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Call center agents have something in common with secret agents: a reliable coach in their ear, helping them as they chat with customers. Call whispering, as this technology is known, lets managers listen in on agents’ calls, provide them with guidance, and even take over the call if necessary.

Such technology is sorely needed: only 21% of employees feel like they have the feedback needed to do their best work. Call whispering, when used to its full potential, gives feedback to contact center agents precisely when they need it, provides quicker answers for customers, and creates better results for businesses through higher customer satisfaction and decreased employee turnover. In the rest of this guide, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of call whispering, why it matters, and how to implement it successfully to the benefit of your customers, employees, and business.

What Is Call Whispering?

Call whispering lets call center managers join calls inconspicuously, providing agents with real-time coaching, strategy, and feedback. Unlike “call barge-in,” in which managers interrupt calls entirely, call whispering is invisible to the customer. And unlike call recording, which allows managers to provide feedback after a call has already finished, call whispering allows managers to help agents improve agent performance in real time.

Here’s how call whispering works: using cloud-based contact center software, managers can see a list of all of their agents’ live calls. Built-in sentiment analysis scores—along with other real-time analysis tools powered by artificial intelligence—help managers understand which agents might need their support based on the content of the call and the customer’s tone of voice. Then, managers can choose whether to listen to the call, jump in using call whispering, or join as a third party so the customer can hear them, too.

For example, here’s how managers interact with agent phone calls using Ziwo’s call whisper functionality:

ziwo screenshot image example
Image from Ziwo

On the agent side of things, they’ll typically hear an audio cue when a manager has joined the call via call whisper. This might be a faint beep or "whisper tone" only audible to the agent. In some cases, agents may hear their manager speaking, while in others, they’ll get a message via chat.

The primary benefit? Real-time guidance means agents get better support on everything from technical troubleshooting to communication tactics. Meanwhile, customers tend to get their issues resolved faster, since agents can get real-time input and approval from managers.

Why Call Whispering Matters In Customer Service

Good customer service is hard. With most call center agents juggling fifty (or more) incoming calls per day, providing consistent service isn’t easy: 63% of agents have a hard time balancing speed and quality. Call whispering is perhaps the best chance to “have it both ways:” agents have a better shot at maintaining quality when they can get real-time input from experienced managers.

Here are some key benefits of call whispering for customer support outcomes:

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1. Supports New Agents with Real-time Guidance

53% of CX leaders say their biggest challenge is recruiting and keeping staff. And with good reason: 31% of call center agents are ‘always’ on the lookout for a new job, and typical turnover rates at call centers range between 30%-45%.

Even for new agents who have gone through comprehensive training programs, there’s a lot they don’t know. This can be an issue for both employee turnover (because agents get frustrated) and customer satisfaction (because when new agents answer, fewer calls are resolved quickly).

For these reasons, call whispering is especially impactful for new agents. With a manager secretly listening in, inexperienced agents are able to handle tricky customer interactions that might otherwise have required putting the customer on hold to search for relevant information (or to check with a manager). This boosts key metrics like first call resolution rate (FCR).

2. Improved Agent Training and Feedback

Even among experienced agents, 58% say they benefit ‘very little’ from the coaching sessions offered by their contact center. When agents are trained on hypothetical scenarios, it can be difficult to retain the information. Real-time coaching, on the other hand, can improve performance by 12%.

Real-time coaching accelerates agents’ skill development—and customer service instincts—because managers can catch minor issues before they spiral into bigger problems that impact the customer experience.

While there’s still a place for post-call feedback and reviews, according to Harvard Business Review the best managers spend 75% of their time on real-time coaching.

3. Faster Issue Resolution

When customers call into a contact center, they have one goal in mind: speedy resolution. 79% of customers say efficiency is among the top traits they expect from call centers.

Without call whispering, agents often have to place customers on hold to get guidance from managers—or, even worse, transfer the customer to a more experienced team member. This extends resolution time and negatively impacts customer experience.

Call whispering reduces the need to put customers on hold. Since agents can get instant feedback and advice from managers, they’re in a better position to steer the conversation quickly toward a resolution. This reduces average handle time (AHT), avoids call escalations and transfers, and boosts customer satisfaction.

4. Increased Customer Satisfaction Rates

Customers have a low tolerance for poor service: 96% wouldn’t hesitate to quit working with your company over bad service. And 83% of customers expect their issue to be solved on the first try, without being transferred to multiple agents.

