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What is call listening? A guide for 2024

Use call listening to monitor customer conversations, provide high-quality service, and support agent growth.

Af Patrick Grieve, Contributing Writer

Senest opdateret June 27, 2024

What is call listening?

Call listening is a strategic practice in which team leads evaluate customer conversations in real time or after a call concludes. Call listening sessions typically assess agent performance to help managers identify areas for improvement and provide targeted coaching to improve the customer experience (CX).

Picture this: It’s the week before your 10th birthday, and your mother is on the landline in the kitchen planning your surprise birthday party. Even though you know you shouldn’t, you can’t help but pick up the phone in a different room and listen in as she orders a cake, streamers, and the LEGO set you’ve been asking for. Before she notices, you put the phone down and leave the room.

In a call center, this practice is called call listening, and businesses must always notify customers when calls are being monitored. It’s a strategic quality assurance practice that offers targeted coaching to agents. While metrics like customer survey scores and average hold times speak volumes about your support team’s performance, call listening can add context to these numbers. Discover best practices for call listening and how they can improve call center performance in our guide.

In this guide:

Benefits of call listening

Whether you’re just starting a call center or already running a successful one, call listening is crucial for team leads to understand why conversations run long, end abruptly, or don’t go smoothly. Monitoring calls improves customer service management and benefits call center representatives in various ways.

Provides agent performance insights

If your agents are performing poorly or you want context around your call center metrics, call listening can help. Whether it’s product knowledge, service speed, or demeanor, monitoring live or recorded calls can reveal reasons for low customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) or lackluster first contact resolution (FCR) rates.

Call listening can also confirm whether or not high average hold times (and other metrics) are due to bad customer service or thorough interactions partnered with questions and active listening.

Provides coaching for new or struggling agents

Customer service agents—both new and experienced—require hands-on call center training, even if they’re wearing hands-free headsets. By investing in strategic call listening and monitoring, you can guide agents through challenging calls, provide real-time advice, determine where call center scripts need updates, and offer post-call notes about areas for improvement.

For training purposes, record calls to use as examples of exceptional interactions or where callers can make adjustments. The more calls you record, the more examples you have for trainees and current agents of what to expect or how to navigate complex situations.

And don’t shy away from monitoring your best agents. High-performing agents are also worth a listen, as their successful interactions can help you discover tips and tricks to share with the rest of the team. Plus, everyone has room for growth.

Improves customer service

Call listening and monitoring isn’t all silence and watching from the sidelines. Sometimes, you must jump in on a call (or provide actionable feedback from a recording) to improve your agent’s service.

During training, monitoring can help agents answer common questions, gain confidence in phone customer service etiquette, and acclimate to their position. As the mission is always to resolve a customer’s issue as quickly and efficiently as possible, don’t be afraid to offer tips and insight in the name of good customer service.

Regulates compliance

Call centers must ensure interactions comply with service standards and regulations. Call listening—even if it’s sporadic—is a customer service quality assurance mechanism that allows teams to evaluate interactions based on pre-set standards. Whether monitoring data security or complaint handling, call listening helps companies prioritize the integrity of customer interactions.

58 percent of customers agree that how their data is used impacts whether or not they purchase from a company.

Uncovers customer expectations

Customer conversations can be a treasure trove of insights into customer pain points and preferences. By listening to real and mock interactions, agents and team leaders learn about customer expectations directly from their audience, which can help organizations change and update products and services for buyers.

Call listening vs. call center monitoring

Call listening and call monitoring are often used interchangeably, as they typically refer to the same thing. But some differentiate the two, viewing call listening as managers listening to calls without intervening, and call monitoring involving intervention when needed.

Typically, call monitoring is considered an umbrella term for evaluating call quality, with call listening being an important aspect, regardless of whether managers intervene.

Types of call listening techniques

Whether you’ve heard or said the well-known phrase, “This call may be monitored or recorded for quality assurance purposes,” you’ve engaged in a form of call listening. With the following methods of call listening, you can improve customer service and call center skills.

Call recording

It can be less stressful for agents when supervisors or managers record customer calls rather than listen to them live. This method of call listening allows listeners to review conversations post-interaction, enabling them to thoroughly analyze mistakes, pause recordings, and provide in-depth feedback for future interactions. Additionally, recorded calls can double as valuable training examples for new agents.

Contact centers can record customer calls and attach audio files to the corresponding support ticket. This way, managers never lose track of the conversation and can access it when needed.

