The Power of Voice Tone-Conveying the Right Message
By Dina Vance, Senior Vice President, Ulysses Learning
Perhaps when you were younger, you knew you were in trouble when your parent said, “Don’t use that tone of voice with me, mister!” In a contact center, voice tone conveys 80% of our message, especially when we don’t have body language to augment our intention or meaning. As important as it is to pay attention to our words, it is how we say it that ultimately conveys our intended message.
Ronnie Burns, a communications expert, points out in her book, Communication Essentials several ideas about what we can do to improve our voice tone. She indicates one of the first steps is, “get feedback on how you sound. Is the message coming across the way you want? Is it coming across as confidently as you would like?”
One quick way to hear your own voice is listening to your voicemail message or a recorded call. Does your voice sound pleasant, or tired and bored? What type of attitude does it convey? Do you sound credible? While some of us may not like the sound of our voice, we can inspect the nuances of our tone to better understand the message we convey and what our listeners hear.
Think of a time when someone reacted to what you said, and you thought to yourself, “that wasn’t the message I intended.” Most likely your tone of voice impacted the message, even more than the words you used. Using the following sentences, say it out loud with emphasis on the italicized, underlined word, and note how the intended meaning is changed.
“I didn’t clean out the refrigerator.” (meaning someone else did)
“I didn’t clean out the refrigerator.” (somewhat defensive)
“Ididn’t clean out the refrigerator.” (meaning something is still in the refrigerator)
The sound of our words truly reflects our personality and how we are thinking and feeling. Consider your standard greeting when answering a customer’s call. Because you say it over multiple times a day, does it sound rushed and slurred or inviting by conveying the message of “I care and I’m here to help”? Does it sound as pleasant at the beginning of the day as it does at the end of the day? It’s understandable that repetition can become a chore but by choosing the sound of our words carefully we can go that extra step in creating better customer experiences which benefits everyone in the organization.
Another method of conveying our message with tone involves inflection, or the high and low pitch of our voice, to sound interested and inviting. We can also use inflection to highlight and emphasize important information that we want to be sure our customer hears. By doing this we can have a greater impact on ensuring our message is delivered and understood to mitigate the chances of them calling us back due to it being missed during the initial conversation.
If we are monotone in our delivery, customers may miss the important details as the information will start to blend together and come across as not important. This often results in a call back because the customer didn’t digest or understand everything that was covered.
Voice tone is also impacted by our facial expressions and customers can hear whether we are smiling or frowning. Try the exercise of looking into a mirror and see if you’re smiling when you speak to a customer or another colleague. It’s amazing how including a smile in your voice can go a long way in the minds of our customers and how receptive they become to the solutions/information we provide.
Our pace, or how quickly or slowly we speak is another area to consider. Listen to a news anchor sharing a story. Their rate of speech is about 140 words per minute. Because of this pace, it is easy to follow the story, remember key points, and clearly understand the message. Take cues from the customer and listen to their pace, or rate of speech, and match it to be more effective in communicating your message.
The volume we use is another aspect of tone we should pay close attention to. Speaking too soft or too loud can not only impact what our customers hear but also how it is interpreted. If we are too loud and seem to be shouting, customers consider that we are being rude, or we don’t care about them. Likewise, speaking too soft and not enunciating our words can cause customers to get frustrated, especially if they have to continually ask us to repeat what was said. If a customer is angry, you can soften your voice slightly so they begin to focus on what you’re saying; however, if you begin to match their yelling or screaming, it will only continue to frustrate them and their confrontational demeanor, and often cause the call to escalate by creating unnecessary barriers in the conversation.
Lastly, consider some of the physical traits of tone such as how you use your diaphragm to breathe deeply, as taking deep breaths gives resonance to your tone of voice. Taking a breath can also slow you down, as well as help customers intently listen to the important information we are giving them. We want to convey confidence to the customer while also being engaging and courteous.
The challenges that the quality team and coaches in a contact center face is that voice tone is often viewed as a “subjective” assessment and therefore can be difficult to evaluate and provide feedback around. However, when a quality team is equipped with the tools and an understanding of the different elements involved they can begin to more effectively coach to, and provide feedback for, the specific element(s) of tone that may be causing a negative customer perception. This in turn opens the door for providing more meaningful guidance on how to improve by allowing coaches to better demonstrate the impact that a certain element of tone had on the customer experience.
Voice tone can have a profound impact in creating either a positive or negative customer experience. Examining how we sound is important to ensure the message we are delivering is clear, and that our customers consider us their partner in solving the reason for their call.