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Different Communication Channels and the Tone They Require

Hand Changes Channel
Source: Canva

In the previous two lessons about tone and voice, we’ve raised many critical questions, haven’t we?

How do you come across to your customers? Are you received as being professional and reassuring? How does tone of voice affect communication? How different channels of communication influence hitting the right tone?

Most of the questions have been answered in detail so far. Still, there’s left to talk about various channels CSRs commonly use when interacting with customers and the ways they affect the tone of voice.

Working for a web-based product means interacting with customers via email, chat or over the phone. This has tons of benefits such as giving you time to create a truly helpful response. But there is a downside — when interacting over a computer you can fall victim to misguided inflection.

Web-based communication is awesome. It’s fastconvenient and frees you up to manage multiple things at once. However, losing the humanistic approach in speaking to your customers can not only send the wrong message, it can really hurt their experience with your product.

Source: What Does Your Support Tone of Voice Say About Your Company Culture? by Kayako

Technology is advancing at an exponential rate. Only a few years ago you might have been expected to offer just one or two communication channels for your customers. But over the last decade we have seen the arrival of web chat, of customer forums, of smartphone apps and social networks.

The majority of the newer channels that you are investigating are probably text based – customer forums, web chat or social networks. Each of these channels removes the tone of voice and the body language of the writer leaving you just with the words that are written.

Imagine a client whose order has been delayed because it was sent to the wrong address.

If you were sat in front of that customer you would subconsciously adopt a body language that said you were sorry.

On the phone you would lose the body language but still have the tone of voice. You’d focus on allowing silence whilst you listen to your customer, and providing a calm and collected voice in response.

On your text based channels you lose tone of voice as well leaving you just with the words. You might be saying exactly the same thing “Your order was shipped to the wrong address. We’re sending a replacement” but it can easily appear cold and unfeeling.

The customer’s response can suffer from the same interpretation and this can easily result in an escalated conversation as response after response are misconstrued.

Source: New Voice Media – “It’s not what you say, but how you say it!” The importance of voice in customer service

According to The Multi-Channel Customer Care Report by Zendesk, customers simultaneously want the warmth of human communication and the speed and efficiency of automated service. It’s a paradoxical challenge for companies, one brought about by increasing levels of consumer expectations and the fast changing technical landscape of customer communications.

As stated in this article about tone of voice in customer service by Chatwee and as we’re all probably aware, every communication channel has its nuances. There’s NO single, right tone of voice, whether you’re speaking or typing/reading.

Let’s see those nuances of the three most common communication channels used in customer service: emaillive chat and phone. Ready?


Email is still one of the most important customer service and communication channels, and it is a channel that strips away many of the basic modes of communication — tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions — that human beings use to convey meaning. It is essential that customer support agents are aware of the tone the customer prefers and to apply that tone on a customer by customer basis.

To be successful, CSRs must learn the differences between formal and casual email tones and learn to sense when one is needed over the other.

Source: Customers That Stick (CTS) – What Email Support Tone Do Customers Prefer?

A good thing about writing emails to customers is that CSRs have a chance to think through what’s going to be said.

On the other side, email is inherently a cold medium. It is easy to sound cool or angry in an email, even when your intentions are good. For start, watch this video and find out three ways to warm up the tone of your emails.

The purpose of the next video is to help you write emails effectively. You will learn the basic structure of an email, email etiquette and basic punctuation and tone in an email. Enjoy watching and learning!

In addition, here’s another video full of useful tips and examples of replying to emails.

Furthermore, what are some examples of expressions that use the wrong tone of voice? How can you improve your emails so that you can persuade your readers to do what you want? Find out by watching this video. (Examples show emails between co-workers, but the tips are applicable when writing to customers as well.)

You know tone is crucial as it’s the body language of written communication. Just as the pitch and volume of a voice carry a difference in tone from an inside to outside environment, the choice of words and the way you word sentences convey a sense of tone in our writing. It’s the difference between “Oops, sorry!” and “We sincerely apologise.”

