[Reader-list] call centre posting

iram ghufran iram02_g at yahoo.co.in
Tue Jun 29 17:28:29 IST 2004

CALL CENTRE: The Play of Language

While the  primary nomenclature of a call center, with
its `inbound or outbound’ calls and `domestic or
international’ BPO’s seems to be lifted out of an
airlines manual, the Call Center industry has over the
years formed unique codes of language for itself.
The language of Call Center can be seen in terms of
slang, script, acronym and abbreviation and protocol
which are coupled with an intricate systems of rules,
regulations, codes, ethics and modes of behavior.
It produces a complex labyrinth of instructions
intended to articulate thoughts of an agent meandering
through the space of her floor, and across oceans.

Voice and Accent Training 

The most talked about and documented tool in call
center training programmes is the Voice and Accent
Training Module. Indian CCE’s (customer care
executives) are supposed to imbibe the `accents’ of
the target country. So, the consumer’s country of
residence dictates the accent of the `remote agent’.
She can end up `learning’ an American, British, Irish,
Canadian or an Australian accent. Neal Anderson,
Senior CCE in an international call center told us how
his ears have become attuned to different accents in
Britain. Accent training, however is primarily an
important feature of international call centers only.

Voice and Accent Training Module for an American
`campaign’ of an international call center in Delhi.

This module begins with a very persuasive statement on

 ` Seeds of learning are always within us. Sometimes
it takes training to nourish and encourage their

Notice the strong emphasis on the words `training’ and
`learning’. It further goes on to say that, 

 `We are indeed a family dedicated to the success of
the people who have set a strong foundation by virtue
of their accent’

Needless to say the last line underlines the
propotional relationship between success in a job of
an agent and her command over the requisite accent.
The module goes on to elucidate the journey from
`Indianization to Americanization’. The various sub
parts of the section include `perceptions of the US’,
and `Greetings and salutations’. 
While the `Do’s and don’ts tell the agent about the
political correctness of their language when dealing
with American customers, the `greetings and
salutations’ apprise them on how Americans value their
name more than the generic Sir or Ma’am.
The rest of the manual is a systematic pedagogic
attempt at inculcating the American accent. 
Here is a `sneak preview’.
<sum> Mouth exercises
<sum> Introduction to American plosive
P sound
T sound
T rules
T passages
K sounds
V’s ands W’s
V sound W sound
Finding V and w sounds
Targeting the `Th’ sounds
Catagorising the Th sound
R sounds
S or Z
When S becomes Z 
Finding S and Z sounds
<sum> Vowel sounds
<sum> American intonation
<sum> Syllable
<sum> Liaises and glides
<sum> Nasal consonants
<sum> Throat consonants


Neal Anderson a.k.a. Neal Robinson, a remote agent
says that "marketing and selling is not an
uninteresting work but it is the sheer exhaustion
caused by repeating the same lines again and again and
 The strict rules of sticking to a prepared script and
to a certain code of behavior in many call centers
makes the job monotonous, boring and difficult.

A few examples from a manual
Opening a call. 
Answer promptly
Greet the customer
Use your company formal greeting

Why use the formal greeting
Sounds professional
It shows respect
It tells the customer who you are
It provides brand recognition

The one voice concept
My customers are usually more satisfied if they are
handled by the first person they talk to without
having to explain their situation over and over again

The hold button
Most of my customers don’t like the idea of being put
on hold. I avoid using the hold button too often and
too quickly. I fear this might damage my relationship
with my customer.
If I do need to put my customer on hold, I follow
proper process. Using proper hold procedures to show
customers that I value their time. Ask for permission
may I place you on hold’
may I put you on hold’

 Explain why the hold if necessary
while I check on that’
while I pull up you account record’

Thank the customer for holding
`thank you very much for staying on line. 

Customers form mental pictures of us based on our
I want my customer to hear warmth, enthusiasm, care
and commitment in my voice. I work on my voice to make
it sound -

<sum> Alert
<sum> Pleasant
<sum> Expressive
<sum> Watch our speech and voice
I am extremely cautious of how I speak with my
customer. I constantly watch my speech and my tone.
<sum> Inflection stressing on the right word and
syllable to bring out the correct message
<sum> Pitch- is my voice too deep or is it too high
<sum> Rate- do I speak too fast- the number of words
per minute
<sum> Volume- am I audible, too soft or too loud
<sum> Enunciation- do my words have a distinct ending-
especially similar sounding words

Closing the call
There are a number of ways you can close the call. All
of these different methods have one critical part.
Thanking the customer is final. Always close the call
pleasantly. Some of the phrases that I find effective
Thank you for calling
It has been a pleasure talking to you
Is there something else I could assist you with

I hope I have been of help
Do call us in for any further assistance that you need

Soft Skills
Soft skills are euphemisms for questioning. Catechisms
 instead of conversations.  Intrinsic skills for a 
call centers operative.
Paraphrasing allows the Call Center Rep to repeat the
query of the customer
Probing enables her to directly pinpoint what the
customer wants
Agents are also given a hand out on words to use/not
to use.