Live monitoring

Live call monitoring allows supervisors to monitor or intervene and potentially improve interactions as conversations occur. Different methods of live call listening require a different level of supervisor involvement:

  • Snoop: Supervisors silently listen to a call without alerting agents. This type of call listening can help managers assess an agent’s typical performance—but it also limits their ability to give real-time advice.
  • Whisper: Supervisors listening to a call can speak to an agent without the customer hearing (although you must always inform them that their calls may be monitored or recorded). This type of call listening allows supervisors to advise and correct agents during calls without disrupting the experience for the customer.
  • Barge: Supervisors listening to a call can join in and communicate with the agent and the customer at any time. This intervention option is great for agents-in-training and when you can resolve an issue faster than the agent.

With the right software, live call listening and call recording are not mutually exclusive options. You can improve your agents’ call-handling skills by strategically using recordings and live listening to monitor, snoop, whisper, or barge into select conversations.

Voice quality assurance (QA)

44 percent of companies use dedicated quality assurance software to measure customer service quality.

Voice QA allows supervisors to automatically evaluate calls, score conversations, and identify outlying interactions for manual review. You get data-backed insights into where agents can improve.

For example, Zendesk QA leverages AI to review 100 percent of your customer interactions—including those that business processing outsourcers handle—saving you time and reducing operational costs.

Call summaries and transcripts

Supervisors can use call summaries and transcripts to monitor customer service interactions. Consider using customer service AI to create these resources to reduce post-call wrap-up time. You can review AI-generated transcripts and summaries, and then share observations and recommendations with agents to enhance their learning and performance.

Keep the documents in an internal knowledge base so you can use them to train new hires and support struggling agents by providing them with real, plausible conversations to learn from.

Call listening use cases

Regarding resolving complex or nuanced issues, 71% of businesses use voice as their primary form of customer support.

Call listening is common across various industries, but managers and supervisors most often use it in:

  • Contact centers: Evaluate customer service quality, identify weaknesses, and meet customer expectations.
  • Sales departments: Monitor sales calls, refine sales techniques, and identify upsell or cross-sell opportunities.
  • Healthcare businesses: Assess customer data protection, including how it is used, communicated, and stored under compliance requirements.
  • Financial services: Monitor conversations and customer data privacy where customers and agents exchange sensitive financial information.

Other industries may also use call listening to train and support employees, ensure quality and compliance, and enhance customer support.

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How to implement call listening in 5 steps

Call listening should be strategic, with clear goals, defined processes, and the right software. Here are key steps to consider when implementing a call-listening strategy:

  1. Identify goals: Without objectives, call listening is just eavesdropping. Identify the KPIs you want to improve before creating a call listening strategy.
  2. Invest in the right software: Choose call monitoring software that enables call recording and listening. Look for systems that include AI tools, such as AI-powered QA and automated call summaries and transcripts, to save you valuable time.
  3. Implement processes: Collaborate with your agents to create standardized processes every team can follow. Use these to guide your listening sessions and provide actionable feedback.
  4. Establish guidelines: Work with your legal team to brainstorm compliance and quality assurance standards. All employees, including supervisors, must adhere to these guidelines during live interactions and monitoring sessions.
  5. Monitor and improve: Monitor your listening sessions over time. Evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy by measuring call center metrics and customer satisfaction, and improve your processes based on these learnings.

Revisit these steps while creating a listening strategy that works for your organization. Don’t be afraid to rethink objectives, software, processes, and guidelines until your strategy succeeds.

CX leaders believe 42 percent of voice-based interactions will be influenced by generative AI within the next two years.

Best practices for call listening

Call listening is only effective when you initiate it correctly. Follow these call center tips and call listening best practices to get the most out of your interaction monitoring:

  • Tell agents when you’re monitoring calls. You don’t need to be specific about what calls you monitor, but alerting agents can help them feel respected in the workplace.
  • Inform agents about performance notes promptly. Don’t try to surprise or shock agents, and help them improve their interactions by promptly notifying agents of areas of improvement.
  • Let customers know about call recordings. Whether legally or ethically required, tell customers you are recording their calls so they know what to expect and aren’t surprised.
  • Use insights to coach agents. Foster a growth mindset among agents by providing constructive feedback and developing tailored training programs.
  • Be kind and empathetic: Agents can feel vulnerable when their calls are being monitored, so be direct yet kind when delivering feedback.

If you feel you can’t follow these best practices while monitoring live or recorded conversations, you may need to reconsider how and why to implement call listening in your call center.

Frequently asked questions

Call listening software is a sound investment

Call listening helps managers track agent performance, identify knowledge and skills gaps, and improve training and development. By leveraging powerful software and quality assurance solutions like Zendesk QA, your teams can elevate customer experiences and services while implementing a successful call listening strategy.

Our cloud-based integrated voice solutions enable supervisors to monitor calls, record interactions, and intervene in conversations to ensure high-quality training and service delivery. Plus, features like Voice QA, robust agent performance metrics, and AI-generated transcripts and call summaries are easy to use and secure.

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