A guide to call center skills

For support team leaders, hiring agents with the right call center skills is a must. Here are some of the personal qualities and technical skills that hiring managers should look for in agents.

By Mark Smith, Content Marketing Manager

Published August 27, 2020
Last updated August 27, 2020

Let’s face it: being a call center agent is a tough job. And being a hiring manager tasked with finding people who have call center skills is no walk in the park, either. A wrong decision made during the hiring process can have far-reaching effects, and not the good kind.

That said, a call center manager who understands the qualities that an effective customer service agent must have—from personal attributes to technical skills—stands a much better chance of hiring the right candidate.

In this guide we’ll examine what a call center supervisor should look for in a customer service representative, as well as tips for how managers can help agents provide great customer service.

Important skills every call center agent needs

When looking for the right candidates, you’ll want to consider both hard and soft skills (hint: both are very important).

First, the hard skills:

  1. Technical aptitude

    Test candidates for their ability to search for and evaluate documentation, such as self-service articles and notes left in customer records in call center software. Have they used a support tool before? Do they have well-developed computer skills?

  2. Channel experience

    This might seem obvious, but previous phone support experience is vital. In previous support roles, how many calls per shift did they typically resolve? Can they explain best practices and provide examples of how they have handled challenging situations?

  3. Aptitude with data

    See if a candidate has a basic understanding of data analysis and can navigate and understand dashboards.

  4. Bilingualism

    Perhaps your business will be going to expand into a new region, or you already serve clientele that require support in multiple languages. A bilingual or multilingual call center representative is a huge boon to a support team.

Call center agent attributes

What attributes should a call center agent have?

When we talk about attributes, we mean the personal qualities that enable one person to excel at working the phones while another struggles to provide a good customer experience.

These characteristics aren’t just necessary for the contact center’s short-term needs, though. It’s also important to think about whether the candidate has the personal attributes that will make them a solid long-term employee, and eventually, a leader.

Here are some things to look for during the interview process:

  1. Tenacity

    Does an applicant for a call center agent role show a willingness to tackle the unexpected? Is he or she resilient in the face of adversity? Formulate an interview question that will help you determine whether a candidate is equipped to handle new problems effectively.

  2. Flexibility

    Remember, what a customer needs from a customer service team might change over time.

    As customer expectations continue to rise, will your call center agents be able to make the kind of adjustments that will keep rates of customer satisfaction steady? Will that candidate be able to pick up knowledge quickly?

  3. Process-oriented

    You want creative agents, but it’s also vital that those representatives don’t cut corners or the chain of command. For example, will a candidate be the kind of agent who can be counted on to document solutions to common (or uncommon) problems in your help center articles?

  4. Problem-solving personality

    The right candidates want to go beyond the easy answers or a decision-making grid. They look at unusual problems as an exciting challenge. Look for job seekers who possess strong critical thinking skills.

  5. Good communication skills

    Be sure new hires understand how to clearly communicate with customers. Like a doctor with a good “bedside manner,” effective agents show patience and kindness, and they engage in active listening. They don’t assume the customer has the same knowledge that they do.

  6. Genuine empathy

    Stock phrases just won’t cut it with customers. They’ll be able to hear whether or not an agent actually cares. For many customers, the moment when they call customer support is one in which they’re already frustrated or angry. This is one of the most important call center agent skills.

  7. Consultation

    Will they be proactive and recognize opportunities to help customers avoid future issues? This can mean everything from passing along a bit of helpful, unprompted advice to pointing customers to help center articles.

Call center performance

Tips for improving call center performance

So you’ve hired agents with the personal attributes and skills required to be effective call center employees. Here’s how you can help them elevate their game:

Emphasize time to value

Call center agents must focus on offering substantive replies and encourage collaboration with customers. Customers want to know that agents are diligently working to resolve the issue.

Get a deep knowledge of what your customers want from you

For example, as the Zendesk 2020 Customer Experience Trends report shows, the top priority for 60 percent of surveyed customers is to have their issues resolved quickly. Those customers expect friendly service, they don’t want to repeat themselves, and they absolutely hate being put on hold for long periods of time.

Keep your team informed and properly resourced

Provide agents with the most information as possible so they have resources readily at hand. Representatives who have been through extensive call center training can spend more time focusing on interactions.

And as call volumes rise during the Covid-19 pandemic, companies are reporting on average a 10 percent increase in phone calls. The ones that have been most successful in handling higher rates of inbound calls have increased staffing by 16 percent while leaning into self-service options.

Think about customer lifetime value

Call center agents need to keep in mind that the customer journey really matters. About half of customers say they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In the case of more than one bad experience, that number increases to 80 percent.

The journey doesn’t stop after the hire

Knowing which customer service skills make for a strong call center agent is one thing—but it’s crucial that hiring managers also think about their role in helping prospects grow into the role.

Schedule a coaching session (including simulation training) with agents, and use data to identify areas that need improvement.

By making informed decisions during a call center interview, managers can set up employees to achieve the kind of agent performance customers demand.