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Tone Wars

Lizze Mundt

Conquering the dark side of customer service can be a daunting task, especially if your main source of communication is the telephone…

You pick up a call expecting a simple customer interaction, and suddenly you’re transported, white-knuckled at helm, ready to drop a laser bomb down a tiny vent shaft as your co-workers fall away one-by-one, engulfed in a spectacular frenzied firefight.

Or is that just part of the plot in A New Hope?

Some days, working in customer service just feels that way. There are times where it doesn’t matter what you say, the customer is upset and refuses reason because they’ve been burned by this process somewhere before.

The only hope you have left? Laser bombs. WAIT, no! Sorry, I always get lasers confused with tone.

In the late ‘60s, Albert Mehrabian realized that effective communication can be broken down into three parts: word choice, tone of voice, and body language. It’s referred to as the 7-38-55% Rule.

If your main point of communication is over the phone, you’re already starting with a communication deficit.

You can wave your arms, flail, and gesture to your heart’s content, but it won’t help if you can’t be seen (though you may sound awfully winded, depending on the force of your flail.)

Word choice is also important, of course, but your tone will ultimately make or break the customer’s experience. Being too flat or monotone can make the person on the other end think you’re disinterested, and too high of a pitch can make you seem insincere.

There’s a sweet spot nestled right in the middle…

Staying calm and collected will help dramatically, even if your caller isn’t. Your goal is to assure the other person that you understand where they are coming from, and that you’re doing your best to take care of their problem.

We’ve all had terrible customer service experiences before. Take a minute to think about it your own:

What happened? How were you treated? How did it make you feel?

We’re all human! We’ve all said the wrong thing – or maybe even the right thing in the wrong tone. As a guiding principle, use your personal customer service experiences as stepping stones through your interactions.

When I’m handling a customer service issue for someone, I want both the client and the customer to know that – despite what they may have experienced with other businesses – we will do everything we can to make it right. This isn’t everywhere else, this is LongerDays!


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