We don’t have to tell you how important it is to get the right agents in your call center. According to some studies, how the customer feels treated by you can affect up to 70% of the buying experience.
But what do you look for – what character traits are you after in your call center agents?
It’s tough to dig all that deeply in an interview, sure, but the people you want to keep an eye out for on your staff, to find ways to reward them to keep them, will generally have the following qualities:
Empathy. It’s tough to teach empathy. Really tough. You want to watch for the people who just have that empathy gene. It’s a combination of friendliness, caring, concern and that tone of voice that lets the customer know their problems are heard, they’re understood, the company’s sorry they’re happening and the agent is interested in doing whatever needs to be done to solve it. Frequently “empathy” isn’t really what’s said, as much as how it’s said.
Years ago, “empathy” in a call center context was described as the ability of your call center agents to understand the caller by placing themselves hypothetically in their caller’s position, and that still applies. All truly valuable call center agents have it, and your customers know it when they hear it.
Composure. Specifically, the ability of the agent to work well in a fast-paced environment, without getting fritzed out or losing their cool. Call centers are all about speed, and keeping the caller comfortable while getting where the agent wants them to go as quickly as possible – so the agent has to be sort of a combination New York City cab driver and limousine chauffeur. The agent will be dealing with irate people, confused people, clueless people and people in a great hurry, and they must maintain the same composure with all of them.
One way to think of a person with composure is to think of them as having people skills – expressed professionally.
Flexibility. Not only in terms of which shifts they’re working, although the ability to roll with shift changes is greatly to be prized. They have to be flexible in learning new skills, and solving problems creatively. Look for agents who don’t need to ask you a lot of questions about how to handle such and such a problem, who seem to be able to find the answers on their own. As scripted as you might have it for your agents, they will need to think on their feet, and they will need to follow a conversation when it veers off script with professionalism and composure. That’s the kind of flexibility you want – an agent who doesn’t get lost when the caller heads off the road. This calls for an agent who can offer the customer a positive yet constructive experience off script, on the fly, in real time.
Detail-Oriented. Don’t overlook this. Agents who are continually forgetting little things – yeah they’re “little things,” but they take time and they add up – are a worry. It’s easy for agents to let their minds wander when they have the same conversations over and over and over and over every day, but the good ones will pay attention to the call and spot little details, small openings for upselling or a better customer experience, that others miss.
Detail-oriented agents will also save you headaches by noticing what’s not said in certain conversations, and will ask questions. This greatly reduces the value of each call and cuts way down on callbacks.
Communication. We mean more here than just the ability to speak understandable English, although heaven knows we mean at least that much. You want call center agents who can listen effectively. Who don’t make customers repeat things, and who can listen between the lines and pick up on what the customer isn’t saying, and find a way to query them to elicit important information.
The important information must be conveyed, from the agent and from the customer, and an agent with superior communication skills will be able to adjust to the customer, and transact the exchange of information in a way that not only is accurate and sufficient, but improves the customer experience by being smooth and pleasant.
Patience. No doubt many a call center manager has resolved to only hire people who have raised at least three toddlers. Call center agents frequently deal with angry people, frustrated people who don’t know what they really want or what the problem really is, all they know is they’re not happy and they want to take it out on the first person they see – the agent. Your agent must have the patience to let them blow off a little steam, calmly and professionally get the information, and sweetly convey to the customer that they’ve been heard, their problems matter and something will be done. And that requires patience. Lots of it.