When engaging customers over email, using the appropriate tone is an important aspect of communicating the desired message and of achieving the desired results. Customer service agents have to rely solely on word choice and punctuation to convey the appropriate attitude.

Source: Issuetrak – The Best Tone for Email Customer Support

Note: The same popular survey results most articles on this topic rely on can be found in this interview as well: I Want It Now – What is the Best Tone for Customer Support Email –Interview.

Next, it’s useful for you to learn how to avoid common email communication mistakes, so watch this customer service training video. You’ll also learn the importance of descriptive subject lines, proofreading, and including contact information. IT author and speaker Don Crawley shows examples of both good and bad email communication.

You may want to check another video, which will also help you learn how to write a great customer service email. So watch it and find out some tips about using appropriate, personal, positive, and polite tone, about using active voice, all that illustrated by examples.

Done? Excellent!

Now, let’s see how another popular channel of communication works, shall we?

Live Chat

If a customer needs a question answered immediately, live chat is a better option than email, because email might result in multiple touches and a longer resolution time.

Chat is known to quickly resolve issues with minimal to zero wait times, and customers can multitask while chatting with agents. Chat is great for urgent questions because of its convenience and it enables you to reach out to customers proactively, in the moment they need help, as stated in this Zendesk’s article on the paradox of channel choice.

Great, but what tone does this communication channel require? Let’s see.

According to the article 10 Steps to Customer Satisfaction with Live Chat, by Vocalcom, live chat should be treated like any professional conversation that might take place in person or over the phone.

Agents should introduce themselves by name, ask for the name of the customer, and maintain a professional yet friendly tone to humanize the customer service experience in a natural way even when some responses may be scripted.

While it may be tempting to write shorthand or abbreviate words as many do on social media, it should never be done professionally. Agents should always write complete sentences with proper spelling and grammar, but keep paragraphs short so time is spent on solving the problem as efficiently as possible.

Also, be careful NOT to use overly technical language that customers may not understand, and to use consistent brand vocabulary that matches the terminology of the company website.

Furthermore, they point out that time is always of the essence, so live chat agents should answer promptly when customers follow up on a chat invitation. They should also provide a phone number in case the chat goes offline unexpectedly, and customers should be informed of wait times and when they are being placed on hold.

It’s a conversation, so never leave the customer hanging.

Additionally, customers should be given the option to switch to another channel when a case becomes too complex to solve by text chat, so agents should be able to switch seamlessly to other chat forms (such as video or audio) or another channel such as voice in order to properly assist the customer.

Communicating with customers over live chat requires a special kind of talent. It’s a mistake to assume that a good phone support agent will be able to replicate their success over live chat.

Providing support on the phone requires a patient and relaxed bearing. In contrast, live chat agents must be multi-taskers who can handle multiple chats efficiently. Further, speaking to customers over live chat can be almost like learning a new language with its own vocabulary, patterns, and sounds.

Look at some of the ways you can train yourself to talk to customers over live chat in the article How to Sound More Human Over Live Chat by Kissmetrics.

Yeah, we know it’s not easy to provide a quick off-the-cuff response and manage to hit the appropriate tone right away. But have you read the article above?

One of their top tips is to speak your customer’s language. They say having a rosy attitude is important, but so is speaking in your customer’s language. If they are speaking formally (“Hi, I need help with this“), you should mirror that style and respond accordingly.

On the other hand, if they are being conversational, ask them how they are doing and if they are enjoying using your product or service. Not only will it help ease the discomfort some feel when using live chat, you might even learn something useful about your customer base.

So, listening to your customer’s words first and then mirroring their tone helps a lot, don’t you agree?

Here’s another article from Zendesk blogThe skill every great chat agent needs to have, where an experienced live chat agent claims exactly the same!

The author says the ability to gauge the customer’s tone is really important and advises you to keep your tone professional and on the same level as the customer. In other words, try to be casual but not too casual, and not too stiff or robotic.

