One bad call can cost you dearly. 

More than ¾ th of customers say that they will leave a company if they receive poor service. That ‘poor service’ can be a result of your call center agent not handling customer service right. 

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Pic courtesy: CallMiner

This is why hiring the right call center agents – who are skilled in handling prospects over a call can help you deliver better customer experience.

Depending on the kind of role your call center agent has (whether it is outbound sales, or loan collection, or support), these skills will vary.

For a call center agent who is in loan collection or sales, empathy and active listening could be the ‘suitable skills.’ It will help them understand their prospects better and tailor the pitch according to their needs.

For a call center agent who is in customer service, paying attention to detail can be the skill that helps him provide better solutions to the customers on the line. 

You can also help your existing call center agents to cultivate these skills so that they can deliver a better customer experience.

This article will help you in both these areas. 

  • We will look at the top skillsets for call center agents so that you have a guideline to help while hiring. 
  • We will also see what you can do as a company to help your agents improve on these skills.

What does a call center agent do?

A call center agent handles calls from prospects and customers. Whether the call is outgoing or incoming, depends on the nature of the call center.

For instance, a software company can have call center agents handling support queries – a solely inbound call center exercise. 

Similarly, businesses can use call centers to generate and qualify leads – which will have call center agents making outbound calls. 

What are the skills a successful call center agent has?

Regardless of whether your call center agent is making outbound or inbound calls, their role is essentially customer-facing. To leave your customers with an excellent experience, here are a few skills that a call center agent should have.

1. Empathy

No, it is different from kindness, sympathy, or friendliness (mentioned later on this list). Google defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

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Credits – Grammarly

For your call center agent, that means understanding what prospects are going through and reacting appropriately. 

If your call center agent is handling customer support, handling a call with empathy would mean understanding the frustration the customer would be feeling and helping them with the problem. 

Here are a few empathetic statements:

“I completely understand how you feel. I would be frustrated too. Let me see what I can do.”

“I am extremely sorry to hear that. I will rectify that and get back to you with an update.”

“Oh, I am sorry to hear that! I will make sure that does not happen again.”

In all the above statements, your call center agent not only identifies with the caller’s emotions but also promises a course of action that resolves it. 

Empathy adds a human touch to your conversations and shows your customers that you care about solving their problems. It helps you build a rapport with your customers and is crucial for maintaining strong customer relationships.

How to gauge the empathy of a call center agent while hiring?

Empathetic candidates usually make the prospects feel listened to and have a positive calling experience. 

During mock calling sessions during the interview, you can also check with your team how the candidate made them feel. 

If the overall calling experience for them was positive – then chances are that the candidate had handled the call with empathy.

Another way to gauge empathy is to see how involved the candidate is in actually helping the prospect.

For a lot of call center agents, the role would simply be about meeting deadlines and targets. 

A truly empathetic agent will go the extra mile to understand the problem and provide the right solution for it. 

2. Quick-thinking

Not everything goes according to a script. A sales agent would find that the prospect they are talking to has an objection to the sale that is not detailed in the script.

A customer support agent could encounter an issue that they cannot identify. 

However, in both cases, your call center agents do not have the luxury of time. They have a prospect waiting on the line, expecting a solution. 

In such cases, the call center agent has to think quickly to come up with a satisfactory answer. It could be as simple as modifying the pitch to suit the prospect better. Or, in the case of customer service, getting a senior agent on call who could resolve the situation.

A call center agent’s quick-thinking will help provide your customers with a first-call resolution. That is, their problem is solved in the first call – and not dragged out. 

Not only will this improve customer satisfaction, but it will also boost the efficiency of your call center overall. That means you can get more done in the same amount of time. 

How to gauge ‘quick thinking’ of a call center agent while hiring?

Is the candidate able to provide out of the box solutions to the problem? In a mock call center session, give the candidate a situation that is not in the script, and see how they react to it. 

Giving an out of the box solution is a clear winner. 

However, if the candidate can smoothly diffuse the problem, or direct the prospect to another contact (typically not in the script) then that can be counted as a success too.

3. Ability to retain information

No call center agent takes up campaigns without basic training. Depending on the kind of calls they are expected to handle, the training can range from simple to highly detailed. 

Now, unless the agent is able to retain all the information and use it on the call, they would struggle to deliver. 

Information retention need not just be about your organization, it can also be about the problem your customer is calling with. 

Say a customer gives the agent his details and also outlines the problem. If your agent is not able to retain the information then they would have to request it again – making the customer repeat themselves. That, right there is the poor customer experience that works against you.

How to gauge ‘information retention’ of a call center agent while hiring?

This one is rather easy to assess. During a mock call center session, overload the candidate with information about the prospect on the line, the problem they are facing, etc.

A successful candidate will not only retain a majority of the information but will also have a knack for retaining only the key information. 

E.g. knowing the prospect’s phone number (even if given), is not necessary – as that can be found in the CRM. However, it is crucial to know the exact problem the prospect is facing.

