What makes a perfect contact centre agent?
Here at contactSPACE, we've come up with 14 essential skills that every one of your reps should have. Many of these can be trained, but some cannot - at least not easily.
It's a good idea to keep these skills in mind when hiring new agents and formulating training programs for your staff.
Ultimately, in order to provide a solution to a customer - whether this is a new product or a fix for something they've already purchased - the agent has to understand their needs.
As a result, empathy is incredibly important. Only when your rep puts themselves in the contact's shoes can they offer them the solution most likely to satisfy their needs.
This skill is also useful in handling customer escalations. If an agent can understand the source of a person's frustration, they'll be much more likely to resolve the situation calmly, which is what you want as a manager.
In the average contact centre, an agent might be assigned to 30-50 different leads/tickets at any given moment - many of them will be on the back-burner for the majority of the time they're in progress.
Dealing with so many contacts at once requires being able to switch one's attention at the drop of a hat. A rep may have to instantly change from making a simple sales call to talking to a lead who is calling for the 20th time before buying.
Being able to keep the details of all these different cases in-mind at once takes some doing. In inside sales in particular, the amount of multi-tasking is incredible - in a given hour an associate might call one person, email three others, do a demonstration, and formulate strategy for a presentation with their team.
3. Clear communication
This one's pretty self-explanatory!
If a person can't communicate their message clearly over the phone, they're not really cut out for the job of call centre agent.
- Clarity of expression.
- Tone - friendly and approachable?
- Word choice - appropriate for the intended audience, or is it too simplistic/complex?
- Grammar and sentence construction (if doing email or live chat).
4. Active listening
Apart from outbound communication, agents must also have fantastic listening skills. This is the gateway to empathy really - the only way a rep is going to understand a person's wants/needs is by being able to extract the relevant information from what they have to say.
Traditional active listening involves maintaining eye contact and using body language to display openness. Over the phone, it means:
- Asking clarifying questions.
- Being open-ended - giving the customer the chance to expand.
- Summarising to ensure a sound understanding.
- Avoiding any sort of distraction - for instance, unnecessary questions/statements.
5. Organisational skills
Modern call centres rely on data - not just to find people to call, but also as a part of process improvement and lead nurturing.
Therefore, your agents must be aware of the importance of wrapping calls properly, especially if you use a CRM.
For example, if your rep resolves a customer inquiry on the first contact, but forgets to close the ticket, your reports aren't going to reflect the actual outcomes your team achieved.
In sales, you need to ensure that everyone's on the same page with regards to your lifecycle stages and lead statuses. If agents don't keep these data points organised, things will become very messy, very quickly.
6. Quick thinking
On outbound initiatives, you can script information for an agent to read. But doing this often results in really robotic-sounding sales pitches, which seldom lead to exceptional outcomes. That's why we developed dynamic CallGuides® here at contactSPACE.
Providing some sort of guidance to your reps is generally a good idea. But ideally, you want agents to have the ability to deal with tough questions or objections, as opposed to just reading information off to the customer. Excessive "umm-ing" and "ahh-ing" is never a good look (or sound).
7. Being receptive to feedback
Everyone makes mistakes, or has at least a little room for improvement in their professional abilities.
Your agents are no different. If you (or another manager) offer advice after a call, or do a more extensive performance review, the rep must be able to take on your feedback in order to improve the quality of the results they're getting.
This doesn't mean just listening to what you have to say and going back to their desk. It means asking clarifying questions, and really making an effort to understand what you're trying to communicate. Successful performance improvement requires effort from both parties.
If you do outbound contact, chances are, a good conversion rate for a given campaign is maybe around 2-10%. This means that 90-98% of respondents are going to say "no" to your agents' proposal.
Whether a person says no on the first contact, or a lead decides not to proceed after two months of conversations, these sorts of setbacks will require significant resilience.
The perfect agent doesn't just instantly forget their defeats - they learn from their mistakes, and improve for the next time. However, they don't let their failures define their future results. In many situations, there is little an agent can do about a lead backing out of a deal due to external circumstances.
Even if individual leads, customers, or issues are assigned to specific agents, teamwork is crucial in any contact centre.
