Kill Dead Air at the Call Center—It’s Murder, But Not a Crime!

Judy McKee

Call path control is the key to successful call center customer service and client relationships. Dead air should be killed, and filled. It is not a crime to kill dead air, it is a service to everyone! When the call times are not too long, and the customer gets the service he deserves, the call center representative can move on to the next call or job, and the company can count on saving money with average call time not wasted. Everybody is happy.

Since we recognize the need for profits and understand that the profits come through the relationship to the customer, why don’t we teach the call center representatives and training service representatives how to communicate, carry on a dialogue and create a conversation with the customer/client that is quick and effective?

Control of the path of a conversation requires questions—the right questions—posed in a proper way and placed in the conversation at exactly the right time.

The Person Who Asks the Questions Is the Person in Control of the Conversation

Training is essential to ensure your call center representatives are using the best methods during their calls. As the call center class moves from subject to subject a good call center trainer always tries to have interaction with the call center representatives. In order to have interaction the trainer must ask questions. But when you ask questions you could make the call center trainee feel wrong or even stupid. When the trainer asks a question that is rhetorical the student feels silly to answer it, but the teacher feels smart. This doesn’t work. It’s an ego builder for the call center trainer but a damaging use of technique for call center trainee.


There is an art to asking questions both in the training room and on the telephone with a call center’s customer. Learn the art of the question and you will always be in control. The call center trainer can model this technique as well as teach it.

The Rules for Asing the Right Questions in Order to Have a Profitable and Productive Conversation

Rule 1: Always end your side of the conversation with a question.

Example: "Today we will learn all about call path control. What types of questions are you currently asking your customer when they call you?"

Notice, I didn’t ask, "Do you ask your customers questions?"

Each time you ask the customer or the trainees a question make sure when they answer the question they look smart and right. It takes thought behind the question or a set up for the question so the responder doesn’t have a feeling of being manipulated or pressed.

Rule 2: Always give the customer the information he needs to make a decision and then ask a question to be sure you are on the right track.

When you ask the question, "What types of questions are you currently asking your customer when they call you?" It is easy for the call center representative to answer .The trainer can then make the call center representative feel intelligent and offer some other suggestions.

The call center trainer can use the technique again by saying: "This will be easy for you. Let’s learn how to do the same thing, make a statement and ask a question over and over again until the call is complete. OK?"

Example of the conversation:

Call center trainer: "What types of questions are you currently asking your customer when they call you?"
Call center representative: "I always ask the customer for their name and phone number and sometimes the account number."
Call center trainer: "Great! That’s exactly the right thing to ask. Now after you get that information, what do you ask then?"
Call center representative: I ask the customer what I can do for them.
Call center trainer: Perfect! Then today I am going to demonstrate how you can use that same technique throughout the entire call to help the customer get the service he needs and the product he may want.

Call center representatives can use that same technique from the beginning of the call to the end of it. Each time they speak to the customer, they make a statement and then ask a question. Each time the customer responds with the answer, they acknowledge the answer, comment on it and ask the next question

When Teaching the Art of Asking Questions, You Must Explain the "Why" On Each Point You Make

To teach the art of asking questions, take a person who knows how to do it.

The person who asks the questions is the person in control of the path of the call. If your call center representatives want control, they need to listen, acknowledge what they heard, comment, present product solutions and ask a question to move the conversation to the next part of the call.

  • If a call center representative asks a question the customer can answer, knows the answer and looks good when answering it the customer "feels" smart.
  • When you ask the customer a question, he will almost always answers it. This gives the call center representative time to prepare for the next pitch, presentation, solution or recommendation and makes it more comfortable for the call center representative as well as the customer.
  • If the call center representative controls the path of the call the customer will never doubt himself. Instead he will always knows what to do: answer the call center representative’s question.
  • When the customer is asked a question, the customer knows the call center representative is interested.
  • When the call center representative asks a question that is about the customer’s needs.
  • When the call center representative asks a question that is too direct, too personal or too intimate, this will irritate the customer. Make all of the questions soft.
  • If the call center representative has announced the price, given the customer the benefit and then ask for the order so the customer has time to think, has the information he/she needs to make a decision and then responds with a yes or a no.
  • Asking a feedback question like "Is that OK?" or "How will that work for you?" gives the call center representative a chance to check to see if he is on the right track. If not the customer will let the call center representative know and the call center representative can regroup, offer a different product and ask a different question.

Warning: If you do not end your side of the conversation on a question you risk the following.

The customer:

  • May not know what to say.
  • May not know what to do.
  • May not feel comfortable.
  • Could leave dead air.
  • Could take over with a question.
  • Could feel wrong or stupid because of the dead air.
  • Might not like the way the conversation goes.
  • Might not want to take over the conversation.
  • Might be embarrassed because he doesn't know exactly what to do.
  • Will usually say or do something that is not what the call center representative wants.

It’s time to make sure that all of your customer relationships work successfully to accomplish your goals. It’s time to teach your call center representatives Call Path Control without manipulation or evasion. It’s time to train your call center trainers in the art of asking questions so they can use it and teach it.

If you take this advice, your relationships will work, your training programs will gain more acceptances, your if your agents learn it your people will cut their call time and your company will be successful. Now that’s money!

First published on Call Center IQ.