4. Attention to detail

Learning about customer preferences, knowing the various ways an issue can be resolved, or simply paying attention to the caller are all essential skills your call center agent needs to have. 

This is different from the ability to retain information (seen previously), because the details are obtained not from the current call, but from previous interaction with the prospect.

For instance, say your agent is on the line with a customer who has called in for the 3rd time. Even if the same agent is not handling the call, they can refer to the previous call notes to provide a better experience. 

E.g. “You had also mentioned an issue with deliverability – is that still a problem?”

The details can also help in switching the sales pitch or the ask to the prospect. 

E.g. “I see your team is spread across 80 countries – I would recommend opting for the Enterprise plan, with a few additional seats, instead of the Executive plan.”

In both these instances, you show the prospect that they are more than just a voice on the line – that you are paying attention to even the minute details, beyond what was said on the call.

It helps you solve their issues better and also builds a relationship with them.

How to gauge ‘attention to detail’ for a call center agent while hiring?

The CV and cover letter go a long way in showing how much attention the candidate pays to the small details. 

Yes, those CVs with glaring typos and errors are automatically void. However, you can also dig deeper. E.g. see if the cover letter has been customized to your company (and the job role in particular). If it refers to (and resonates with) the job description you have outlined then you know that this candidate has definitely been paying attention and can translate the skill to calls.

5. Being ‘Tech Savvy’

Now, for a lot of customer support roles being tech-savvy is essential. But I am here to tell you that even for non-support call center agent, being tech-savvy (to some extent), is important. 

Your call center agents should be able to handle your call center software without too many problems (after just one orientation). 

This is especially needed for nonprofits and advocacy organizations where a lot of their agents are usually one time volunteers. So to get the most out of their time, it would work in your favor if they can learn how to make the calls (and receive them), with as little training as possible. 

How to gauge ‘being tech-savvy’ for a call center agent while hiring?

Simple. Check their previous experience to see the kind of tools they have handled. In case the candidate is a fresher, ask them to navigate an easy call center software by themselves (maybe with minimum intervention). 

Both these will give you an idea of how well the candidate can adapt to learning the tools you use for your calling campaigns.

6. Organizational skills (Being organized)

This could also mean data-entry skills. Often your customer reveals a wealth of information about them during a call. Your call center agent should be organized enough to make a note of it, to be used later, and to provide an excellent customer experience.

If the role of the call center agent is to collect and gather customer information (maybe a survey), then it is even more important that they are organized. They should be able to handle multiple systems (the call center software and the CRM) while having an intelligent conversation with the customer.

Sometimes, an agent would be handling multiple calls simultaneously. In such stressful situations, being organized can save them (and your organization), a lot of time.

How to gauge the organizational skills of a call center candidate while hiring?

In one of the interview rounds, you can organize a mock call with a prospect online. During this call, you can observe how the candidate records information (and also what sort of information they record). 

A strong candidate would automatically ask you which tools to use to record the info. You can see these agents making notes even after the call has ended so that the information is not lost. 

If the candidate is a fresher, they might not know about note-taking tools. In that case they would resort to a pen and paper to jot down information. That is also a good indicator that their organizational skills can be cultivated.

7. Effective communication

Your call center agent should be able to get their point across with minimal effort. Yes, speaking clearly and having a good vocabulary is important. But what is even more important is understanding what the customer is trying to say and then resolving the issue. 

For a call center agent who is delivering customer service, this could mean learning about the issue quickly and resolving it.

How to gauge the communication skills of a call center candidate while hiring?

How quickly does the candidate convey pertinent information to the prospect on call? Often your call center agents will have to send follow up emails (and texts) to their prospects. 

In such cases, check their written communication skills as well. 

A strong candidate would get his point across very quickly, with minimal follow-up questions from the prospects on the line.

8. Performing under pressure

A call center agent is not just focused on providing value to the customer. They have to do so, under a time constraint – while juggling multiple other calls. 

If they are handling support queries, then your agent will probably have an irate customer or two on the line. Not only will they have to resolve their problem, but your agents will also have to calm them down.

All this means that your agents will be under immense pressure – and will still have to provide great customer service. So working well under pressure, learning to separate their emotions and keep their focus on the end goal is an important skill to have.

Otherwise, the efficiency of your call center would go down. You would have call center agents who are fast facing a burn-out, while not getting results.

How to gauge performance under the pressure of a call center candidate while hiring?

Simulate a stressful call center set up and allow the candidate to answer a few calls. They will have high targets to meet. 

You are also checking how well they handled themselves during the call. Here are a few questions you can tick off:

  • Were they calm and collected, 
  • Did they manage to remain polite, 
  • Were they able to listen to the actual problem instead of responding to a prospect’s emotion?.

An ideal candidate would tick all the above boxes, in addition to meeting his targets.

