If you’ve ever called a business to get help completing a complex or expensive purchase, you know the skills you want the contact center agent to have. They need to be patient, display empathy, have great problem-solving skills, and know the product inside and out. The last thing you want is an agent that can’t do anything but stick to a script.
If you’ve ever managed a contact center or worked as an agent, you might be thinking of the script first to keep those call scores up, but you also want to be able to provide a personalized experience to the customer that’ll make them happy and drive them to close the deal. So what do you need to know to top your contact center leaderboard?
Here are six skills the most successful contact center agents need to have and that managers need to train to develop.
Agents Need Empathy
We’re going to take a deep dive into empathy first because it’s the cornerstone to successfully applying the other important contact center agent skills. But before we get into how contact center agents can display empathy, let’s talk a little about what it is.
Empathy in customer service is the ability to show that you understand what your customer is going through from their perspective. This is different than sympathy, where you may have feelings for someone’s situation, but maintain an emotional distance. Let’s put it this way: Sympathy is seeing your friend fall into a creek and feeling embarrassed for them while you wait for them to get out, then telling them “hey, that sucks but you’re not hurt, so it’s no big deal!”
Empathy is seeing your friend fall into a creek, helping them out, and listening to how they are feeling about taking a tumble and acknowledging their pain without minimizing it. And the key is that listening and acknowledgment come before jumping in and offering emotional support. In the creek dunking case, though, definitely help them out of the water first!
In the context of the contact center, though, can empathy be taught and learned? It absolutely can. We’re not all equipped to deliver empathetic experiences, and some studies show that empathy is on the decline. While there’s more in-depth resources and training out there that can help you learn and teach contact center agents about providing empathetic experiences, here are a few steps to get you started:
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes
This one shouldn’t be too tough. We’ve all had to call a company to get help at some point, so think back to the last time you did that and what made the experience good or bad. Give your customer a chance to explain what they want, and what their experience has been like so far. Acknowledge that you know what they’re going through and show that you’re there to help! Above all, think about what the situation is like from their perspective. To practice outside of work, have a conversation with someone like a new co-worker or a friend you don’t know very well yet. Listen curiously and try to understand a little about them from their perspective instead of your own.
Admit your biases
We all have ingrained biases, but few of us know what they are. Your biases, implicit or explicit, can manifest themselves when it comes to how you treat the customers who end up on your line. You should want to treat all of your customers the same, no matter what they sound like, or their perceived gender or age. To get in tune with your own biases and get tips on how to address them, start by taking this quiz from Project Implicit. By acknowledging your biases, you can work to make sure they don’t prevent you from providing an empathetic experience to all your callers.
Take a chance on making emotional connections
This is a tough balancing act in contact center work because you don’t want your emotional involvement to interfere with your ability to take the right actions. And you don’t want every one of your customers’ problems hanging over your head at dinner time. This is something to practice in your daily life. When a friend opens up to you about their feelings, view it as an opportunity for you to identify with them and be vulnerable to them. Take the time to listen to them actively to understand where they are coming from without trying to problem-solve right away. Doing this will help teach you to understand where your customers are coming from, and it might make you a better friend, too.
Active Listening Skills
Active listening is the ability to focus completely on what someone is saying and understand their message. It's one of the most important soft skills for call center representatives to master. The keys to active listening are:
- Listen attentively without thinking about your response
- Use verbal cues to show and keep your attention (yes, uh-huh, got it, etc.)
- Consider your caller’s words and commit them to memory
- Paraphrase your summary to make sure you understand
- Ask open-ended questions to clarify all important information
Being an active listener assures you’ll understand your customer, and helps you handle calls more efficiently.
Deep Knowledge of the Product and Marketing
The most effective agents know the products that you sell well. Of course, with large catalogs, endless SKUs, and high agent turnover, it’s nearly impossible to keep every agent trained on every single product. However, when it comes to your high-value, high-profit products, the agents that take these calls should know them inside and out. If a customer calls about one of these high-stakes purchases, you can rest assured that they will bail to the competition if it’s not apparent your agents know what they’re talking about.
To accomplish this, you need to make sure that these high-value calls are routed to the right agent, right away, preferably without being transferred. Advanced dynamic call routing available in conversation intelligence platforms like Invoca enables you to connect the entire customer journey to the phone call. So, depending on what landing page, ad, email, or even direct mail flyer your customer is looking at, they can be automatically routed to the most qualified agent who is trained on the product to handle their call.
By tying your customer’s online buying journey to the phone call and making that data available to agents, they won’t be caught off guard by customers who are calling about promotions or from ads about specific products. Invoca for Sales can provide screen pops to agents to inform them of promotions, allowing them to provide efficient and personalized service.
Knowledge of the Customers
Any good comedian will tell you that you have to know your audience. Same goes for call center agents. Some common knowledge of customers that your agents need to stay up to date on include:
- What usually drives them to call
- Common questions or concerns
- Typical objections and how to handle them
- Frequently mentioned competitors and how to differentiate
- Type of interaction your customers want: e.g. Fast and efficient? In-depth and thorough?
By becoming familiar with the needs and wants of your customers, contact center agents can provide the kind of knowledgeable and personalized service that today’s customers demand. Conversation intelligence software like Invoca for Sales can also enable deeper customer knowledge by identifying callers as previous or current customers and enriching your customer database with actions that have occurred on the phone. With this knowledge, agents can get right to the matter at hand without having to ask the caller a litany of tedious questions.
Calm Under Pressure
The best contact center agents can remain patient and calm, even when someone is screaming at them on the other end of the line. Here, your empathetic service and active listening skills are critical. When the customer knows that they are being heard, they are more likely to regain their composure — and even begin to feel empathy for you! This gets you the information you need to help solve their problem and building that emotional connection with the customer can prevent you from getting flustered.
Second, you can’t take it personally. You know that it’s not your fault when an angry customer calls and starts taking it out on you. Again, put yourself in their shoes and think of a time that you may have done the same thing! If you don’t take the onslaught personally, you can focus on providing a great experience and ending the call with the customer knowing that they have an ally in you.
Flexibility and Creativity
Flexible, creative, and adaptable contact center agents aren’t just born that way. They have to be nurtured by the culture, technology, and processes in your contact center. You can’t have agents who are creative problem solvers if everyone is forced to follow the scripts word-for-word. Every customer is different in some way and you have to empower your agents to listen, to understand, and to solve problems in ways that fall outside what even the best scripting could ever have predicted.
By reviewing call recordings and transcripts together, you can share moments where agents creatively handled a problem or situations that would have been better handled with some out-of-the-box thinking. With Invoca for Sales, you can provide personalized coaching and feedback within the transcript or at exact timestamps in a recording right after the call ends. Agents can also view their call scores and listen to recordings at any time. This is especially important for empowering remote agents. While you can’t be there to pull them aside to chat, you give them the power to self-coach and the ability to interact with feedback while the call is still fresh in their minds. The result is agents who can respond quickly, effectively, and efficiently to anything the world can throw at them.