Featured Image for the blog: Hiring the Right Person: Look for These 10 Skills When Hiring your Next Contact Center Agent

The times, they are a’changing.

Innovations in technology let us connect in dramatically new ways. And these rapid developments have greatly affected the customer service industry. Customer expectations are way different now than 20 years ago, and the modern contact center has to adapt to try to keep pace with changing customer demands.

Thankfully, new tools and tech support these developments and expectations. But while advancements in technology help companies adapt, the success of your customers lies at the hands of the people you hire. With customer service as central to driving company revenue and customer loyalty, you want agents who can take on those huge responsibilities for your company. It takes a particular skill set to do the job well.

Plus, you want agents who are passionate, empowered, and engaged at work. As you hire new employees, it’s important to have an accurate list of criteria about what makes a successful agent in the modern world. What hard and soft skills, and what components of employee engagement should you look for in your agents?

Here are 10 of the most important skills and components of employee engagement your contact center agents need to be successful.

1. Knowledge retention

Your contact center agents need to be the experts on your product or service, second only to the product/service management team. To provide the best service to your customers, it’s essential that your agents are quick to learn and retain information about your company and your offerings. They should be able to take in, memorize, and apply their knowledge, so they can know the ins and outs of your product or service.

Once they know the facts, they can be creative in how they reach solutions and troubleshoot for your customers, without you holding their hand. When hiring, don’t hire candidates who aren’t prepared or willing to learn quickly. It can have serious negative impacts on your service.

2. Attention to detail

Taking in service requests and talking to customers can get monotonous, but you don’t want the tedium to affect the quality of service for your customers. Each customer matters, and your agents, as your company’s representative for that customer, need to be consistent. When agents become complacent, mistakes happen. Your agent needs to carefully provide the right information, ask clarifying questions, and be conversational to meet the needs of the customer on the other end.

Mistakes can be costly and can change a person’s opinion of your company entirely. In fact, after one negative experience, 51% of customers will never do business with a company again. Yikes.

Make sure your agents know the customer’s needs were met before they move onto the next interaction. And, encourage them to follow up on resolved cases to ensure your customer left with the best experience.

3. Good organizational skills

With customers expecting to reach you on all kinds of channels, there are a lot of things to keep track of. Call Janet back, respond to John’s email, put in a transfer request to sales…it can get hectic. But, you don’t want a customer falling through the cracks. Your agents need to know where to go when they’re looking for a solution or keeping track of tasks. For the benefit of your customers, and keeping cross-team communication on track, make sure you hire agents who can keep their tasks organized.

Make staying organized easier on your agents with better tools, too. Simplify your agent experience with a contact center platform that connects all your information – from your CRM to your customer channels, to your analytics. Get full visibility, all in one place.

4. Friendly and patient

These are necessary qualities your employees need to offer up the best service. Your agents are the face of your company for customers. The experience of your customers rides on every interaction they have with your company.

If your agents aren’t friendly or can’t be patient with a difficult customer, they won’t be able to deliver stellar service. And, they probably shouldn’t be working in a contact center.

Providing great service to your customers has a direct impact on your revenue. Bain and Company reported that when you increase your customer retention rates by 5 percent, your profits increase anywhere from 25 to 95%.

Stellar service should be non-negotiable, and it starts with fundamental skills like patience and kindness.

5. Strong communication skills

Communication is everything in a contact center. The ability to communicate with ease should be an obvious skill for agents. Your agents must steer all conversations toward a positive resolution for your customers. They need to calmly provide critical information in a clear, easy-to-understand manner. They need to be strong writers (or coachable ones) who can give instructions and explain the product or product issues.

Communication is the foundation of your agent’s job., No matter the channel or method, they’re communicating all day long. They use language to resolve conflict, de-escalate situations, and help your customers. Hire people who speak and write well to get quicker resolutions with your customers and higher customer satisfaction along with it.

6. Speed and efficiency

Have you ever been put on hold by a company and sat there for way too long? Most people have. And most of those people give up and leave frustrated.

Harris Interactive reports that 75% of customers believe it takes too long to reach a live agent. People will give up if they don’t hear from a person at your company…and fast.

Though you don’t want your agents to only care about speed in their interactions and leave customers with shoddy work, agents need to be on top of it and move quickly. This keeps customers happy in-the-moment, and it helps you solve more customer problems in a day.

7. Attentive listening

Listening is part of being a good communicator, but I thought it’s worth listing separately.

Being a good listener is that important. Your agents will only understand your customer’s problem if they pay close attention to everything they’re told.

Listening leads to faster solutions since your agent gets the sitch on the full story. Plus, it means so much to your customers when they know they’re heard. Your agents are advocates for your company, and for your customers. And in the moments when agents talk to your customers, it’s your agents’ job to hear complaints, first. Then, comes the time to problem-solve for a resolution that benefits both parties.

8. Empathy

Customers, whether they love you or hate you, need attention. Customer service isn’t like solving a math problem. It can be incredibly emotional. Customers today expect to be treated as humans. Having agents who can access their emotions and relate to your customers in moments of stress or anger has a dramatic effect on how your customers perceive their experience. They reach out and want to be understood. Supporting their feelings reduces stress, shows them that you’re on their side and that you’ll do what it takes to resolve their issue.

Customers will be more cooperative and willing to share concerns if your agents can meet them where they are.

Look for agents who are emotionally intelligent, or who are at least willing to learn how to grow in empathy.

9. Good at juggling multiple tasks

The modern agent needs to be able to shift from one channel to another seamlessly. They talk to customers over the phone, by chat, email, and social media. And each of these communication channels taps into a different skill set. With this kind of multifaceted communication, your agents need to shift the way they communicate, in a moment’s notice, to save time, stay cost-effective, and give your customers better resolutions.

Today’s customers want quick resolutions during an interaction by speaking to a live rep, but often in conjunction with other methods. A customer might call you with an initial request, then need you to send the call transcription in a response email. Or they may reach you through Twitter, then need to give you more detail about their problem in an email. This omnichannel service requires agents who can jump from channel to channel seamlessly, and sometimes simultaneously.

10. Coachable and self-driven

For your sake as a manager, the modern agent needs to be easy to coach and self-driven to be effective. As employee engagement (and empowerment) becomes a greater priority for contact centers, coaching programs let agents learn how to resolve issues and innovate on their own. Plus, it empowers them to keep learning and growing. Your life will be easier because your agents will be more engaged and empowered to make better decisions for your customers, without calling on you for help. The most successful agents pride themselves on meeting requirements and exceeding goals. The best agents will be quick to learn, adapt, and apply your feedback.

Set high standards, and see results.

Your agents are the face of your company for many customers, so their skill sets are crucial to building the best customer experience. The Temkin Group reported that after having a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would then recommend the company to a friend. That’s a huge chance for word-of-mouth business from happy customers.

It’s worth it to hire right, not to hire fast. Choose agents who deliver your company’s ideas and experience best, and you’ll see the ROI. We promise.

For more customer service stats about why customer happiness is so important, read this recent post!