She admits it can be a challenge to figure out the customer’s tone. On the phone, for example, you can tell right away if a customer is angry or happy. But with chat, you might think a customer is already frustrated and it turns out they’re not, or they don’t sound mad but it turns out that they are.

It’s important not to panic, and to just try and slow or calm a customer down and make them understand that you’re there to help.

Knowing how to speak to customers is key to personalizing business relationships.

For example, a customer who prefers short and direct communications differs in personality from one who enjoys having longer conversations and sharing opinions. With a little effort, your brand and you may learn about your customers’ personalities, take notes, and ensure that you speak to them in a tone that puts them at ease.

Today’s customers seek authentic connections with brands that make them feel like valued individuals. It’s not enough to treat them kindly — they expect your company to understand their needs and deliver the products and services they actually want.

To learn what else can help you build strong customer relationships, read the full Vocalcom’s article 6 Simple Ways to Personalize Customer Relationships.

One more communication channel left to check out. Here we go.


Our modern digital era has made it easier than ever to connect with customers, offering them a mix of both human and automated assistance. However, the traditional voice channel is far from extinct.

A recent Google study found that 61% of mobile users call businesses during the purchasing phase, with 59% seeking a quick answer and 57% wishing to speak to a real person.

As voice offers the benefit of natural human contact, it remains a channel with high potential for great customer engagement.

Source: Vocalcom – 6 Steps to Building Customer Rapport on the Voice Channel

You still wonder why?

The human voice has the ability to express every emotion. This can be both positive and negative when it comes to call center communications.

Who hasn’t had the experience of dialing a company and be greeted by a less than enthusiastic voice? Within a split second, you’ll conclude that the representative doesn’t want to help you. And, you’ll begin questioning whether or not you’re valued as a customer.

What callers hear on the other end of the line can make a world of difference when it comes to the quality of service your company provides, as well as your overall reputation. One agitated, dismissive voice can make or break a sale.

As well, it can start a cycle of having to transfer calls to other agents and supervisors. In other words, it’s costly and potentially damaging.

The tone of call center representatives should be consistently sincere, friendly and professional.

It seems simple enough. However, customers frequently complain of representatives’ tone. Even if they are effectively helped, a seemingly rude tone can affect a customer’s perception of the quality of service they received.

So, what are the most common challenges when it comes to the tone of voice of call center staff? Take a closer look at this article from VHT Blog and find out: You Had Me at Hello – Why Voice Tone Matters in Call Center Communications.

The thing is that the process of communication, business environment being no exception, contains certain intangibles. It’s not only about what you say, but also how you choose to say it, remember?

There may be days when you will not be at your best. You may have a cold, something might have gotten you upset, it’s an early Sunday morning in the middle of winter and you have to work – you get the gist of what we’re trying to say.

Saying the right thing isn’t enough, you need to be able to convey appropriate emotion through tone, particularly when you find yourself in situations similar to these mentioned above. Unfortunately, customers will very easily pick up the fact you’re bored, unenthusiastic or disinterested.

They can sense your attitude right away because you’re providing your immediate response to them with emotional cues via your voice. We’re all human, sometimes emotions get the best of us and it gets reflected in our tone of voice.

Source: Chatwee – Tone of Voice in Customer Service: How to Avoid Sounding Like a Jerk

How we speak tells people how we really feel. Nothing could be truer than that, when we are speaking on the telephone. So, here’s what you need to focus on.

Moreover, as advised by another expert, Tracy Goodwin, use pitch, tone, and inflection on the telephone like you do in person. Check out her video on professional phone etiquette, as well.

So, here’s what you should always be aware of.

When customers hear your voice on the other end of the line, they imagine the person behind the voice. If they like what they hear in the voice, chances are they will perceive you as knowledgeable and confident. If they don’t like your voice, it makes them want to disconnect or speak to a supervisor.

Your voice is your best vehicle for making the customer trust you.

To exceed customer expectations, your voice must consistently sound:

  • Upbeat
  • Warm
  • Under control, and
  • Clear

To learn how to improve the tone of your voice, you may want to check out the tips in the article Your Tone of Voice Affects How People Respond to You from Impact Communications Inc’s telephone blog.

