Published: Feb. 7, 2011
Updated: Aug. 4, 2011
If you work in a call center, your job depends on your voice, and you are considered an occupational voice user.
Your voice is the only tool you have to convey your company’s message.
Whether your call center is in retail, finance, technical support, bill collecting, or you schedule appointments in health care, your voice is your only link with the customer.
In this environment, a healthy, pleasing voice is critical for building trust with customers.
Just as neat professional attire is essential for face-to-face interactions with clients, successful phone interactions depend on the clarity of the voice.
A hoarse voice from a call center agent (CCA) carries the same negative impression as a worn-out suit, and can detract from building credibility and trust with clients.
So a healthy voice is crucial, but because you are talking on the phone nearly 40 hours a week, you are at risk for damaging your voice and developing hoarseness. A 2002 study on voice problems among CCAs reported voice problems in 31 percent of CCAs, with several negative outcomes, including:
Overall, CCAs with voice problems were less enthusiastic about selling the product. Voice problems are bad for CCAs, and they are bad for business.
Voice scientists now think of voice problems in CCAs as a form of repetitive motion injury, because the vocal folds are being injured by overuse, similar to the way data entry personnel may develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
When we talk, the vocal folds are vibrating about 200 times a second for women and about half that for men. That can add up to more than a million cycles of vibration during a work day at a call center.
Multiply that by five days a week, and this kind of repetitive motion causes excessive impact on the tissues of the vocal folds and can lead to vocal injury.
Taking frequent breaks from repetitive motion (in this case, vocal fold vibration) is a key to avoiding a voice injury. Voice scientists advise CCAs to think of voice pacing on three levels:
In a typical phone call, there are quick breath pauses between sentences, and longer pauses when we listen to the client speaking. Voice scientists tell us that even those very short breaks are important, since the vocal folds take a “micro break” from vibrating.
For CCAs, building in frequent “micro breaks” during the phone call is essential. This means that phone scripts for CCAs should be written as dialogues rather than monologues, taking advantage of pauses for client response to give the CCAs a mini break.
In addition, any script that is frequently repeated word-for-word by the CCA should be pre-recorded if possible, again allowing a brief voice break during the call.
Between phone calls, CCAs also need to find time for longer breaks of being silent, and switching to a work task that doesn’t require talking.
A good rule of thumb is to take a five-minute break every hour away from phone use. And don’t forget your regular shift breaks, which are ideal times to rest your voice.
These longer breaks are even more important if you are not able to structure your phone calls to include “micro breaks.”
Finally, your time off between work days is crucial for getting longer rest breaks for your voice. CCAs may need to limit extra voice use outside of work (during the voice recovery period).
If your voice is tired after a day of work, you may risk injury if you yell at a sports event, talk loudly at a party, or sing at the church choir rehearsal -- all activities involving more vocal-fold vibration.
Besides vocal pacing, CCAs must also practice good voice hygiene. These strategies help keep the throat moist and free from irritation, so the vocal folds are less likely to be injured:
The call center work environment should support healthy voice habits for CCAs. Any environmental factor that causes you to raise your voice is detrimental, since the vocal folds vibrate together with even greater force when you use a louder voice.
Loud voice use can lead to injury more quickly. Monitor your vocal loudness, and turn down the volume on your voice whenever possible.
Tips to manage vocal loudness:
Don’t wait until you have lost your voice to seek medical help.
Pay attention to subtle signs that your voice is getting tired -- dry throat, raw or tired feeling in the throat, increased mucus in the throat, feeling like talking takes more effort, feeling throat strain -- in addition to a raspy or hoarse voice.
If you notice voice fatigue or hoarseness, you should have a voice evaluation with a laryngologist (ENT doctor who specializes in voice) and voice-trained speech-language pathologist (SLP), who can provide a diagnosis and a plan to help you get your voice back.
This team of vocal health experts will help you achieve optimal management of medical, environmental and vocal use factors relative to your voice problem.
Often, resolution of the voice problem involves working with a trained voice therapist (SLP) to show you how to use your voice in the most relaxed, efficient, healthy manner to recover from injury and avoid injury in the future.