You want your reps to work together to develop better contact strategies, and help each other out when results aren't as expected.
In customer service, your team (with the help of supervisors) must work together to come up with better, more efficient ways of resolving customer issues. This could mean agents sharing their expertise with others, specialists putting together step-by-step troubleshooting manuals (either for customers or agents), or refining your skills groups and call routing.
10. Independent working
While teamwork is incredibly important, even just as a basis for maintaining morale, contact centre agents should have the ability to put their head down and work by themselves.
In many contact centres environments, while collaboration on strategy is important, most work is done individually. Whether it be working through a new list of leads, performing QA, or following up with established customers, it's crucial that your staff have the motivation to work through these tasks efficiently.
Wrap, pause, and preview time should be kept to an absolute minimum - this dead time costs a lot of money in the long run.
To motivate employees to work at their absolute hardest, consider introducing some competition through call centre games, or individual bonuses for exceptional performance.
Most customer service contact centres have moved beyond speed of resolution as a metric for tracking resolution delivery efficiency. Instead, it's better to rely on KPIs like first-contact resolution to achieve better outcomes. This ensures that the caller's issue is resolved properly on the first contact, resulting in a better customer experience.
if you're adopting this approach, agents must have the patience to stay on the line and resolve the customer's issue thoroughly, rather than applying a band-aid fix. This may mean giving the client the opportunity to call back that specific agent, if staying on the line would require an extensive hold.
Patience is also required when attempting to understand what a customer or lead actually needs or wants. Often, it's not going to explained perfectly the first time, so your rep will have to ask numerous follow-up questions until they have a comprehensive understanding of how they can help.
12. Good memory
Of course, your CRM and other data sources can help an agent to recall key details about the people they're in contact with. Although the gap between what your system knows and what the agent knows is always closing, there are still plenty of things reps need to be able to remember if they're frequently in contact with the same people:
- Who the best person in an organisation is to contact regarding different subject matters - who's the decision-maker, who has the best IT knowledge, etc.
- How different people respond to different conversational strategies. Does the lead like to get straight to the point, or do they appreciate small talk?
- The specific details of the last interaction the contact had with your business. Making notes will help with this, but there's a limit to how detailed you can be.
Some other things agents will have to memorise in customer service roles:
- How to prioritise different tickets.
- The intricacies of your product and how it works.
- Details about self-service facilities that customers may have already tried. For example, if someone says they've already looked at the troubleshooting guide on your website, what does this mean?
13. Projecting confidence
Whether you're nurturing leads or not, the truth is that every contact centre is trying to sell something. This could be a new product, an add-on product, or a customer service solution.
If your reps project confidence in their speech, the contact will be much more inclined to buy into what they're saying. This obviously means more sales for telemarketing/inside sales operations, and better results in donor management.
However, the same principles apply for customer service as well. If the client believes in your agents' message, they're more likely to take the rep's suggestions on board. This will mean better results in terms of resolution efficiency, assuming your agents are providing the right advice!
Customers should have the impression (whether this is the case or not) that they're speaking to an expert. This is key in customer experience - having confident, knowledgeable agents answering inquiries demonstrates that you really care about your customers and the issues they're having, making it more likely these customers will place their trust in you on a regular basis.
14. Tech skills
Being a fast, accurate typer can actually save a heap of time in the long run. But there are other reasons you might like your agents to be reasonably tech-savvy:
- They'll get used to your CRM and agent interface more quickly.
- The metrics you use will make more sense right off the bat.
- Your agent will be better-able to resolve minor technical issues without having to ask for help. For example, an application crashing on their PC.
Of course, not all great agents will be particularly tech-savvy. But it's definitely a good skill to have.
Fortunately, the vast majority of these skills can be trained, or will at least be picked up over time. However, you may struggle to develop some of these skills with some people, which is why it makes sense to pay close attention to an applicant's skills in the hiring process.
For example, some people just can't work well in team environments, and don't deal with pressure very well at all. To better-assess the actual skills of a potential employee, consider going beyond the interview. Use personality tests, or practical simulations of your contact centre environment, to get a better understanding of an agent's skills.