9. Being Friendly

Yes, in this context it is a skill. A friendly call center agent will definitely sound more accessible to your customers than an agent who is highly pedantic. 

Being friendly does not mean indulging in idle chit-chat. It means projecting warmth and friendliness to your customers. 

That means, responding with a smile (yeah, it makes a difference), using layman terms to explain a problem (and not slip into jargon), and being human throughout the call.

How to gauge friendliness of a call center agent during hiring?

The assessment could be as simple as counting the number of times they smiled during the call (the prospects on the line can tell the difference!). 

Or, you could give your mock prospect to quantify how friendly the candidate was overcall. 

There is also one more option. You can see if the candidate is able to balance ‘small talk’ with the heart of the conversation overcall. This means that their call times would be less, while still leaving the prospects with a good experience.

10. Active listening

Instead of passively hearing what the customer on the line is saying, your call center agent is fully immersed in the conversation. 

That means, understanding fully what your prospect has to say and then formulating a response. It also means listening to the sentiment behind the words so that you can provide a better solution.

E.g. “I don’t think I need this product right now” 

To a new call center agent, this would seem like a refusal. 

However, a call center agent who is listening actively would pick up on the words ‘think’ and ‘right now’ and understand that the customer is just uncertain about the product.

Here are a few more tips on using active listening to improve the performance of your calls. 

How to gauge active listening of a call center agent while hiring?

This is a tough one to assess. That is because a candidate’s listening skills can vary according to the situation. 

An already stressed candidate (who is chasing deadlines), may listen poorly compared to a candidate who is not similarly burdened. 

The interview session can give you a guideline (based on body language, less interruption, and how quickly they grasp the problem), on their active listening skills. This can always be improved upon (and be made a habit) during training sessions. 

Is being a call center agent hard?

Undoubtedly yes. Just looking at the variety of skill sets required to be a successful call center agent will tell you that it is not for everybody.

A call center agent is the face of the company. More often than not, they are the first (and only) point of contact between a prospect and the organization. 

One wrong move and the customer walks away with not just a bad experience, but also with a bad impression of the whole organization.

Now that is a heavy burden to carry.

Add to that, the call center agent also has to worry about meeting targets and deadlines, while being as approachable and friendly as possible. 

Having the above skillsets will make it easier for you and for the agent to handle it better.

How can companies enable call center agents to perform better?

Despite having the above skills, a call center agent can always improve his performance. Maybe they can finish the call sooner, solve the problem earlier, or even win over a client despite a goof up. 

Your organization can definitely help them perform better. 

1. Training

You will undoubtedly train your call center agent on the ins and outs of your product – what it does, what to fix, how to fix, and where to fix a problem, etc.

What you can do is also give them basic training about your organization – whom to approach for help, how to solve a particular situation, etc. This will help them handle the calls with more ease and efficiency.

You can also conduct regular training sessions on improving their skills (like active listening, and quick thinking) so that they can provide a better customer experience.

2. Visibility on the company’s activities

A call center agent cannot be left in the blind about what your company is doing. For instance, say you are planning to partner with a non-profit organization to help with the COVID relief efforts. Your call center agent should at least be aware of a gist of your involvement, if not the full details. 

That way, if a prospect has more questions on the initiative, they can guide them to the right team instead of being totally ignorant.

3. Investing in a good software

 The best way you can increase your call center efficiency is by using a call center software that caters to your unique requirements. 

I am not talking about the pricing or the kind of call direction it supports (inbound or outbound call center).

I am referring to features in the product that make it intuitive for you and your team to use it well and improve performance. 

For instance, in CallHub call center software, a manager can shadow an agent’s calls (and even jump in) when required. Similarly, an agent can send out texts with additional information to the prospect while still on a call with them. Such immediate follow up will definitely improve your conversions. 

Your call center software can also be ‘good’ based on how helpful it is to your agents. That is, it can allow dynamic scripts that make it easier for your agents to carry on a conversation. 

4. Clear scripts and guidelines

Speaking of scripts, it is important to make it as detailed as possible. You can delve into past recorded calls, and your knowledge of a customer journey to account for every eventuality. 

And in case the agent is still unsure about how to handle a situation, your script should also provide guidelines on how to act (refer them to a different team, respond to them over email), etc.

5. Repeat wellness checks to combat burnout (and stress)

The wellbeing of your employees is also your responsibility. If you want them to be focused on the bottom line (revenue, conversions, lesser turn around time), you need to put their interests first.

A simple way to do that would be to conduct fun events and training sessions at regular intervals. You can also have a mental health awareness day in your office to help your agents identify poor mental health, in case they encounter it. 

Take-away

A successful call center is made up of two aspects – exceptional agents and an exceptional management who helps them do better. 

These top skills that make an exceptional call center agent can be nurtured and cultivated by you as long as the candidate has an appetite to learn and grow. 

Hopefully this post helps you with both.

Reach out to [email protected] in case you have more questions (or if you think I can add more to this list).

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