Superb contact center agents are unique in many ways. In other roles, desired skillsets often are distinct and distinguishable—you may want someone who’s assertive, not passive. Or collaborative, not autonomous.
But when it comes to contact center agents, such distinction blurs, and opposable yet desirable traits begin to meld. That’s because agents face many different scenarios day in and day out that require many different responses. For example, they need a calming demeanor and unlimited patience to handle frustrated customers, but they also need to display assertive efficiency in order to confidently answer difficult customer questions.
While ideal contact center agents always have been a somewhat unique blend of contrasting qualities, agents now face broader and more complex responsibilities thanks to today’s modern, multi-channel contact centers. As a result—while many of the same qualities that always have defined the most successful agents remain critical—today’s ideal agent requires a synergistic, often contrasting blend of skills to handle rapidly evolving, dynamic demands.
It’s a yin yang of traits. Seemingly opposite or contrary skillsets may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent.
“The principle of yin and yang is that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites, for example, female-male, dark-light and old-young…The two opposites of Yin and Yang attract and complement each other and, as their symbol illustrates, each side has at its core an element of the other (represented by the small dots). Neither pole is superior to the other and, as an increase in one brings a corresponding decrease in the other, a correct balance between the two poles must be reached in order to achieve harmony.”
— Ancient History Encyclopedia.
As if hiring great contact center agents wasn’t hard enough before, right?
Luckily, there are tangible, contrasting skillsets you can seek that—despite their opposite nature—actually are quite harmonious. Here they are.
Exceptional phone skills—from simply speaking clearly to actively listening, problem-solving and speaking in real time, to understanding the nuances of voice tones—remain a foundational requirement since traditional phone calls still make up the majority of most contact center interactions.
But customers now use an average of three different communication channels during a single interaction, and they expect the experience for each one—and across them—to be seamless.1 That means agents must be able to seamlessly move from voice calls to emails to chats, and master the nuances of the written communications—as well as the technologies that enable these new channels—demanded by each.
In addition to customer satisfaction, agent efficiency is a critical driver for above-average operational metrics in the contact center. In the age of instant gratification, customers expect faster-than-ever resolutions—and on the first contact whenever possible. Agents must be able to quickly process information, react in real time and make good decisions on-the-fly.
But, increased expectations have led customers to expect a five-star experience with every interaction, so efficiency itself is not enough. Great agents need to be efficient, but they also need to look for opportunities to deliver exceptional experiences: going beyond just providing an answer to a problem, and beyond solving a problem to adding new value for the customer.
Working in a contact center can be a monotonous job—answering similar questions and handling similar complaints day in and day out. But great agents never allow themselves to be lulled into laziness. They remain focused on the details—from schedules and scripts to compliance requirements—but also notice the little things that make each customer’s situation unique.
Innovative, self-service technologies like artificial intelligence (AI)-driven chatbots increasingly remove from agents the burden of handling tedious, redundant tasks like FAQs. Yet that doesn’t mean there’s less work for the agent. With chatbots handling the more easily answered customer inquiries, agents today are tasked with resolving the universally more complex issues, requiring more thought and effort to resolve. The ideal agent needs deeper, more creative problem-solving skills, so they can solve more difficult issues and deliver the personalized, convenient solutions customers expect.
Contact center jobs require agents to spend a large portion of their time working independently. Great agents are exceedingly autonomous resources: they can navigate complicated issues, find the information they need and formulate solutions quickly, without burdening other agents or supervisors. And as more contact centers employ remote workers, the ability to work autonomously while delivering superior results becomes increasingly important.
At the same time, as customer interactions grow more complex, the issues surfaced by customers often require input or assistance from other teams outside the contact center, such as sales, billing or technical services. As a result, agents must possess the social and diplomatic skills to work effectively with colleagues throughout the organization, often acting as the de facto “customer champion” who drives the group toward delivering an expedient, outstanding solution for the customer.
In the most basic sense, the agent’s job is pretty simple: answer the customers inquiry. Dependable agents—those who are always where they need to be—consistently help the contact center meet this challenge. And this natural resource is only increasing in value. As anytime-anywhere, always-on expectations expand the contact center to 24/7 service, such consistent, reliable attendance and schedule adherence become even more critical.
Fortunately, several new technologies—such as those, allow the analyst to make decisions in real-time , shift-bidding, and enable remote agents with capabilities to respond to staffing changes in real time—make the contact contact center more agile and better able to meet 24/7 customer expectations. Additionally, while adhering to defined schedules remains a critical requirement, ideal agents also should be flexible enough to adapt their schedules to adjustments to off line activities or to claim extra, open shifts.
Change happens quickly and constantly in the contact center: new products and services to understand, new customer issues to resolve, new scripts to memorize and new compliance requirements by which to abide. As a result, great agents are coachable, quick learners who take instruction and feedback well, and can quickly adapt their daily work.
At the same time, supervisor-led training and reviews now is augmented with self-driven learning and improvement technologies. The most successful agents take pride in their objective performance metrics and are self-motivated to use objective feedback, such as real-time performance feedback and smart benchmarking—some of which can be delivered via gamification—to get better.
The “perfect voice” for a contact center agent doesn’t exist. But confidence is a sound we all recognize and trust. The self-possessed, assertive tones used by great agents inspire confidence and assure customers they will receive a speedy, effective resolution.
But today it’s about more than self-confidence. Agents need to believe in the company they represent because that confidence—or lack thereof—comes across in their communications with customers. And millennials—who now make up the bulk of the contact center agent workforce—want to work for organizations in which they believe. They need to connect with the company mission, and believe in the value the company brings to its customers and to society in general.
The traditional role of a contact center agent is to solve acute customer issues in order to keep customers happy and to retain them as a customer. The best agents thrive on the pride they take in the solutions and satisfaction they bring to each customer, every day.
But individual pride and success is short-lived. As smart organizations in all sectors recognize that contact center agents often act as the frontline of the customer experience, they elevate and connect the role of the center to high-level business metrics and goals. They witness and acknowledge how the contact center drives not just customer satisfaction and retention, but also brand image, sales and revenue. As a result, while tomorrow’s most successful agents still will be driven by the immediate satisfaction they bring to individual customers, the best agents also will understand—and derive purpose and motivation from—the larger role they play in driving the success of the business.
Finding great contact center agents wasn’t an easy task when we sought only one-dimensional skillsets. Add in the yin yang dynamic where contrasting, blended skillsets are desired, and finding the high-caliber agents you need might seem impossible. But it’s not.
That’s because great agents aren’t born; they’re developed. And that’s why today’s contact centers leverage innovative strategies and technologies for identifying and rewarding high performers, coaching low performers, igniting the competitive spirit between agents, enabling scheduling flexibility, and providing work-life balance. They do more than simply recruit the right talent; they continually engage, inspire and develop their agents in order to deliver the best-possible customer experience.
You can do it, too. By leveraging best practices for improving agent performance, driving agent engagement and increasing agent retention, you can elevate and continually fine tune your agents’ skillsets, helping them become the balanced, blended-skillset customer advocates they need to be.