Since customer satisfaction scores (CSAT) are highly dependent on fast, competent service, call whispering has become a crucial tool to help call centers reach the level of service customers expect.

Implementing Call Whispering

If you’ve already decided that your call center could benefit from call whispering—and indeed, most call centers would—then the next step is considering how to implement it.

Fortunately, this step is simple: pick call center software with call whispering features built in. Many leading providers of contact center tools—like Aircall, for example—make enabling call whispering as easy as checking a few boxes in the software’s settings. Look for platforms with seamless integrations into your existing call center systems, CRM, and workflows, and keep an eye out for features like canned messaging templates to make real-time coaching more efficient.

One element to keep in mind: compliance. Some regulated industries have call monitoring restrictions that dictate how calls can be recorded. If that’s the case for your industry, make sure the whisper features you implement are compliance-friendly.

Finally, keep agents aware of the addition of call whispering to your tool set. Hold training sessions and create SOPs to set standards for call whispering etiquette. And make it clear how, and under what circumstances, agents can request greater support from managers (such as having the manager take over the call entirely).

Measuring Impact

While it might seem clear that call whispering will be beneficial for your call center operations, you’ll want to measure that assumption. Keep an eye on these key performance indicators to gauge success:

  • First-call resolution rate (FCR): Shows how often issues get fully and satisfactorily resolved on the initial call, instead of requiring callbacks. A higher FCR indicates call whispering is providing agents with the information needed to resolve customer issues efficiently.
  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): Rising CSAT scores indicate that call whispering is helping agents deliver faster, more effective service with fewer of the transfers and holds that commonly annoy customers.
  • Reduced average handle time (AHT): Lower AHT shows improved efficiency as agents leverage call whispering to resolve customer needs faster.

Weigh the costs of call whispering—software costs, managers’ time, and the multitasking required of agents—against benefits like increased agent productivity, lower attrition, higher customer retention, and customer lifetime value. You’ll also want to get regular feedback from agents and managers to supplement your quantitative metrics.

Avoiding Potential Challenges

Compliance, as we’ve already discussed, is one potential hurdle: as with any technology involving privacy and three-way calls, you’ll want to make sure call whispering complies with any regulations specific to your industry and location.

On a more operational level, there are a few factors to consider.

Call center managers will need to adjust to a new workflow. Call whispering doesn’t have to entirely replace the traditional, post-call feedback way of managing agents; and many managers will appreciate the efficiency and performance boosts that come with call whispering. But it does represent a new, more hands-on way of managing agents, and it may take some adjustment.

Agents, on the other hand, are at risk of distraction. With customers speaking into one ear and managers speaking into the other (or typing into a chat box), the multitasking inherent to call whispering can lead to cognitive overload.

And from the customer perspective, call whispering can result in odd lags in response time as agents wait for direction from managers. To lessen this dynamic, agents should be aware of the customer experience and try to make any delays in response feel as natural as possible. If you’re seeing longer handle times, it might be a sign that the dialogue between managers and agents needs to happen more smoothly.

Elevating Your Customer Service With Call Whispering

Investments in customer experience tend to pay off big: a report from Avanade found that every $1 invested in CX generates a return of $3.

Call whispering is no different. It directly addresses the two key factors that are important to customers when reaching out to a contact center: speed and effectiveness. Plus, call whispering empowers inexperienced agents to perform at higher levels. This can have a positive impact on employee turnover—saving businesses the $10,000-$20,000 it costs each time they need to recruit, train, and ramp up a new call center employee.

If your business runs a call center, you’ll almost certainly benefit from call whisper technology. The only question is how to get started. Your existing contact center software might offer a call whispering feature; if not, our comprehensive list of the best call center software can help. With the right software, thorough training, and careful change management, call whispering can transform your contact center operations, resulting in better outcomes for both customers and agents.

For another deep dive into the features of call center software, check out our guide to interactive voice response systems (IVRs). And if you’re hungry for a more regular diet of CX updates, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter for the latest CX trends, insights, and tactics.

Ryan Kane
By Ryan Kane

Ryan Kane has been researching, writing about and improving customer experiences for much of his career and in a wide variety of B2B and B2C contexts, from tech startups and agencies to a manufacturer for Fortune 500 clients.