Language Assessment for Call Centres

A Language Testing Scenario for Group or Individual Study
Prof. Glenn Fulcher

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Language Assessment for Better Business

In business, communication matters. Marketing researchers have moved from what they call 'transaction-oriented models' of service provider - customer interaction, to one that focuses on relationships (Gronroos, 1993). The nature of the communication sets up a temporary relationship that leaves the customer with an impression of the quality of the service, which impacts directly on whether they will buy, and crucially, whether or not brand loyalty is established (Keaveney, 1995).

If the customer is to leave with a sense of having been served well, communication must be clear, and any transactions effected swiftly. But there is a tension between effectiveness and personalization. This is where training and assessment come in - to ensure that the call centre staff are maximizing the key element of 'rapport' between the operator and the customer (Gremler and Gwinner, 2000).

It is essential that accents and prounciation do not impact upon intelligibility, grammar is accurate, and questioning clear. Culturally appropriate talk is necessary to build rapport when necessary. On the right is a link to a video produced by Journeyman Pictures on YouTube. It is 15 minutes in length and explains the massive growth in outsourced call centre activity, its value to the global economy, and the lengths that people to go to ensure that call centre operators can communicate effectively with customers.

Miscommunication in this context quickly leads to customer frustration, and the telephone being slammed down in exasperation. This is especially the case when we feel that the person we're talking too is probably in another country and doesn't possess the local knowledge they need to process our enquiry.

This is a spoof video that packs many of the things that can go wrong into a very short sketch. The customer gets very heated, and the operator just doesn't have the language or pragmatic skills to deal with the situation. Questioning technique is poor, and the operator talks too much, not really listening to the customer's problem. Employers wish to hire staff who can build up customer loyalty to their brand. Putting appropriate assessment procedures in place therefore helps to achieve a company's strategic goals.

For Discussion

  1. What would be the main advantages to employers in testing the communication skills of call centre operators?
  2. Make a list of the kinds of miscommunication that can occur in telephone-based service encounters.
  3. What might you wish to assess, if you were asked to create a test for use to recruit staff to a call centre?
  4. Look at the tests of call centre communication (links below). What are the key features of these tests? What evidence is presented to suggest that a particular test is useful for the intended decision?
  5. Look at the links on the right side of this web page. Choose one that looks interesting to you. What issues does it raise for the training and testing of call centre personnel?
  6. Open your favourite search engine and type in 'call centre training courses'. Select one course. Who is the course targetted at? Do you think it would meet their needs? If the learners are assessed, how are they assessed?

Latest Call Centre Links

The CALL Centre (Communication Aids for Language and Learning)
21 Apr, 2017
The CALL Centre provides specialist expertise in technology for children who have speech, communication and/or writing difficulties, in schools across Scotland

Call Center ESL | Pronunciation and English Skills ...
16 Apr, 2017
Improve your general English skills and pronunciation while reducing your non-native accent with Call Center ESL's online English training course.

How to Improve Call Center English |
15 Apr, 2017
Call center agents working for companies in which English is the primary language used for business need to have excellent English-language skills.

What is Language Assessment? | Call Center Beat
11 Apr, 2017
Language testing or language assessment is a fully peer-reviewed. It is the method on how to gauge the student?s knowledge and know how and what they can do more.

Language Assessment for Call Centres
10 Apr, 2017
Language Assessment for Call ... This is where training and assessment come in - to ensure that the call centre staff ... Versant for Call Centres; eSkill Call Center ...

call center language assessment Information - Call Center Beat
25 Mar, 2017
Language testing or language assessment is a fully peer-reviewed. It is the method on how to gauge the student?s knowledge. Read more

Sensei: Spoken language assessment for call center agents
30 Dec, 2016
In this paper, we present a system, called Sensei, for assessment of spoken English skills of call center agents. Sensei evaluates multiple parameters of spoken ...

English Assessment for Call Center Agents | LinkedIn
13 Mar, 2014
Indubitably, English proficiency is an important skill every call center agent must possess. For the average agent, success in the industry is determined ...

Useful Links and Resources


Selected Publications


Gremler, D. D. and Gwinner, K. P. (2000). Customer-employee rapport in service relationships. Journal of Service Research, 3, 1, 82 - 104.

Gronroos, C. (1993). Toward a third phase in service quality research: Challenges and future directions. In Swartz, A. T., Bowen, D. E. and Brown, S. W. Eds. Advances in Service Marketing Management. Vol II, Greenwhich Connecticut: JAI Press Inc., 49 - 64.

Keaveney, S. M. (1995). Customer switching behavior in service industries: An exploratory study. Journal of Marketing 59(2) 71 - 82.