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Listen to the Voice of the Brand — By Calling Its Call Center

by Jessica L'Esperance / December 16, 2010

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

UX designers probably already know how important it is to evaluate a brand’s call center at the start of every engagement. For direct response and e-commerce companies, it’s often the only brand touch point where consumers can talk to a live human being. As designers, we listen to the questions customers ask, identify their pain points and look for ways to prevent them. We also learn the top 10 customer questions and the order that the agents drive the conversations—all in an effort to identify opportunities for simpler, more intuitive transactions.

But what most people don’t know is, you can also listen for the voice of the company. Think about that for a second. You can literally hear the brand through the phone. It’s so obvious, and yet so incredible.

Try it. Call a couple call centers. I did. I called Time Warner, and Zappos and got a real vivid understanding of their brands.

Time Warner prioritizes efficiency.

Here’s what happened when I called Time Warner Cable’s customer service.

■ “Good afternoon. Welcome to Time Warner Cable. This call may be monitored or recorded…” said the system-generated greeting.
■ The operator’s voice sounded cold and mechanical, and I could tell the call was outsourced.
■ The hold music was generic and outdated.
■ The agent didn’t tailor his tone of voice or word choice to match my casual communication style. He talked as if reading from a script.
■ The agent helped me in a timely and efficient manner.
From this quick, five-minute call, I learned that Time Warner Cable was committed to meeting my immediate needs as fast as possible. But my overall happiness and enjoyment of the experience seemed like an afterthought.

Zappos has a sense of humor.

Now here’s what happened when I called customer service-centric Zappos.

■ I was greeted with a recorded, “Hello! Please allow us to help you.”
■ The last option of the menu was, “Press five for the joke of the day.”
■ While I waited for an agent, I listened to a recording of two young women discussing all the new features of Zappos. It wasn’t hilarious or clever – but it was human and personable.
■ Gerald, my agent, was super helpful. He provided more helpful information than I had even known to ask for.
■ At the end, he upgraded my shipping to next-day so I could, “Try them on right away, since the rainy season is here and you need to get the right ones ASAP.”
■ I hung up feeling like I made a new friend.
From this quick call, I gathered that Zappos approaches customer service like it would comfort a friend. The brand had prioritized being personable, warm, approachable, informative, helpful and funny. They seemed to truly want me to feel good and satisfied with my purchase.

A Vivid Understanding of Brand

Both calls gave me a vivid, visceral sense of what the brand is like, how they talk and what they say. I never would have gleaned these insights as clearly from a spreadsheet or from listening in on someone else’s call.

My advice to designers and to brand managers—don’t rely on other customer’s experiences to learn more about the brand and to find opportunities for improvement. Call for yourself.




  1. chris 'spinman" spintzyk on December 29, 2010

    Great article and totally on fact based on a personal experience with Target I was able to glean that they don't empower their call center reps to answer any questions, all comes from scripts and to me that shows that they really don't have a concern for their customers issues or any problem resolution....

    Companies, designers, agencies all should pay attention to the customer service departments as this is where the true contact happens and where experiences both good or bad will be talked about in social circles....

    Happy New Year...