Furthermore, according to this Chatwee’s article we’ve already mentioned, tone of voice is comprised of four factors:

  • Energy: This reflects attitude and enthusiasm level.
  • Rate of Speech: A normal rate of speech is 125 words per minute; anything faster will seem rushed. A slower rate will impart a sense of disinterest and boredom, or worse, a feeling of condescension.
  • Pitch: Height or depth in the tone of voice. Monotone pitch is boring; high pitch can grate on the nerves of callers.
  • Quality: The above three factors, when taken together, will determine the overall quality of tone of voice.

A telephone agent who is conscious of all four elements will have an easier time gaining call control and creating a professional engagement. The attitude conveyed by tone of voice will determine the outcome of the call, i.e., a frustrated customer or a happy, satisfied one.

People cannot see us when we speak on the telephone, therefore judgements are made on what we sound like. Studies have shown that 87% of the opinions people form about us, when speaking to us on the telephone, are based on the tone of our voice. Only 13% is based on the actual words we use. Thus, be aware of the tone you are using.

So, check out these Tough Nickel’s six important tips for your phone voice, and also make sure you learn how to radiate personality over the phone with the four simple strategies presented in the short video included in this article.

A simple way to be interpreted as you intended is by smiling while you’re responding. We know, it sounds silly when they can’t see you. But they know you’re smiling.

When you’re on the phone and smile when you speak, the listener can hear it, and when you’re typing and smiling the words you choose and the structure of your sentence take a different route than if you’re agitated and slamming keys on your keyboard.

Source: Kayako – What Does Your Support Tone of Voice Say About Your Company Culture?

Yeah, yeah, we know! Talking with a customer on the phone can often be a difficult task, as well. Without seeing an individual’s face, messages can become muddled and meanings misinterpreted.

To improve your telephone communication skills, be sure to master the following tips.

1. Adopt a positive tone

Projecting an enthusiastic, natural, and attentive tone while on the phone can help a customer feel comfortable during a conversation. When you answer the phone, smile as you greet the person on the other line.

2. Clear enunciation

The ability to understand what someone is saying on the phone separates a productive conversation from one filled with tension. Whenever you are on the telephone, speak clearly. Enunciate and use simple words and phrases. Don’t use overly complex vocabulary or jargon.

3. Be sincere

Starting with the greeting, conversations over the phone must be sincere. Say hello and be genuine. Try to avoid scripted greetings as most sound artificial and inauthentic.

Avoid phrases such as “I don’t know,” “I can’t do that,” or “Just a second.” Specify how long completing a task will take, and state what you can do rather than what you cannot.

Answering a customer’s questions with sincerity and positivity will not only satisfy them by the end of the conversation but will also help calm an angry caller.

4. Use a customer’s name

Include it naturally throughout the conversation. This will help you personalize the call.

5. Leave the customer satisfied

As with most things, finishing a conversation on the right note can create lasting positivity and a satisfied customer. Finishing a conversation in a positive manner can transform what may have started as an angry phone call to a pleasant experience for the customer.

Effective telephone communication skills result in more productive relationships that lead to better customer service and perhaps increased sales. Thus, you may want to read the full article Five Telephone Communication Skill Tips for Customer Service and learn more about each of these tips.

You see how important your tone of voice is when on the phone? Sure, you do.

The tone of your voice either makes or breaks you when you are conducting business over the phone. People can’t see that you are competent and knowledgeable. What they use to assess your credibility on the phone is your tone of voice.

It is critical to your success as a salesperson, technical support or customer service representative that you consider the importance of tone of voice before picking up a phone to talk to a customer. That’s why you might want to check how to improve the tone of your voice.

Additionally, you may also want to check out another great source – 7 Soft Skills to Transform Your Customer Experience Over the Telephone by Myra Golden Media.

Eager to find out more about how to provide great customer service? Then, here’s the LAST method explained which will help your performance at any customer service job. You will learn many polite expressions you can use with your customers.

