Despite dire predictions that self-service will render the call center agent obsolete, the opposite is true. Call center employment continues to grow at a healthy clip. According to recent research published by leading industry thinker Paul Stockford of Saddletree Research, the U.S. call center industry added nearly 52,000 new jobs. Some of this growth is attributable to the staffing of health insurance exchange contact centers as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but much of it is industry growth.
However, the impact of self-service skills and competencies that today’s agents must possess is undeniable. Customers are better informed than ever before with more resources at their disposal to research alternative products and services or solutions to their issues. Therefore, successful agents need know more than just how to talk and work a computer at the same time. Here are four characteristics of successful call center agents.
Emotional Disposition. This is a trait that is rarely measured when hiring call center agents. People with a particular emotional disposition tend to perform better in certain types of jobs than others. For example, an agent who exhibits a pleasant and contented demeanor is generally better suited as a customer service professional. In contrast, someone who comes across as high-energy and excited will be better suited to a sales role. These emotions are directly transferred to the customer interaction and have a direct impact on the customer experience.
Critical Thinking. Scripts are still a way of life in many call centers, but these have just as often given way to talking points that the agent can use to carefully craft a more natural sounding interaction with a customer. Since self-service drives more complex interactions to the agent, it’s imperative that an agent be well-skilled in ferreting out root causes and addressing them accordingly.
Communication and Language Skills. This one should be a no-brainer, but I’ve personally interacted with agents who don’t have a good command of the language, who don’t speak clearly and who don’t communicate well. Each agent has the opportunity to make upwards of 50 customer impressions each day – that’s 250 per week or over 12,000 per year. Your customers judge your company based on how well your agents communicate with them.
Customer Service Orientation. Every customer interaction has the opportunity for a misunderstanding. This is more than just exhibiting empathy and saying, “I’m sorry” at the appropriate time. It’s actively listening to the customer’s dilemma and offering a reasonable solution that satisfies the customer’s need for resolution. It’s not giving into each customer’s every demand – it’s being able to separate the “needs” from the “wants” and delivering on the needs.
To a certain extent, technical (e.g., computer, internet, etc.), product and basic sales skills can be taught and reinforced throughout training and coaching. But agents who arrive on the job lacking any of the above are likely to jeopardize your customer relationships in the long term.