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?

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Free trial. Versant language assessment tests for call center applicants, agents and managers. English as second language test for customer service, tech support.

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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.