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9 skills that call center agents need for success

Contact centers accommodate all channels of communication, which means hiring managers must train call center agents to keep up with customer demands.

Call centers have evolved into contact centers to meet the needs of customers who prefer to use email, IM and social media over phone calls. This means the call center agent job description includes knowledge of many more platforms and communication skills than ever before.

While phone calls dominate call centers, hiring managers must make sure agents have more than verbal communication skills. As call centers evolve into contact centers, they must now accommodate many different forms of communication. They must also focus on writing and reading comprehension skills for email, chat and social media and develop their body language and visual observation skills for video chat.

Most common call center agent skills

Many call center agent skills are the same as they were in past years. The difference now is that customers expect immediate customer support across any communication channel they choose, and call center -- or contact center -- managers need their agents to meet those expectations.

Here are nine key call center agent skills that managers should look for when hiring.

1. Interpersonal skills

Call center managers must look for agents that thrive on working with people they don't know, understanding their issues -- whether the agent can relate to them or not -- and helping to solve the issue, even though the agent may not agree with the final resolution.

2. Excellent communications skills across channels

Contact center agents now speak with customers across a variety of channels, including phone, email, web chat, text messaging and video. Each of these channels requires training in different types of communication skills from a listening and speaking perspective. While agents don't need to excel at communicating in all the channels, call center managers must ensure that agents exhibit the skills necessary for the channels they will support.

six customer service channels to support

3. Professional and courteous demeanor

Customers reaching out to a contact center may be frustrated and emotional, depending on the issue they are trying to resolve. Call center managers must ensure that agents are sensitive to a customer's feelings, always have a courteous demeanor, and display empathy and patience when providing customer service, regardless of the channel of communication.

What to expect in call centers

4. Excellent problem-solving skills

Customers often reach out to a contact center with complex issues that are difficult to explain. Hiring managers must make sure that agents listen to the customer, identify the core issue and provide a resolution that serves both the customer and the organization. Call center representatives must have training in active listening so they can ask questions, clarify points and summarize what the customer said to ensure that the agent has all necessary information to assist the customer.

Managers must ensure that the agents have the ability to learn a tremendous amount of information regarding products, services, policies and procedures.

5. Ability to learn, retain and apply large amounts of information

Managers must ensure that the agents have the ability to learn a tremendous amount of information regarding products, services, policies and procedures. Agents also need the ability to retain a good portion of this information and, in cases in which they don't have an answer, understand how to navigate across a number of systems, such as a knowledge base or a customer relationship management system, to find the answer to the customer's issue.

6. Ability to accept and meet quantitative goals

The contact center environment is extremely metric-driven, so monitoring metrics and key performance indicators is important for the performance management process. Agents often have quantitative goals that managers measure and reward them for on a number of key items, such as quality monitoring results, average handle time, attendance and occupancy. Managers must ensure that their agents are willing to work in an environment where their managers monitor, track and report most of their activities.

7. Ability to work in a highly structured environment

The contact center environment is extremely structured. Managers must monitor and ensure that agents can adhere to strict schedules, deal with a large volume of transactions, have exceptional time management skills, and follow detailed attendance and punctuality policies.

8. Flexibility

Organizations constantly change, rolling out new products, services and features to attract new customers and retain current ones. In most cases, agents receive notification of changes in a timely manner, but there are many times when the customer knows about a change before an agent does. Hiring managers must ensure that agents are flexible and cannot be overwhelmed when surprises occur.

9. Ability to work independently and find answers

Even though agents work on teams in the contact center, their interactions with customers are one-to-one. Managers must hire agents that are comfortable working independently and have the confidence that, if they cannot resolve a customer issue immediately, they know how to find the solution. Customer satisfaction increases if call center representatives are creative and go above and beyond to find answers for their customers.

Call center agent job mobility

Call center representatives used to have two main career paths: moving into a supervisor role or moving into a support role in areas such as training, quality assurance or workforce management.

In addition to those paths, agents with the appropriate qualifications can transition into roles such as team leader, manager or director, where they can continue to work with customers in a variety of channels.

Hiring managers must ensure that all call center agents have a diverse set of skills to work with customers across a variety of channels in a complex, yet structured environment. It is not an easy job to perform successfully, but if managers train them properly and ensure agents have the right skills, there is a tremendous level of satisfaction in assisting customers in their time of need.

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