How the Phonetic Alphabet Works in a Call Centre (Alfa, Bravo, Charlie…)

Offering quick customer service in a call centre can often become a priority that overshadows the need to provide and collect accurate information. So to bring accurate service back to the forefront, here’s how and why the phonetic alphabet can be a useful tool.

the what and the why banner

The pressure is on for businesses to provide quick and easy fixes to customer concerns, issues and questions. But with all eyes on call centre staff to perform quickly and concisely, it can be all too easy to forget about the importance of accuracy for user experience. Regardless of whether you’ve achieved an impressively low average handling time, if information isn’t being given or received correctly, this can cause problems for customer satisfaction and trust in your business.

For telephone communications with customers and other team members in call centres, the phonetic alphabet can improve clarity and ensure the correct information is being provided and received. With customers expecting so much from support channels, could it be beneficial to introduce this alphabet and its code words into your strategy? Here, we’ll be explaining what the phonetic alphabet is, how it was created and how it works in practice.

What is the Phonetic Alphabet?

The phonetic alphabet is a standardised system for assigning code words to letters of the alphabet, intended to ensure each letter is pronounced consistently whilst making it as easy to understand as possible. Just like with the regular English alphabet, there are 26 letters from A to Z all represented by a code word beginning with its corresponding letter. For example, the letter ‘B’ is represented by the word ‘Bravo’, while the letter ‘P’ is represented by ‘Papa’.

In practice, if you were to spell out the word ‘Order’ using the phonetic alphabet, it would become ‘Oscar’, ‘Romeo’, ‘Delta’, ‘Echo’, ‘Romeo’. These code words come together to spell out the individual letters in the original word when you look at the first letters of each one.

How Many Phonetic Alphabets Are There?

The most commonly used phonetic alphabet is the NATO version, although it’s important to note that several other alphabets are in use worldwide. In fact, there are thought to be around 44 different versions currently in use. Different countries such as the US and France have their own versions to account for spelling and language variations, while police and fire departments often assign their own unique code words to the letters of the alphabet.

A-Z of the NATO Phonetic Alphabet


Code Word









Charlie CHAR-LEE





































































History of the Phonetic Alphabet

When two-way radio communications became possible, it became obvious that a universal method for communicating clearly would be needed. As a result, the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) was first developed in 1927 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Several changes were made up until 1932 to create code words that didn’t leave any room for misunderstanding. The International Commission began using the alphabet for Air Navigation, ICAO, and during World War II which was mostly successful. After some additional issues were identified with the code words being used, the best and easiest-to-understand versions were compounded into one phonetic alphabet. This became the NATO version, which is most commonly used around the world today.

Which Industries Use the Phonetic Alphabet?

The phonetic alphabet is a widely used tool that many industries take regular advantage of. Industries that use it most often include the following:


Military personnel will use the phonetic alphabet in daily practice to ensure that messages are transmitted with clarity and accuracy each and every time.


The aviation industry was one of the first to adopt the use of the phonetic alphabet, even in its earliest forms. Pilots, flight crew and ground control will spell out letters in flight numbers and use the code words to get important flight information across with the necessary clarity.

Law Enforcement:

In law enforcement, it’s common to hear a variety of codes. From officer numbers to codes for identifying crimes, it’s essential that these are relayed across the chain of command correctly.


Complex information in the telecommunications industry is often broken down into the code words of the phonetic alphabet since this prevents mistakes and miscommunication.

Customer Service:

The phonetic alphabet has long been used as a method of spelling out information for customers with little confusion. Account numbers, booking references and sensitive information are just some of the things that customer service representatives will use the alphabet for.

Of course, the use of the phonetic alphabet is certainly not limited to just these industries. In fact, it can be used in basically any industry where information is taken or received over the phone. From finance to the medical field, if information is being exchanged, the phonetic alphabet can be a handy tool to help maintain accuracy.

Phonetic Alphabet Scenarios: Customer Service & Call Centres

The phonetic alphabet can be handy for various customer service scenarios because of the difference it can make to clarity. Below we’ll give you a more in-depth look at these situations and how the alphabet would be used.

Taking Customer Details

Sometimes phone lines don’t have the clearest line because of poor signal or excessive background noise. This can create issues when it comes to taking down important customer details. The letter ‘B’ can easily be misheard as a ‘P’, while ‘M’s and ‘N’s can also be mixed up. Asking customers to use the phonetic alphabet when providing you with key information can ensure things like names, addresses and phone numbers are always spelt correctly. Plus, it can minimise customer frustrations by reducing the number of times your agents ask customers to repeat something. You can keep communications concise while also keeping accuracy as a main priority.

Sharing Information with Customers

The phonetic alphabet can also be used to share important information with customers and prevent unnecessary confusion by making sure they have a clear understanding of everything you’re saying to them. For example, if you’re providing a returns address, it can be helpful to spell out the street name and letters within the postcode using the code words in the alphabet. This increases the likelihood that the customer will send their return to the correct location and receive their refund or compensation on time.

Helping with Language or Accent Barriers

Regardless of whether your call centre and the wider business have a local, national, or international reach, we can all sound a little different over the phone due to accents and languages. Breaking words down into spellings using the internationally recognised phonetic alphabet can help reduce confusion and increase clarity for customers who might not speak English as their first language or have stronger accents.

Improving Data Accuracy Levels

Whether you’re taking down sensitive customer data or exchanging notes on KPIs internally, spelling things out using the phonetic alphabet can help ensure all data is correct and accurate. The last thing your business needs is to be holding onto inaccurate data that could skew your key analytics and reporting figures, so this should prevent any mistakes.

Tips for Using a Phonetic Alphabet in a Call / Contact Centre

It’s one thing to learn the phonetic alphabet inside and out, but how can you use it in practice? Below are a few of our top tips for starting to implement the phonetic alphabet into your customer service strategy.

tip 1

Use a Phonetic alphabet that is well-known and established

While other variations of the phonetic alphabet can be fun and other code words can be used if you forget one or two, it’s best to stick to just one version. This will prevent any mishaps or confusion, like one of your agents saying ‘N’ for ‘Knife’ or ‘. The most well-known and established version is the NATO phonetic alphabet, so let your team know that this is what you’ll be using.

Remember to speak clearly

The whole point of using the alphabet is to improve clarity for whoever you’re speaking to over the phone. Agents should remember to speak clearly when using the phonetic alphabet to break down the spelling of words.

Tip 2
Tip 3

Get practising

Learning the phonetic alphabet can take time, so don’t expect your agents to pick it up straight away. Instead, give them time to practice it. You could even host a few fun training sessions to help everyone get to grips with the alphabet. The more opportunities your call centre staff has to practise the phonetic alphabet, the more familiar they’ll become with the code words. Eventually, they should become confident in their ability to use it when speaking to customers over the phone.

Use a cheat sheet

You’re not testing their knowledge of the alphabet, so why not let them have access to an easy-to-understand version? The easiest way for call centre agents to get used to the phonetic alphabet is to simply display it around the call centre. You can print out small versions for agents to have on their desks or stick posters up around the centre – whatever you think will work best.

Tip 4

Using the phonetic alphabet can bring clarity and accuracy to your telephone-based customer communications. If your call centre doesn’t currently use it in your everyday customer service strategy, we hope this blog has inspired you to think about training staff on the benefits it can bring.


Get in touch to experience our demo and find out more about Gnatta.

Discover More With Gnatta.

Get access to free expert insight, exclusive CS events, and the best offers. Only available through our newsletter.