This is just a part of the list
Words that work
It is a pleasure
I apologize for the inconvenience
Thank you for doing business with us

Never use
Don’t know
You are wrong
I disagree
May be that’s not true

Words that do not work
I can’t help
Please call later
If you insist
We can’t do that
You will just have to 

There are of course other lists
Sentences that work
Confirming sentence
Bridging statements

While interacting with consumers, agents are supposed
to keep in mind the 
Site map of the US
Time zone 
Baseball scores

Some call centers give specific handouts. These often
contain interesting trivia concerning American life.
<sum> Never ever talk in you native language in the
presence of an American during a gathering. They don’t
like it.
<sum> Never ever ask for a rubber when you need an
eraser. Here a rubber means a condom.
The hand out has 52 such facets describing the
American cultural ethos
The interesting point in the handout was that every
sentence began with a `never’, `never ever’, don’t,
don’t say, don’t call


Call center lingo comprises of acronyms, words,
abbreviations and nomenclatures. We have compiled a
list of some of the commonly used   ones.

<sum> Remote agent/Rep/ Customer care executive-
employee taking calls
<sum> AHT Average handling time- time required to
process a call
<sum> Processing a call- Taking a all and executing
the required functions
<sum> Going live/ hitting the floor- when an agent is
on air or ready to take calls
<sum> Pitching a sale- when an agent is trying to
convince the customer into buying a product/ service
<sum> Mute- when activated, this button on the work
station does not allow the conversation from the
Indian side of the call center to be heard by the
customer in Europe, America or Australia
<sum> Lead- When an agent in India is able to convince
the consumer to have a look at the product which is
followed up the parent organizations representative n
the US
<sum> Barge on calls- when a supervisor monitors a
call being taken up by the CCE to acertain the quality
of the service offered
<sum> TL team leader-. Has 8 to 12 agents working
under her. She does not take calls
<sum> Irate customer- customer who is finicky or
irritated while talking to the agent
<sum> Dead air- when there is total silence on the
telephone line. No conversation between the customer
and the agent takes place. This has to be avoided at
all cost. 

Styles of Engagement

Nishat while talking to us would use phrases like
You don’t cut a customer...
You never do it...
You never say that

He showed an amazing capacity to remember and put into
practice the sets of instructions while negotiating
with customers. He spoke like a person mechanized by
training, where responses to live experiences are
always referred to the script
 the protocol
 the set
 almost binary instructions before
processing each query.
But this boolean thought process is always challenged
and often put to test when in times of extreme duress
and pressure, agents face a systematic failure and
there is a general breakdown of all protocols and
Raymond when dealing with an irate customer followed 
the protocol and warned  the customer.

"Sir, you are using unprofessional language. I am at
the liberty to terminate the call."

The customer abused him repeatedly. Raymond called in
his TL and told him that now he would deal with the
customer in his own way and to hell with the job.
Raymond without pressing the mute button used certain
`impolite' language with the customer- "mother fucker,
I’ll fuck your sister" 

Nishat and Hazel are more considerate and have
developed various defence mechanisms to deal with
situations. Interestingly here language takes an about
turn and sometimes  violent outbursts of highly
abusive language are used to bring `order’ and
reprieve from the monotony.
Raymond told us that people on his floor still laugh
and talk of this incident.

It is not at all surprising that it is not the much
talked of Voice and Accent Training but the subtle
technique which is not only very immanent in
articulating the use of language within call centers
but is a very potent tool in defining the contours of
human thought within the spatial dynamics of the call
Appropriating the language then becomes the key if one
is unable to differentiate the mixing of identities
emanating from the call center. 
Raymond’s TL, Tausif for example speaks with a
distinct American accent even when he is not on a
shift. Neal Anderson, on the other hand, working for a
smaller call center believes that if he cannot
understand his own accent, he would not expect an
American to understand his fake, put on. He prefers
the South Asian Neutral

Language in a call centre gives us an interesting
insight into the working of the  space. 

It is very clear that the industry uses very
immaculate forms of persuasive articulation of
language. It relies heavily on clear, short, simple
messages aimed at speedy disposal of customers query
or the agents’ request for the sale of a product.

Not surprisingly, language tends to become a set of
straightforward instructions, which leave little room
for maneuver, detour or alternate approaches. 
Yet there are the loopholes that allow for a long
distance relationship between the customer and the
caller to develop. As in the case with Raymond, who
has made `friends’ with a writer, a businessman and a
mountaineer. The catch is that Raymond doesn’t know if
the writer is a writer, the businessman, the
businessman and the mountaineer actually a 
mountaineer. However such practices are not encouraged
and are considered extremely unprofessional. These
instances are few and far between. 

The bracketed movement of language leads to its
oscillated existence.
The thought process of an agent becomes  looped . She
follows the same flowchart while dealing with tens of
hundreds of customers during the course of her
`career’. This induces monotony coupled with the
sedentary nature of job and long working hours, it
often results in listless and zombie like behavior.
Hazel has taken to talking in her sleep,"
Thank you
for calling XYZ services..."
Here, abuse becomes an important vent for release
especially in the mother tongue. Swearing in English
no longer has the passion nor the effect. For Hazel,
recourse to the occident when dealing with college
goons  as a student was effective. It proved useless
in the Call Centre space. It was only what the
customer could do to hos mother sister in  'chaste'
Hindi that served as the stress buster. 
The do’s and don’ts of soft skills are designed in
such a manner that they restrict questioning. Why? Is
regarded a negative thought, it is blasphemy.
Therein lies the irony because most international call
center with their flat organizational structure
supposedly promote a culture where superiors are
called by their first names and language among peers,
superiors and subordinates is extremely informal. But
behind this soft façade of, ` hi! Dude! What’s up?'
lies the rigid plinth of codes, procedures and
didactic commands, which are expected to be read,
learnt  and internalized.

Iram Ghufran
Taha Mehmood

Yahoo! India Matrimony: Find your partner online. http://yahoo.shaadi.com/india-matrimony/

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