that has been changing, with some companies opting for informal manners of address – however, it’s important to remember that dependent on cultural context, age and a whole range of other factors, these may not be automatically appreciated by all our customers.
If the above is not mindfully attended to, some companies may be unwittingly manufacturing a disconnect between the tone customers experience between different interaction channels.
Siloed operations can lead to scenarios where Advisors are sometimes required to address a customer in one way over a call, and a different way in text. As many customers now use multiple touchpoints, they may experience this inconsistency between the formality and tone across the channels in a negative and/or disorienting manner.
The CX impact of differences in tone of voice dependent on channel can be an issue even in single language contact centres, but when the operation is multilingual, the effects are magnified.
Using native speakers who are SMEs in Customer Experience and trained in Emotional Intelligence can help your contact centre work through those issues, ensuring your tone is consistent while adhering to the cultural expectations and nuances of both verbal and non-verbal communication.
How do companies approach setting a tone of voice?
So with the above challenges of setting a consistent tone of voice in mind, how should brands – especially global ones – approach these?
We’d definitely recommend avoiding a one size fits all approach. Those who do that – especially when compared to companies who allow for localisation – tend to come unstuck.
The antidote? Know your customer base, get really clear on your brand tone of voice, ask your customers what they want, and then involve your people to align these elements.
Regional variations will often be needed – ultimately, establishing the appropriate tone regardless of language and tone of contact requires frequent calibrations with key stakeholders across interactions in all languages and all channels. That’s paramount.
Communication is key
The importance of effective communication, regardless of language or contact method, cannot be overstated – and it all starts with listening. In the past, we’ve been asked to examine specific cultural disconnects resulting in dissatisfaction, e.g. those that may arise in the use of offshore outsourcers.
By working with the Advisors themselves, and looking at the contacts with them through a different lens, we’ve uncovered key cultural differentiators which are often largely ignored.
A useful example is that of high- and low-context communication styles in the multilingual contact centre industry. In our experience, different cultural contexts may exert unintended influences on customer outcomes if not examined and addressed.
Another quick example we can draw upon is regional differences in customer expectations around the expression of Empathy.
As a broad assertion, European and US audiences may generally expect Advisors to explicitly empathise with their situation and feelings, but in some cultures, this is not the norm.
All too often, Quality scorecards don’t reflect these differences and contact centres may return disappointing results for KPIs such as CSAT, when what is really needed is differentiation in tone to take cultural nuance into account.
How can this be applied to a contact centre?
Pro tip! Calibrations! We’ve said it before; it all starts with listening. We can’t stress enough the insights that are created in a good calibration programme. Listening to how your people respond to your customers ‘in the wild’, then asking hard questions to determine if those experiences truly make the grade, allows you to take a continuous improvement approach when deciding what to do about those findings.
Remember, what can be understood can be leveraged. Deep understanding of the current realities of your customer contacts is crucial for CX, especially when you have lots of moving parts in your global venture.
Companies who value CX know that even while automation within the customer journey can make all the difference to some traditional pain points, there are certain times and situations where the human touch is more important than ever.
A well-thought-out tone of voice really adds that human element where it’s needed, and your calibration sessions are a key element in determining if you’ve judged that tone correctly.