How to improve English language proficiency in call centers

Monday, June 2, 2014

Call centers need agents with good command of the English language in order to provide exceptional interaction to customers. Open Access BPO explains how call center managers can mold the communication skills of their agents to become effective in engaging with English-speaking customers.

For businesses outsourcing to offshore service providers, such as a call center in the Philippines, it's important to make sure that the outsourced agents are of top caliber. One consideration is the agents' proficiency in speaking the English language. Since they interact mostly with English-speaking customers, it's important that their grammar, choice of words, accent, intonation, and vocabulary do not hinder them from communicating effectively with the customers.

Call center agents, especially those who are not native speakers of the English language, must receive enough language training in order to improve their communication skills. Here's how call center managers can do this:

1.   A call center must have a pool of corporate trainers who have solid background in teaching English to non-native speakers of the language.

Trainers may begin by assessing the language needs of the team using oral and written evaluation methods. Live call monitoring forms must also allot a section for evaluating weaknesses of agents in speaking the language. From here, appropriate training strategies may be designed to target the specific areas.

2.   Make sure your agents have access to learning materials and tools even outside of regular training sessions.

This will encourage self-motivated learning among members of your team. You may also offer guidelines or standard responses that they can use in designing cheat sheets. This encourages familiarity and easy retention. They can also use this as a quick reference in case they need help during calls.

3.   Reinforce your agents' product knowledge.

Evaluate if they truly are well-versed with the processes needed in delivering the services of your team. Most of the time, the lack of confidence and understanding of procedures can lead to poor communication, since agents take time in coming up with non-standard responses to customer inquiries.

4.   Employ unique call center practices that can help improve the English skills of your agents.

Most call centers in the Philippines implement the English only policy (EOP) to make their agents accustomed to speaking the language. You may also encourage team leaders to initiate exercises or icebreakers that are designed to improve their agents' English skills. Agents who are highly proficient in English may also be paired with less skilled speakers so that the latter can follow correct usage of the language.

5.   Provide rewards to agents showing progress in their communication skills.

Incentives may be given to the most improved agents to encourage others to follow suit. Rewards don't necessarily have to be in monetary form; a simple recognition through a bulletin board announcement or a gift certificate is enough to motivate your agents to improve their English skills on their own.

The outsourced customer service team serves as the voice of the company. It is important that this voice is constantly molded to be in its best form in order to help the business have a good brand image. By training agents to be highly proficient in the English language, a call center can have a competent workforce that can provide exceptional interaction with customers.