24 Experts Reveal the Single Worst Thing a Contact Center Agent Can Do During a Call

Talking to customers on the phone all day isn’t an easy job; that’s why it takes a special set of skills and characteristics to be a successful contact center agent. Even top-performing agents have bad days, though, and sometimes, things that are considered standard practice can frustrate customers.

Hiring the right contact center agents is important, but ongoing agent training and performance management are crucial for customer satisfaction and the success of your business as a whole.

If you’re looking for ways to boost your agents’ performance, check out our white paper, Using Gamification to Improve Contact Center Performance.

While gamification, call scoring and other strategies can help improve contact center agent performance, the first step is identifying the common behaviors that leave customers unsatisfied, frustrated and angry. To learn more about the biggest mistakes contact center agents make during calls that can lead to a poor customer experience, we reached out to a panel of contact center experts and business leaders and asked them to answer this question:

“What’s the single worst thing a contact center agent can do during a call?”

Meet Our Panel of Contact Center Experts & Business Leaders:

 

Matthew Dailly Peter Mann Sturgeon Christie
Brett Prentiss Grant Aldrich GraLeandra Naranjo
Rex Freiberger Steve Bufton Fraser Wilson
Vinay Amin John Moss Brett Banchek
Michael Kipness Donna Dutton Bre Swanson
Yaniv Masjedi Mark Hayes Phil Strazzulla
Natalya Bucuy Ty Stewart Michael Kansky
Kevin Lee Eric Shurke Sean McPheat

 

Read on to learn what our experts had to say about the worst things a contact center agent can do during a call (and how to avoid them).

Matthew Dailly

@financial_tiger

Matthew Dailly is the Managing Director at Tiger Financial.

“Contact centers are usually the last resorts to get in touch if the problem cannot be solved through a variety of other ways…

During training, all call center employees are told to be empathetic towards the customer and their query; they are all there to help and becoming hostile or angry over the phone really does not solve anything. Call center staff need to remember what to do in such situations as learned through training. Keep showing empathy and the mood will soon change for the better.

Brett Prentiss

@InstinctMarket2

Brett Prentiss is the Co-Founder of Instinct Marketing.

“The single worst thing a contact center agent can do during a call is eat…”

First and foremost, it sounds disgusting to the customer. Next, it’s just terrible manners. You wouldn’t talk with your mouth full in person, so there’s no excuse to do so over the phone.

It can also be a safety hazard, as well. I’ve been that call center rep with a mouthful of pizza and ended up choking….during a call!

The customer had no idea what was going on, and I couldn’t hang up. All that was heard on the call was myself gasping for air. I was not helpful in any way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they canceled their account.

Never eat while on the phone. It’s not pleasant and is just straight up rude to do when speaking with any customer or client. If you wouldn’t do that in front of your mom, you shouldn’t do that while on the phone with your customer.

Rex Freiberger

@rexfreiberger

Rex is the CEO of Discuss Diets.

“We train our customer service reps to avoid playing off the caller’s emotions…”

It’s easy to let their anger or frustration get you worked up, but losing your temper or being cowed by extreme emotion is definitely the worst thing a call center rep can do, in my opinion.

For starters, it just makes their job harder in the long run. But a lot of people will call in to call centers with the intent of pushing people around. They may have legitimate reasons to be upset, but not legitimate reasons to act the way they do.

You have to have grace under fire in any customer service position, but especially when you only have voice at your disposal. It’s harder to communicate and can be easy for pushy customers to get the better of you.

Vinay Amin

@EuNaturalHealth

Vinay Amin is the CEO at Eu Natural.

“When I see results from customer service satisfaction surveys that are unfavorable, I know the culprit is probably due to long wait times…”

It’s not always easy to juggle multiple calls as call center agents often do, but it should be a high priority to minimize wait times for customers. A study from 2014 found that most people were not willing to stay on hold for longer than 13 minutes. We all know that long wait times are bad news for business, but sometimes the wait is inevitable.

For those times that a longer wait time is unavoidable, agents should be sure to check in frequently with the customer on the line. Customers don’t want to feel that they have been forgotten, and apologies for the wait and reassurances that the customer has not been forgotten will go a long way for mollification.

Michael Kipness

@WizardPicks

Michael Kipness is the Founder at The Wizard.

“The worst thing a contact center agent can do is to…”

Leave the line open while the agent vents to another co-worker or speaks to someone internally. You don’t want to let the customer know what you’re doing internally, nor do you want to reveal to them what you really think about them. It’s very easy to leave the line open and forget to mute the call, but this simple mistake is one of the worst you can possibly make as a call center agent.

