Your business might have everything else worked out, but your call center is where the rubber meets the road. It's the interface between your company and your customers─your business may stand or fall on the quality of your customer service.
According to the American Express 2011 Global Customer Service Barometer, 78% of customers have canceled a transaction due to bad customer service. Hiring the best call center agents is vitally important to your company's future, as well as your bottom line.
The call center agent is the face of your business. A good one has both a heart and a brain. They have people skills in addition to intelligence and a good memory. The top six call center agent qualities are:
- Strong communication skills
- Good learning abilities
- Emotional stability
- Meticulous organization skills
- Reliability and good time-keeping
Strong communication skills
Customers will be calling all day every day with questions that need answering and issues that need resolving. Many customers will probably have similar queries, but a good agent doesn't take anything for granted.
They will listen to the customer, not just assume they already know what the problem is. They don't just give a canned response, they find out all the information needed for a complete solution and convey that solution in clear, easy-to-understand language.
After all, for the agent it might be the 20th customer that day with the same issue, but for the customer, this might be the first connection with your company and your only chance to make a good first impression.
Good communication skills should be noticeable during the hiring process. Maybe you could ask applicants to write a short essay as part of the application. Also consider roleplaying as a customer and see how they handle themselves.
Good memory and strong learning abilities
According to the 2009 Genesys report, The Cost of Poor Customer Service, the top four reasons customers cited for taking their business elsewhere were:
- Being trapped in automated self-service
- Being forced to wait too long
- Having to repeat themselves
- Dealing with an agent who lacked the skills to handle their inquiry
A good agent knows the ins and outs of your business. They have access to a sturdy CRM system, take detailed client notes and have full access to a customer’s history. As a result, if they need to look up something or consult with others, they won’t put the customer on hold for too long.
If there's one thing more frustrating than being on hold, it's listening to the recorded message, “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold.”
A top agent will be able to pick it up as they go along, with the help of a good training program that gives them the confidence and the knowledge they need to deliver the best customer service.
One way to pick out employees with good learning skills is to test them during the hiring process. You could give your candidates some sample customer problems and ask what should be done to solve them.
Dealing with frustrated customers day in and day out can get old quickly. Burnout is an ever-present danger, particularly in the call center industry.
A good call center agent reacts to irate customers with professionalism. A great one reacts with empathy. They understand how frustration can make a person lash out, so they don't take things personally.
A generally happy temperament that shrugs off unpleasant experiences is good too. You don't want angry words to fester─sooner or later the whole team’s morale might suffer. A supportive company culture is also helpful here.
When hiring, you might ask about your prospect's most frustrating experience. Someone who lost their temper might not be a good fit for customer service. If they still seem angry about it that’s an even bigger red flag.
Meticulous organization skills
An effective call center agent has more to do than just talk to customers. They also need to update the CRM, take notes, fill in the call disposition codes, and complete other post-call paperwork.
Sometimes they might need to juggle several customers at once. The ability to work methodically—getting all the details right, multitasking when necessary—is an important call center agent quality.
Make sure to check for good organization skills when hiring. Did the candidate meet all the deadlines for the application process? Were there mistakes in their resume or application? If they can’t represent themselves well, what makes you think they’ll represent you any better?
Reliability and good time-keeping
Working at a call center is a stressful fast-paced job with a high attrition rate. To compound the problem, most call centers are scheduled around call volume and don’t keep 9 to 5 hours. Night, weekend, and holiday work is the norm. A good agent will be at their desk, ready to work, when their shift starts. You’ll be depending on them to keep the workload flowing.
Customers don’t stop calling just because someone got stuck in traffic or needs to go to the dentist. You need agents you can rely on to provide a consistent quality of service no matter what else may be going on in their lives. When hiring a new agent, make sure to ask about their schedule. Someone with a flexible schedule would be a better fit for call center work.
Good communication skills come into play here as well—if someone does have an emergency they need to work with the right person to make sure the call center schedule in not disrupted.
Ability to self-motivate
Being a good call center agent isn’t something that just happens. It takes skills in a variety of areas to provide good customer service. Self-discipline and the willingness to learn, grow, and improve yourself are virtues that come from the inside. A self-motivated agent might end up surpassing others who are more talented, simply because he or she has that drive to be better and do more.
Finding self-motivated employees might take a little extra work, but it’s worth it. A great way to start is to ask your top agents if they can refer anyone who fits the bill. It’s also a good idea to include relevant keywords in the job description when advertising for the position.
You want to provide your customers with the best possible experience. RightNow’s Customer Experience Report North America 2010 says that 85% of customers would be willing to pay more than market price for superior customer service, and 82% have stopped doing business with a company as a result of a bad experience.
Good customer service is a balancing act between finishing the call quickly and making the customer feel like you really care about them and want to solve their problem. It's worthwhile to take the time to look for key call center agent qualities when hiring. Your company will thank you for it.