The Essential Call Centre Agent Skills
When a customer calls your company, more often than not they are not a happy camper.
They are experiencing some sort of issue or inconvenience that makes them take time out of their day to call you to rectify it.
To handle conversations with grumpy people and turn them around into a positive customer experience takes a certain type of person and to find these special someone’s.
Call centre managers need to identify the call centre skills required to achieve the customer experience you’re after and recruit people who fit your company’s purpose, culture and values.
Did you know the average cost of a bad hiring decision can equal 30% of the individual’s first-year potential earnings?
It’s important to recruit mindfully- know the type of person you need, and the signs to look for that they might be that person.
Here are the call centre agent skills to look for in your interviews that will help your team and customers get what they need.
6 Call centre agent skills every agent should have
‘The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.’
Empathy is crucial in developing any relationship- whether it’s a brief one with a customer or a more long-standing one with a colleague.
If an employee isn’t empathetic, or empathetic enough, it can make for a difficult work environment- no matter how functionally skilled they are.
Being able to express to customers (genuinely) that you understand why they would be frustrated can go a long way to diffusing the aggro.
How? In your interview, try relaying to the candidate a brief story about how you got stuck in traffic, lost your keys or something that may incite some empathy from them.
See how they respond.
2. Product Knowledge
Customers are more likely to trust salespeople who show confidence in themselves and what they are selling.
If a call centre agent can quickly and accurately answer questions and give information without putting the customer on hold and/or transferring them to someone else, this is going to add up to a much nicer experience for the person to whom you are trying to give a good impression of your company.
How? Look at your candidate’s CV, see what products they have sold, and ask them a few pointy questions about these. See the level of detail they give, and how easily they answer the questions.
‘The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.’
Customers can be a narky lot. They call to tell you their problems, often very passionately, and with varying degrees of fury.
Patience is not just a call centre skill that’s handy, it’s truly an essential part of the DNA of a successful call centre agent. If they get frustrated at customers or add their own negative energy to an already heated situation, it will soon explode into a very poor experience for your customer, to say the least.
How? You can apply stress to your candidate by asking time-based questions.
That’s a good way to see their levels of patience in real time. Or, and probably the option that won’t turn them off your company, ask them for a situation in which their patience was tested and how they handled it.
4. Active Listening
‘Active listening involves fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all senses.’
No doubt you’ve had a conversation with someone who is there in body, but not in spirit.
They might be making the right, supportive noises: ‘you don’t say’, ‘that’s great’ but they don’t seem particularly interested.
It’s pretty annoying, and for a customer, it’s even more annoying, as let’s face it- they were probably annoyed before they even started the conversation.
A call centre agent who provides a positive customer experience needs to show the customer they are listening, which is even more of a challenge over the phone with no visual cues.
They need to repeat what they’re being told, re-phrase it in a different way, relate it to their own experience, show the customer that they are truly listening, and that they care.
How? Simples. Give a little speech at the beginning of the interview, outlining the role, the company and the products. Watch how they listen.
‘Able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions:
Sitting in a call centre, you are not only faced with different products to sell and customer issues to solve, you’re also surrounded by different personalities in your co-workers, and callers with very different temperaments.
This means what works for one person, in terms of effective communication, will unlikely work for the next. A strong call centre agent needs to identify the style of the person they’re dealing with, and adapt their response for the outcome they’re after.
How? Consider having a co-worker with a very different personality and interview style conduct the interview with you. See how the candidate changes their tone, body language and answers for each of you.
‘The state or quality of being free from agitation or strong emotion.’
The ability to remain calm when confronted by a very angry person is truly a skill, and one that can be hard to develop.
But when faced with off-the-charts-angry customers, truly the only effective response is to remain calm.
There are certain techniques one can implement to learn to be calmer, but in a call centre situation, you don’t need or want a hot head working your phones.
How? You can’t really yell at your candidate to truly test their level of calmness, but you can ask them to do a quick presentation, and see how stressed they get.
Or you can ask them to describe an experience where they’ve truly been tested by an angry customer and how they managed their emotions.
Call centre skills, on paper, can be simple to recruit for.
Experience in customer service? Check.
Worked in a call centre? Check.
But truly, if you want a stable team of performers, you need to recruit for attitude and cultural fit, someone whose values complement those of your business and your team.
These ‘soft’ qualities aren’t going to appear on a CV, they need to be uncovered in the interview process.
Identify the call centre skills that best represent a good fit for your team, and learn how to see the signs of these in your interviews.
Remember, the intangibles are may be more difficult to identify, but they are truly the qualities that will bring stability and productivity to your call centre.
Recommended further reading: 6 Tips when starting a new call centre job