Yaniv Masjedi

@YanivMasjedi

Yaniv Masjedi is the CMO at Nextiva.

“The worst thing a contact center agent can do during a call is to…”

Ask a customer to repeat their question after having the call passed to them from a fellow agent.

Customers want to feel like the company’s customer representative listens to their concerns. Agents that receive a customer from a fellow agent should have context about the customer’s situation and not ask the customer to repeat themselves.

The problem they’re calling about alone is frustrating, and if you add fuel to the fire by asking them to revisit their issues, it does not put them in a happy mood in any way. The chances are high that it will result in a negative customer experience and subsequently damage your reputation.

Natalya Bucuy

@LiveHelpNow

Natalya Bucuy is a content marketer at LiveHelpNow.

“Through our own experiences we have learned that one of the worst things a contact center agent can do is…”

Transfer the customer to another agent. While this practice doesn’t seem that impractical, in reality it’s very harmful to customer satisfaction.

Customers do not want to wait. They do not want to explain their problem to another agent. They want their problem resolved quickly and efficiently. That is why First Contact Resolution (FCR) is one of the most important goals of a contact center.

Not only do high FCR rates increase customer satisfaction, but they also help both the customer and the call center save time and money.

We discuss the topic and provide helpful tips on how to increase the FCR rates in our article, 7 tips for boosting your call center’s FCR.

Kevin Lee

@JourneyPure

Kevin Lee is the CEO of JourneyPure.

“Contact center agents should never…”

Ask the caller to calm down. If a caller is agitated and raising their voice, they are doing so because they already feel belittled and as if their voice is not being heard. Telling them to calm down can make them angrier because they feel like they are being dismissed and more undervalued and powerless.

Use empathy with an upset caller to show that you understand what the caller is going through and that you can help solve their problem if both of you can discuss it calmly.

Peter Mann

Peter is the Founder of SC Vehicle Hire.

“The single worst thing a contact center agent can do is to…”

Say, ‘I don’t know.’ This can immediately kill the caller’s confidence in the agent’s ability to help them solve their problems. In this day and age when self-service options are available, customers are usually calling in because they have a more complicated issue that isn’t easily solved. Saying you don’t know the answer can make them think that the company is ill-equipped to help them and leave them with a bad impression of the company, which usually causes them to switch providers.

Come off as positive and confident of finding the answers even if you don’t know them. Say that you will find out the answer and get back to them.

Grant Aldrich

@onlinedegreecom

Grant Aldrich is the Founder and CEO of OnlineDegree.com.

“When speaking with a call center representative, customers want to feel listened to and appreciated…”

They also want the representative to be patient and solve their problems. That being said, one of the worst things a call center agent can do is say, ‘I don’t know.’ It’s always a sinking feeling when you’re promised a callback and end up waiting hours for a call that never comes.

A better solution would be for the agent to place the caller on a brief hold while they go and find the information they need. Customers always prefer quick, convenient answers to their issues.

Steve Bufton

@DonlenFleet

Steve Bufton is the Director of Contact Center Operations at Donlen (Fleet Management division of Hertz).

“The contact center industry is rapidly evolving – whether you’re in the fleet space like Donlen or something else – with a variety of macro trends…”

Some examples include technology advancements, machine learning, automation, seamless omnichannel servicing, frictionless customer experience, predictive modeling providing proactive solutions, and most recently, a pivot to work at home.

With these advancements, the role of the advisor and the situations they solve for are more complex every day. The need for accurate, complete, and context-specific solutions is essential. The breadth of clients, situations, and customers we interact with are growing in complexity.

Setting aside any inappropriate behaviors, the worst thing a contact center agent can do during a call in today’s environment is not fully solve the client’s needs. Fully solving the client’s needs includes providing accurate information for the client’s situation, offering complete details, interacting with genuine care, offering the appropriate level of empathy, considering all options to resolve and proactively solving for any unforeseen future issues.

Today’s leading contact center organizations use a multi-faceted approach to consistently serve at the highest levels and actively prevent ‘worst-case scenario’ issues. Best practice examples include:

  • Hire, train, motivate, and retain top talent.
  • Launch technology to automate, monitor, manage, and support all aspects of the customer experience. Examples include call recording, speech analytics and real-time monitoring.
  • Establish key performance metrics that reflect the customer experience; evaluating trends and identifying defects. Examples include measuring defects (issues) by agent, client, vendor, and call type.
  • Leverage customer feedback mechanisms to monitor performance, shape policy and guide strategy (e.g., Voice of the Customer, CSAT, NPS and Customer Advisory Boards).
  • Audit work through quality management programs that reflect the optimal customer experience. Example includes random sampling calls and scoring performance through a quality monitoring program, providing reporting and remediation coaching.
  • Implement a support structure to provide real-time assistance for advisors. Examples include a real time help desk, tier two support and an on-line knowledge database.
  • Actively foster a culture of excellence, innovation, inclusion and customer centricity. Examples include promoting exceptional service, innovative ideas and collaboration.

