120,000 Calls and Counting


I wanted to be a rock star. Or maybe a writer. And while I was in a great band and enjoy writing, I ended up being a devoted student of call center agent behavior having trained thousands of agents worldwide.

In what has been a unique career, for several hours each day for the past 27 years my livelihood has required I meticulously analyze recordings of agents with patients. I have analyzed over 120,000 full conversations, including 20 today as is my daily average.

What have I learned from studying this almost embarrassing amount of recordings over a quarter-century Here are some observations.

1) Listening to patients and their family members talk with agents on the phone each day affirms one's hope in humanity. People are good.

2) I can positively affect an agent's life by teaching them to talk professionally, and they convey excitement and appreciation to me in this regard. This is the rewarding part of what I do.

3) Patients and customers want competency more than anything else, and they determine that level of competency based on how an agent talks to them more than anything else.

4) Angry or frustrated patients and customers are best handled by conveying professionalism because it conveys respect.

5) The power and value of the spoken word is something the call center industry, perhaps the most spoken-word based industry in existence, has lost sight of.

6) Getting agents to offer the highest level of service and professionalism is simple. The narrative that it is mysterious, messy, and difficult is based on not knowing how to do it.

7) Tone is much more about word choice than voice inflection. Enthusiasm is overrated while diction (the answer to tone and everything else) is largely ignored and discounted.

8) Agents are rarely the problem, rather it is what they are being taught. Bad agents can easily be made good with proper guidance that teaches them how to talk properly.

9) Scripts must be avoided. Scripts are used because they are easy to manage, but no one likes using them (agents) or hearing them (patients).

10) Doing things the right way requires no more time than doing things the wrong way.

11) Doing things the right way requires no more effort than doing things the wrong way.

12) Performing in a highly professional manner is easy for any agent to do with proper guidance. The real challenge is holding them accountable to doing it. That requires work.

13) It requires listening to their calls daily, and no trainer or expert wants to do that kind of meticulous work each day. But that work is where one becomes an expert.

14) Agents exhibit the same individual habits in every call they handle, and these habits determine the quality of the patient/customer experience. Controlling these habits is the answer.

15) The narrative that every call is different is misguided. The truth is every call an agent handles is almost exactly the same, call after call.

15) I owe my career to the struggles of the American education system. In generations past, the average person could do what we now have to teach agents to do.

16) Software companies- numbers-based organizations not known for their emotional IQ- are especially ill-suited to the language and emotions-based call center product.

17) The call center field resists accepting the product they produce is conversations, only because they seem so difficult to manage. If it were easy, it would be obvious to accept.

18) Master the proper use of words and phrases and you will have mastered the call center product. This is easy for any agent to learn to do.

19) The best agents are sometimes the least enthusiastic and outwardly upbeat. Quality is not about being a cheerleader. It is about being a professional communicator.

20) BCI can take any agent, no matter their skill level and make them exceptional on the phone, unless their agenda is to not serve anyone, which is rare.

21) Patients and their family members want sincerity more than anything else. Fake tone, usually the result of scripts, really rubs people the wrong way.

22) BCI teaches agents how to manage patient emotions by their choice of words and phrases when talking to them.

23) The call center product is wholly based on verbal communication variables such as words and phrases, but there is little interest in these variables in our field.

24) I have heard it said at a healthcare call center conference that customer service is a dirty word in our field. But customer service is what the healthcare call center field does.

25) The healthcare call center field is unique in that the majority of its callers are baby boomers. They prefer to talk on the phone and appreciate great communication skills.

26) Agents react best to training that is clear, explains what is in it for them, and appeals to their intelligence.

27) Agents are always looking for holes in a training program in order to discredit it. This is just human nature. It is imperative a program has no holes.

28) An entire conversation can turn based on one word uttered. Every single word must be carefully planned for and chosen, and this is the responsibility of the trainer to teach.

29) While things like long hold times and call routing issues annoy patients, I have found this is quickly alleviated by offering exceptional service once the agent picks up.

30) BCI can ensure every agent we train will offer an exceptional level of professionalism and service daily because we understand each variable involved in making it happen.

One learns much having listened to over 120,000 calls over the course of 27 years. If you have any questions about anything related to this subject, please reach out. I really enjoy talking about it and helping with answers.