Posted by: Malcolm Jarvis

One of the things that surprised me back in the days when I was heavily involved in running a call centre was how some agents effortlessly established rapport with customers within the opening statement of every call, whereas others, saying exactly the same thing, would simply fall flat.

One particularly memorable agent, Ryan, who quickly progressed to team leader and is now running a call centre himself, used to consistently deploy the opening gambit of “Hello Mrs Smith, how’re you doing today?” in what could best be described as a fairly broad Dundonian accent (and a beautiful thing it is too). Any other agent attempting the same tactic was generally met with “who the heck is this?” or words to similar effect, followed by a swift end to the call, but somehow Ryan got away with it time after time.

Much to our dismay, we soon found that instead of other agents trying and then giving up this approach, it spread quickly through the team. As Ryan was consistently demolishing his target, his colleagues saw emulation as a quick way to achieving the same generous commission payments he was achieving, but it simply didn’t work for them.

Superstars such as Ryan are essential within a call centre environment to inspire others and lead the way, but they can also be problematic. Ryan got away with his unconventional opening through sheer charm, wit, and a cheeky chuckle that was meticulously deployed; three skills that are far more difficult to emulate than simply copying what’s being said. What we needed was a controlled means of passing on good habits throughout the team, while pointing out bad ones and ensuring that agents understood why they weren’t such a hot idea in the first place.

One of the best tools we deployed was the “call levelling session”. As you may have guessed, we were using this in an outbound dialling campaign, but there’s no reason this wouldn’t work just as well for inbound teams too.

The format is pretty straight forward:

  • Select three agents
  • Select a call recording for each agent
  • Do your call levelling session

Pretty simple! Let’s look at each step in detail:

1: Select Your Agents

Your first job is to select three agents. You can do it with more, but three seems to be the optimal number. Remember, your goal here is to spread good habits and squash bad ones, so you’ll want to mix things up a bit. Try combining your highest performers with your new starts, or agents that have been with you a while but are struggling to hit their targets. You can try running a masterclass with just your best performers, or take a couple of agents who are on their first day of calls along with one experienced agent who consistently scores highest for compliance. You get the idea!

2: Select Call Recordings

The next step is to get a call recording for each of your agents. Ideally, your call centre software or call recording system will help you here as you need to ensure that each recording is broadly comparable.

For example, you might choose calls dispositioned as “Not Interested” that last between 10 and 12 minutes. Or maybe successful sales off the back of a first call to the customer. Call backs that resulted in a negative outcome are good contenders too. If you have a call scoring system in place, you can choose calls with similar durations and outcomes, but each with a different high or low point to review.

The important thing is that the calls aren’t too long. Much longer than 10 minutes and your session will overrun and you risk there being too much information for your agents to take in at once. If you’re looking to pass on good habits that are part of longer calls you simply need to make notes prior to the session of start and stop times for each call that cover the relevant section within each call (for example, just the presentation and close, or the point when the agent is asking for referrals etc).

Lastly, make sure that each call recording has been listened to and checked by your QA team or a manager prior to the meeting to ensure that there’s nothing said that’s really out of line. There’s never an excuse for chastising or embarrassing agents in front of their peers, and you could end up with an HR incident on your hands if you don’t make sure that all calls used are suitable for sharing with the rest of the group.

3: The Call Levelling Session

Once you’ve got your agents and your calls selected, you need to take your three agents off the phones for an hour and carry out your call levelling session in a quiet meeting room away from the call centre floor. Each agent will need something to write on, or one of your QA scoring sheets if available and appropriate. You’ll also need a PC with speakers or another device to play the recordings on.

The format of the meeting is that the team leader or manager who is conducting the meeting plays each call recording, or call recording excerpt, in turn so that everyone can hear it. All participants, including the manager, take notes while listening to the recordings and after each call recording is played there’s a round table discussion on whatever points you want to emphasize. After you’ve got past the inevitable grumbles of “I can’t stand listening to myself”, agents can start to pick up examples of where they can improve and make comments on aspects of each call that other agents do really well and respectfully suggest improvements where the call hasn’t gone so well.

At the start of the session it’s important that the individual running the session reminds the agents that all comments must be constructive. No-one is allowed to be disrespectful or insulting to their colleagues, and as everyone is both commenting and being commented on this is usually easy to understand.

As each recording should be around 5 to 10 minutes, and the discussions should be around the same, the session should take somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes to cover three calls.


At the end of the session, the team manager gathers the sheets that were used to comment on each call and can either add them to each agent’s file so they can be included as part of their one-to-one session or review, or simply destroyed. Similarly, if you’ve copied call recordings on to a PC or device in order to play them for the session, you should delete them (the recycle bin doesn’t count) to keep your organisation on the right side of data protection laws.

As with most agent coaching techniques, the most important thing about call levelling sessions is to do them regularly and consistently. We never did manage to get all our agents executing a successful “How are you doing today?” at the start of their calls, but then we weren’t trying to. What we did manage was to stop them attempting to emulate approaches that weren’t working for them at the same time as raising quality scores, improving compliance, building camaraderie within teams, and getting a consistent improvement in our conversion rates. Not a bad return at all for 60 minutes off the phones!

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