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Voice skills are critical in customer service

The Most Neglected Skill in Customer Service
- Tone of Voice

Intuitively, most of us know how important tone-of-voice is in customer service. It’s one of the 6 pillars of customer service, and is a critical skill for anyone who does business over the telephone. Yet, for some reason, it is conspicuously absent from most customer service training programs.

Why tone-of-voice is so important

The old saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” is true. (Although what you say is pretty darned important too…). How you say things can quite literally be the difference between a call that goes horribly sideways and one that has a fantastic outcome. One person can say “Well done,” and have it sound like a compliment. Another person can say the same thing but have it sound derisive.

Tone-of-voice makes the biggest impact in the first few seconds of a call. A customer’s first impressions of you play a large role in how an interaction will go. When you’re face-to-face with a customer, that first impression comes from your smile, your eyes and your body language. With the telephone, of course, your customers see none of these. Your voice tone is all that’s left.

In person, customers begin forming judgments about you in 1/10th of a second. It’s probably not quite that fast with only auditory cues, but it’s likely still within a few seconds. Given that first impressions are quite sticky, it’s important that you get it right the first time – because you won’t get a second chance.

Your "normal" voice isn't good enough

The next time you’re listening to the radio, pay close attention to how the announcers talk. When you listen carefully, you’ll realize that their voices are anything but conversational. Although they may sound quite natural to the casual ear, they’re delivery is much more exaggerated than the way they would normally talk. The same is true for professionals in television and podcasts. They know that they need to compensate for the absence of visuals.

You need to take the same approach when talking with customers on the telephone. In order to effectively send the message that you are interested and that you care about customers, you have to push your voice well past your comfort zone. If you don’t, if you just talk the way you normally do, you will come across as flat, uncaring and robotic.

Try this tone-of-voice exercise

There’s a great little exercise we do in some of our customer service training programs. Give it a try and see for yourself:

a. Using an audio recorder (or the recording function on your phone), say the following in your normal voice:

“Thank you for calling , my name is , how can I help you today?”

b. Now listen to what you recorded. how does it sound? Inspiring? Warm? Caring? Probably not.

c. Now record yourself again, following the same script. But this time, push your comfort zone. Exaggerate your voice. Say it so there would be no doubt in customers’ minds that you are delighted that they called. Don’t be shy. You may feel a bit self-conscious, but don’t let that stop you.

d. Now listen to the two recordings you’ve made, one after the other. If you were the customer, which of the two people would you rather talk to? Chances are it would be the second one.

I’ve made a short video about tone-of-voice, with a bit more detail on the exercise. Take a look and tell me what you think!

“A voice is a fantastic instrument. But for most people, it’s like that old piano that sits unused in the corner. We know it’s there, but we never really take the time to master it.”

~ Shaun Belding ~

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