It may be very difficult to pinpoint which function or department makes the biggest contribution to an organization, but when it comes to your customers' experience, call center has no rivalry. It is where your brand proposition is communicated, quality is tested, customer insight is formed and loyalty is forged. It is where the rubber meets the road.
According to Microsoft’s State of Global Customer Service Report on customer expectations:
1 - 58% of consumers say that customer service is a very important factor that affects their choice of a brand.
2 - 61% of consumers say that they have stopped transacting with a business after a poor service experience
There is no doubt that the call center agent is one of the most critical and key employees of your organization. A good one can make your brand shine while collecting invaluable data about your product fit, customer expectations and quality but a bad one…well, we all know what a bad one can do to your business.
So, how do we define the good one? Is it personality? Is it experience? Or behavioral competencies?
You guessed the answer, which is basically the same with almost all the complex issues related to human beings. It depends.
The characteristics that make a call center agent effective and successful are not the same for inbound agents and outbound agents, not the same for agents who troubleshoot multi-faceted product issues and for ones who have to deal with complex regulatory and compliance issues that will boggle anyone out of mind. There is no one list of ideal call agent characteristics as there is no one type of problem to solve. The fit between the problem at hand and the type of agent is more critical than any other criteria. If you need to make hundreds of outbound calls a day to push your product fast in a niche market, you will need a special agent with a very specific set of qualities, very different from the ones you will need when you start receiving a high volume of some very upset inbound calls regarding a new bug with your product.
You have to define these fit characteristics very well to be effective. The agents’ level of extrovertedness, neuroticism, or level of analytical skills will have a different fit with the type of job you have.
But still, no matter what type of customer problem your agents are solving, there are some common characteristics in high performing agents. You can remember them with a very simple rule:
Two personality traits, two competencies and two key work experiences. 2-2-2. A person scoring high on all of these six key dimensions has a much better chance to fit with your call center agent vacancy no matter whether it is inbound, outbound, compliance or technical assurance.
Two Personality Traits:
- Emotional Stability: being able to stay calm, collected and professional in the face of irate, unhappy customers, sometimes in very adversarial situations is a foundational skill for a call center agent. What enables this most often is a personality trait called neuroticism. Measured by the Big 5 personality assessments, having high emotional stability, low neuroticism, is a must in any call center job.
- Learning Agility: Call center agents learn your products, processes, regulations, company procedures, values, customer concerns, quality issues, and many more things to perform their daily jobs. Products change, processes definitely change and people change faster than ever. Customers change their perception of your product continuously, and commonly increase their expectations after each interaction. 59% of customers say that they have higher expectations for customer support than they had a year ago. That is a lot of learning new information, new procedures and behaviors. So, it is not coincidental that high performing call agents score high on learning agility scales.
- Communication Skills: Good customer management, be it a sales call or an interaction for troubleshooting a quality concern is all about communication. Active listening, verbal articulation, effective choice of words, ability to convince and find common ground for a mutually beneficial solution. These are the skills an agent needs to develop and develop fast. Although we all know only 1/3 of companies usually measure them with rigorous scales or tests.
- Problem Solving: Often neglected but a key foundational skill for a call center employee is problem solving. They are not only your first line of defense but also key enablers of your mass customization strategy, as well. Being able to understand the very personal and different experience each customer has with your product and solve their issues showing understanding and appreciation is a great skill. It requires analytical thinking, and empathy which are highly complex cognitive skills. Lack them and you shall disappoint. The most frustrating aspect of a poor customer service experience is an agent that lacks the knowledge or ability to solve the customer’s issue – according to 36% of surveyees. 31% say it is having to repeat or provide their data multiple times.
Two Key Work Experiences:
- Customer Facing Job Experience: Anything will do. It could be a summer internship at a local retail shop selling T-shirts or a technical position troubleshooting products. If it is facing customers directly on a daily basis, it is very very valuable. Customers are the best teachers. Having direct impact, learning opportunities, successes and failures with real customers provides a unique perspective that is impossible to be taught during quick orientation sessions.
- Any previous work experience where your prospective agent was required to be reliable is a key driver. This kind of job, whether in front of a remote computer or in a large service center, requires self motivation and reliability. Everybody depends on the agent to be prompt, patient and professional on the job all the time, every time. Demonstration of reliability and high level of stability in previous work experiences must be a key consideration in your selection process.
If you can define the perfect fit type, and measure at least these 6 characteristics : 2-2-2, you will ensure to have a great team of agents for your brand. Everybody will thank you.