John Moss

@EnglishBlinds

John Moss is the CEO of English Blinds.

“Shouting at a caller (even if they’ve been shouting at the agent) is the worst possible action, but…”

Even worse than this has to be making a personal insult, even if it is delivered in a calm tone.

The level of abuse that call center agents of all types face from the occasional caller at some point in their career is hair-raising, and this is definitely one of the hardest and most maligned jobs on the planet.

However, even in the face of extreme provocation and facing a direct personal attack from the caller, trading insults or making a personal comment is never appropriate and can spell the end of a career for the agent that does it.

Donna Dutton

@SERVPRO

Donna Dutton is the Director of Customer Experience at SERVPRO.

“The worst thing a contact center agent can do during a call is…”

Be offensive. By not maintaining self-control and having a negative attitude – and perhaps being derogatory and downright rude – is absolutely the opposite of the ideal experience any customer should have. It doesn’t matter what the complaint or concern being called in is about – the contact center agent must be kind, empathetic and understanding.

Mark Hayes

@kintellofficial

Mark Hayes is the Head of Marketing at Kintell.

“Not apologizing for mistakes…”

When the customer is dissatisfied, agents need to be remorseful. You don’t want customers feeling under-appreciated, or they’re not coming back. The agent might not even be responsible, but to the customer, the remorse arrives on behalf of the entire company.

The apology needs to be real and genuine, so understand why you’re apologizing. Recognize how the problem has inconvenienced the customer and show empathy towards their situation. Mean what you say. Often, insincere apologies can come across even worse than not offering one at all. Everybody makes mistakes, and that’s part of life. What matters is how you handle those mistakes and whether you own them or not.

Ty Stewart

@SimpLifeInsure

Ty Stewart is the CEO and President of Simple Life Insure.

“Boy, do we all know the frustration that builds and builds when you’re left on hold with customer service…”

Or, even worse, when you’ve been on the line for 20, 30 or 40+ minutes only to have the call dropped.

Yet even more frustrating is when a call center agent tells you to visit an online help center to have your question answered. This has happened more than a few times than I like to remember, and it looks and feels like a brush-off.

Plus, many times I’ve tried looking at online help centers for Q&A pages already but didn’t find the answers I needed. Call center agents just telling me to circle back there not only conveys a lack of interest and professionalism, but it essentially tells me I’m on my own. Not a good look for your brand.

Eric Shurke

@voicenation

Eric Shurke is the VP of Operations at VoiceNation.

“Ultimately, what matters is customer service…”

It’s not ‘sexy’ to think about the iterative improvement in corporate customer service standards, but what matters to your customers is your willingness to listen with empathy: never interrupting the customer, not using profanity or ‘losing your cool’ on a call, and not ‘passing the buck’ to another team-member. Empathic listening is not just the key to great customer service, but also an excellent rule of thumb for valuable communication.

Sturgeon Christie

@Deadener_Dealer

Sturgeon Christie is the CEO of Second Skin Audio.

“The absolute worst thing that a contact center agent can do during a call is to…”

Interrupt the caller and cut them off before they’re done talking. When you cut someone off before they’re done talking, that can make that person even more frustrated and upset. Customers often just want to feel seen and heard, so it’s imperative that contact center agents listen to everything the customer has to say before interjecting or offering a possible solution. A contact center agent is going to come off as rude and disrespectful if they don’t take the time to fully listen to the caller. Listening shows you care about the customer and that you respect them.

Leandra Naranjo

@Liveops

Leandra Naranjo is the Sr. Agent Engagement Manager at Liveops.

“The worst thing an agent can do on a call is let a bad call get the best of them…”

Call center agents have difficult jobs when a caller is angry or extremely distressed to the point where the caller harasses the agent. It’s important to have a community where agents can communicate so that they can share advice and discuss their experiences to remind one another that:

  • It’s not personal.
  • A bad call doesn’t mean it’s a bad day.
  • It’s okay to take a breather and pick yourself back up. Don’t let an angry caller control your mood or outlook.

