New call center agents -- top 10 pitfalls

Common areas of call center agent weakness are largely due to inexperience in handling live (and sometimes frustrated and nasty) customers, and a lack of in-depth knowledge of systems, products, policies and procedures. Most of these areas can be improved over time. Learn best practices from Donna Fluss here.

I am training for my first call center job and already there are a lot of things to take in. What are some common mistakes that first-time call center agents make, or some common areas of weakness?

Congratulations on your new position and welcome to the call center world. Your question implies that you already understand that the call center is a very unique operating environment – fast-paced, dynamic, and multi-faceted. It is also an environment in which you, the call center agent, play a critical role in the success of your company.

As you noted, there is a vast amount of information that new call center agents are required to learn to perform their jobs. Common areas of agent weakness are largely due to their inexperience in handling live (and sometimes frustrated and nasty) customers, and a lack of in-depth knowledge of systems, products, policies and procedures. Most of these areas of opportunity can only be improved over time, as agents become more experienced in speaking to customers and applying job knowledge. That being said, here are some agent best practices to help you achieve your goals.

1. Arrive on time and adhere to your schedule. The call center is a very structured environment – and for good reason. Forecasting and scheduling is a critical component of service delivery. A common mistake that first-time call center agents make is under-appreciating the substantial impact on service delivery and call center goals when they are absent, late or fail to adhere closely to their assigned schedule.

2. Maintain open communication with your trainer, team leader, coach or supervisor. Keep a list of areas where you want to improve your performance. Discuss these areas with your supervisor during your monthly one-on-one session. Alternatively, ask a trainer, team leader or coach for assistance. Maintain a positive attitude and be open to feedback and suggestions. Keep in mind that these people are there to help you.

3. If you don't know or are unsure about the answer to a customer's question or how to handle a request – ask for help. This way, the customer will get the right answer, you'll receive a good score on your quality evaluations, and you will build your base of knowledge.

4. During low volume periods when calls are slow, use the quiet time to review training and product materials. This will help build your job knowledge and learn how calls will be evaluated. Use the time to review training materials or to take e-learning courses. Be proactive about learning.

5. When you are not on a call, listen to how respected agents handle customer interactions. This is a valuable way to learn subtle techniques on how to communicate unfamiliar or complicated information to customers and how to handle situations that escalate. As you learn more effective and efficient communication methods, your productivity metrics will improve.

6. Share customer issues with your call center supervisor. Call center agents are the first people in an enterprise to learn about a problem or issue. If you see patterns or trends, let your supervisor know. For example, if you notice that three customers in Billing Cycle 9 reported that they didn't receive their statement, notify your immediate supervisor so that a potentially damaging situation can be corrected quickly, before it has too great an impact.

7. Make suggestions for improvements. Just because you are new does not mean that you do not have valuable and beneficial ideas. Making suggestions is a great way to demonstrate initiative and get involved in departmental activities. This is often how agents get assigned to special project teams.

8. Find out what call center metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to evaluate your performance and how they are calculated. It's critical for your success to understand how your performance is evaluated. Identify the performance categories where you need further development and proactively develop an action plan to improve areas of weakness.

9. Be positive, open and flexible when change is introduced. The call center is a dynamic environment where situations change constantly. It's very important to accept change and be extremely adaptable.

10. Recognize that while the agent role is an entry-level position, you can use it as a first step in building a career. The majority of call and contact centers promote from within when selecting team leaders, quality monitoring specialists and supervisors. Additionally, many other departments in the enterprise value call center experience highly, as it gives employees great insight into the company and its customers. Do not make the mistake of considering your call center job a dead-end position. It can be the beginning of a successful career or an entry point into a corporation.

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