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Why call centers and customer care agents should know the military alphabet.

The military alphabet, otherwise known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, was established in the 1950’s post-war era as a means by which servicemen and women could effectively communicate important and highly specific information over radio and other audio channels in a way that was free of misunderstandings and misinterpretation.  

The military alphabet consists of 26 acrophonically (assigned to each respective letter) selected code words. When they began work on establishing a consistent phonetic alphabet, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) took inspiration from several prior iterations of the alphabet that were established as early on as 1927 by British, American and French troops. The allied countries that spearheaded the standardization of the military alphabet were the UK and the US and they took into consideration that criticisms of previous iterations of the allied forces alphabets were that the words used were all exclusively English words, excluding their fellow NATO participants. The internationally established version that we still use today was eventually established through many rounds of trial, error and subjected to international input and testing. Some words reflect this international testing and have been selected as they all work for English, French and Spanish speakers. This is evident in the  codeword assigned to J, which is Juliett and A which is Alfa. The spelling was decided upon because in the French language, a single “t” at that end of a word is phonetically silent, and so another “t” was added to ensure international consistency in the pronunciation of these words. The pronunciation of the “ph” in the original spelling of Alpha is also a phonetic difference in languages and there are many ways to pronounce this in both English and Spanish. As such Alfa is spelled the way that it is in order to accommodate international phonetic language. 

For call centers, who’s employees spend almost all of their time communicating with customers on the phone, it is imperative that there is a means by which they are able to have an effective and clear verbal exchange. As mentioned earlier, this is the very basis of the establishment of the military alphabet and as such, all call center agents should be trained in understanding and comfortably utilizing the military alphabet in their day to day work. 

Often the work carried out by call center agents can be an extremely important part in ensuring the long term profitability and good reputation of a company. If a particular call center is established for a large, international insurance company, that provides “we’ll call you back” options for quotations and other round the clock customer service functions, the call center then forms an extremely important role in client acquisition and retention. If the call center functions as a complaints department for a fast food company, then having helpful, clearly understandable and consistent agents working in your call center to manage complaints can prevent a potentially damaging PR crisis and can also play a vital role in customer retention and satisfaction. There are many other, equally if not more important, instances where call centers play a vital role in ensuring the success of a business, the success of all of which is based on effective communication.  

It is thus imperative that for call centers, where the only medium of communication is auditory, that agents are learned in and trained to easily and effectively use the military alphabet. There are many other aspects of training a successful and effective call center agent, but in instances where there are poor lines of communication, and there is potential for frustration and ineffective communication between both the customer and the agent, having an agent that is knowledgeable and comfortable seamlessly utilizing the military alphabet can be the difference between a happy client and lost business. 

Ultimately, most call centers today are fundamentally built upon audio communications. Having trained agents that are comfortable using the military alphabet, which has an internationally recognized and carefully thought out system, to spell out important information can absolutely play a vital part in ensuring the success and longevity of a business. Having agents trained in this manner can really only benefit your business. 

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