Agents should report the event to systems in place to protect agents by blocking inappropriate callers.

Fraser Wilson

@AnswerConnect

Fraser Wilson is the Head of Marketing for Answer Connect.

“The worst thing a contact centre agent can do during a call is to…”

Say, ‘We’ll get back to you soon…’ That might seem like a perfectly reasonable statement. But vague language like ‘soon,’ ‘shortly’ and ‘when we can’ doesn’t offer any tangible value. A caller’s perception of ‘soon’ could differ significantly from your own, and misaligned expectations are a recipe for disgruntled customers.

Instead, give clear time-frames and deadlines.

Even if you don’t know when you’ll have the information they need, offering a date for when you’ll be able to get back with an update could suffice. At least callers will know when to expect to hear from you. Clarity, honesty and transparency are key to building trust – even when it’s to tell a customer you don’t have the answer to their question.

Brett Banchek

@TheRealONF

Brett Banchek is the Co-Founder and CEO of Overnight Flowers.

“Being sure that your call center runs without complications can be difficult, but…”

There are basic things that every center should avoid at all costs. One of those is talking over the customer. It’s very frustrating when you’re trying to explain a problem, and the agent begins with a canned response before you can even finish providing all of the details. This is why it’s imperative to train your customer service team to be exceptional listeners first, and then extraordinary problems solvers next.

Bre Swanson

@LEX_Reception

Bre Swanson is the Director of LEX Reception.

“The worst thing anyone, particularly a call center agent, can do on the phone is to…”

Sound distracted. Callers are extremely perceptive and can easily distinguish the sound of an agent mid-way through a conversation with a colleague from the sound of an agent giving their full attention to the call. And they respond accordingly.

Especially in the legal industry, people want to be heard. Anyone calling a lawyers’ office is probably in some kind of crisis, and they will hang up quickly if they are made to feel unimportant. That’s why listening is a crucial skill. By asking questions and repeating a caller’s words back to them, we reassure them that their problem is important.

Phil Strazzulla

@bestb2bsoftware

Phil Strazzulla is the CEO and Founder of Select Software Reviews.

“The biggest mistake a contact center agent can make during a call is to…”

Be non-communicative with the customers. We know the only thing worse than getting stuck on hold after calling customer support is being the agent that had to place someone on hold while trying to find answers for the customer.

But the longer the customer sits in the call center purgatory that is being on hold, listening to the top hits from the ’90s without any updates, the more frustrated they’re going to be when you get back to them.

One of the newest practices in the call center sector is to periodically update the customer. Even if you have no new information, just taking them off hold, letting them know that you’re still there and you’re working on their issue will do wonders to keep them calm and happy.

Michael Kansky

@LiveHelpNow

Michael Kansky is the Founder of LiveHelpNow.

“While it’s a standard practice and might not seem like a big deal in a traditional contact center operation…”

The one single worst thing an agent can do is transfer a customer. Customers want resolutions for their problems, and they want them as soon as possible. The fastest possible resolution comes through First Contact Resolution (FCR).

Customer satisfaction rates are directly proportional to FCR rates. The higher the FCR frequency, the better for customer service. That is why it is essential for agents to do everything and anything possible to resolve the customer’s issue without ever transfering the call or live chat.

Whenever transferred, even with the availability of historical contact data, customers are forced to explain or restate the details of their issues. Even if the new agent can see what the customer has discussed with the previous agents or during previous contacts, it takes time for him or her to do that. Therefore, it’s not only frustrating for the customer, but it’s also inefficient and costly for the contact center itself.

If the responding agent cannot resolve the problem, they should continue to work on a resolution with fellow contact center teammates and supervisors behind the scenes while still remaining in contact with the customer. Whispering features some contact center software packages offer can serve as very useful tools in these situations.

So, in short: whatever you do, do not transfer the customer!

Sean McPheat

@seanmcpheat

Sean McPheat is the CEO of MTD Sales Training.

“Talking over the customer is the worst thing a contact center agent can do on a call…”

There is nothing worse. Any caller wants to be listened to and heard, and by talking over the customer, the agent demonstrates a lack of both!

It doesn’t make me feel valued and shows that the call center agent is not listening to me.

This sometimes happens when the agent is put under pressure for average call lengths and for some reason wants the caller off the phone. It’s not very customer-centric.

Other times it’s when the agent is on their 40th call of the day and they’ve had this same inquiry multiple times. But their mindset should be that it’s the first call of this type that they are receiving that day.

No excuses though. Being talked over is horrible!

What strategies does your company use to reduce these undesirable agent behaviors in your contact center?