How to Measure and Manage Agent Tone

Tone is truly the most important consideration regarding the service and professionalism performance of agents. And as life would have it, it is the most challenging to manage.

A common approach is to assign a score that judges the entirety of the call, for example, from 1-10, how warm was the agent? But such an approach does not address specific moments, so an agent could be nice for most of a call but abrupt or unprofessional in brief moments, get a good score for overall warmth, and the momentary negative tone actions that most impacted how the patient felt about their experience would go unchecked.

Tone issues occur unpredictably throughout calls, so they cannot be managed effectively without meticulous attention to each detail of every second in a call. Imprecise, inexact, or generalized scoring leaves most all tone issues unaccounted for.

Checklist scoring parameters and 1-10 type scoring lack the specificity required to provide targeted instruction and cannot effectively measure and manage tone, as I will explain.

And contrary to common narratives, problem tone issues are more the result of improper word choice and manners than voice pitch or sound, and these can only be managed by holding agents accountable to executing exceptional diction and manners throughout the entirety of their calls (always avoiding scripts as they sound robotic and insincere). If an agent's diction and manners are perfect, which is readily achievable with proper guidance, it is incredibly difficult for the agent to convey a less than excellent tone. And this requires no more time or effort than not doing so.

But whether a tone issue is the result of poor diction, negative pitch, or emotional sound, a big challenge for call centers is determining the parameters of how to measure tone.

How to overcome this hurdle? The answer is words. Words create and define the QA scoring parameters that direct and enforce agent behavior, including how agents convey tone. The words service level and personalize call for example lack specific instruction, but the words you must ask patients for and receive their permission before placing them on hold provide clear guidance that creates tangible service tone quality.

It is remarkably straightforward, and when considering the product call centers produce for public consumption is phone conversations- which are constructed entirely of words, it would reason that the call center field would embrace words, place a huge focus on words, have titles like Director of Word Management, etc. But there is a curious lack of interest in words and word choice in this field whose product is the spoken word.

If QA managers were asked to name the specific words they use to describe tone, the list would likely be short, but the range of emotions and actions that define tone are great in number and subtle in form. How then does a QA manager instruct an agent to fix a tone issue if the manager and their scoring parameters lack the words to identify the tone issue that needs fixing?

As an example, the patient says they would like to schedule an exam but would prefer a Friday. The agent finds the exam is not done on Fridays and casually responds, ...yeah, they do not do those on Fridays, so... followed by several seconds of silence. This is an unacceptable tone action that clearly conveys uncaring by implying, you are out of luck and I have another call to take, and it is certain to annoy or frustrate patients.

And if this callous tone action is unaddressed, this agent's aloofness will continue to manifest in subtle ways throughout their calls as such behavior is always a symptom of a larger performance-mindset issue.

How does a manager identify this issue? How do they instruct the agent how to handle this situation the right way? If their QA scoring parameters do not include the specific wording to address this issue, unacceptable behavior like this will likely go unnoticed.

And this is only one small example of myriad negative tone actions that occur routinely but unpredictably throughout calls that managers must be prepared to identify, otherwise, they will continue to surface regularly.

If a QA system is limited to a few words, numbers, or checklist items for addressing tone, poor tone manners, and word choice will continue to slip through the cracks to negatively impact patients and likely come to define the call center's patient experience quality.

The common narrative is tone is simply about how agents sound in terms of enthusiasm, empathy, and warmth. But what is often overlooked is tone is entirely dictated by manners and word choice, and their proper execution ensures enthusiasm, empathy, and warmth.

BCI understands that managing tone requires eliminating negative manners and diction while teaching and enforcing the perfect execution of manners and diction. In this way, we can ensure agents offer the highest standard of service and professionalism every day.