If you please, check out a few more techniques to help you sound polished on the phone and wow your customers.

And let’s wrap it all up with the 7 Cs of effective communication regardless of the channel you use, shall we?

O.K. It’s time to summarize our learnings from this lesson now, isn’t it? Let’s do it!

In Summary

Although using the new web text-based communication channels is fast and convenient, they lack that humanistic approach in communicating with your customers.

Still, according to a Zendesk report mentioned in the lesson, customers simultaneously want the warmth of human communication and the speed and efficiency of automated service, which is a paradoxical challenge for companies.

Every communication channel has its nuances, pros and cons.

For example, when writing an email, which is basically observed as a cold medium, CSRs have to rely only on word choice, punctuation and sentence structure to convey the right tone.

However, a good thing is that you can think through what you’re going to say, which is not the case when communicating via live chat or phone.

On the other hand, live chat and phone communications enable CSRs to promptly respond to customers and sense one another’s attitude and emotions right away.

Moreover, speaking with customers over the phone offers the benefit of natural human contact.

Next, one skilful CSR can handle multiple live chat conversations efficiently, and quickly resolve multiple customers’ issues simultaneously, which is not possible via the other two channels.

Then again, those off-the-cuff responses via live chat or phone are precisely what makes it more challenging to strike the appropriate tone and reflect your customer’s tone when providing support.

Since we’ve been focused on the appropriate tone of voice in customer service in this series of lessons, we find it of immense importance to remind you of the core principles of communicating with customers you’ve learnt so far.

No matter whether you write to or speak with your customers, always remember the basic guidelines you should follow when it comes to the tone of voice you use:

  • Treat all your customers as people first – with empathy, dignity, respect, compassion and attentive listening.
  • Tend to strike the perfect balance between too casual and too professional tone. Try to sound natural and courteous.
  • It’s wise to adjust your tone to the message and the context and to reflect your customer’s tone if appropriate.
  • Use polite conversational language, adopt a positive can-do attitude and use the power of positive words even with negative customers i.e. especially with them.
  • Avoid passive sentence structures, slangjargonacronyms or anything else that can confuse the customer.
  • Instead, use active voice and simple language. Keep your messages clear and to-the-point.
  • The tone of voice you convey is NOT your personally but the one of your employer. Always bear in mind that you speak on behalf of your employer.

Remember this from the previous lesson as well? Sure you do.

Now, let’s check what you’ve learnt. Looking forward to your correct answers to our quiz questions!

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it true that your customers can sense your attitude right away when communicating with you over the phone?

a. Yes because you’re providing your immediate response to them with emotional cues via your voice. So, your tone of voice reflects your emotions and that’s how they can feel it

b. No, they cannot know your attitude until they see your face

2. Although email is basically considered to be a cold medium, a good thing about writing emails to customers is that CSRs have a chance to think through what they’re going to say before their message reaches the customers.

a. True

b. False

3. You’ve started a conversation with a customer via live chat but the issue seems to be getting even more complicated. What should you do?

a. Continue struggling to communicate with the customer via live chat since that’s the channel your customer initially chose for reaching you

b. Stop the conversation immediately and ask the customer to continue chatting with your colleague who works tomorrow morning (next shift) because the issue seems too complex for you to deal with

c. Suggest switching to another communication channel (a kind of video or audio chat form) in order to be able to properly assist the customer but make sure it can be done seamlessly and that the customer agrees

4. Which of these communication channels makes it easiest for a CSR to figure out the customer’s tone immediately?

a. Email

b. Live Chat

c. Phone

5. Even if they are effectively helped, customers frequently complain of representatives’ tone since a seemingly rude tone can affect a customer’s perception of the quality of service they received.

a. False. Customers don’t care about CSRs’ tone as long as they use precise enough words to help the customer solve the problem

b. True. Customers don’t feel valued enough if CSRs’ tone is not sincerely friendly, positive, polite and professional. Saying the right thing is not enough. CSRs need to be able to convey the appropriate emotion through their tone

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