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Anatomy of a successful call center agent: 25 tips & characteristics


The Team at CallMiner

October 03, 2019

Multi-ethnic business team working in a call center
Multi-ethnic business team working in a call center

There are many characteristics that successful call center agents share, some being more important than others. Additionally, there are some characteristics that will be more important based on the needs and functions of a particular call center, although many traits are universal to all who work in a call center setting. Things like showing up on time, willingness to learn, and a generally good attitude are things call center representatives should possess.

Empathy, exceptional listening skills (and a willingness to listen to the customer) are also important traits for call center reps to possess. Because your call center representatives play a major role in how your company (or your clients’ companies) are perceived by customers, your reps’ characteristics have a big impact on quality. Other important characteristics include:

  • The ability to handle pressure well
  • Excellent verbal communication skills
  • Enhanced people skills

This collection of tips and common characteristics is intended to help leaders, human resource professionals, and managers in the call center. Each entry is specifically chosen to assist in finding, training, and retaining those rockstar call center reps that will make your facility perform at its best. The following tips are in no particular order, but are intended to provide a framework for what to look for in a call center representative to ensure long-term career success (and in turn, successful outcomes for your omnichannel contact center).

Tips for Hiring the Best Call Center Reps (and Keeping Them Engaged)

1. Look for ‘social employees.’

“In the book, The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence, which I co-authored with colleague Brad Martin, we talk about the six critical elements to social business success: Culture, People, Strategy, Process, Structure, and Technology. The profile of the very best talent is a ‘social employee’ who goes above and beyond to contribute to the success of the business. In order to find these people, businesses must know what to look for and how to best recruit them.

“In the social era, companies must hire people they trust, and then trust them to do their work. The character of these people will shape the company’s future. It is true that the best players usually win, but it is not about how smart you are, or your past accomplishments, but rather how much you collaborate and win as a team.” – Vala Afshar, The Importance of Social Business Skills, Inc.; Twitter: @ValaAfshar

2. Recruiting the right reps can equal success.

“By recruiting the right individuals, your company can have a much easier time motivating, retaining and engaging all your employees. When hiring, look for candidates with the following traits:

  • Passion – Recruit employees who are genuinely excited about their work, and they’ll remain driven.
  • Work Ethic – Employees with a strong work ethic thrive in competitive environments and see hurdles as challenges to overcome, rather than roadblocks.
  • Integrity – An employee can have all the motivation in the world, but without a solid reputation, that work will go unrewarded.
  • Resiliency – Without the ability to recover from mistakes, motivation and engagement goes out the window.
  • Positive Energy” – Ken Sundheim, Hiring Motivated And Engaged Employees, Forbes; Twitter: @ken_sundheim 

3. Know which skills you find important.

“You might not entirely agree with the importance of each soft skill, but you probably have an idea of what makes a good employee for your organization. One thing to keep in mind is that not every applicant will possess every one of these research-backed qualities of a good employee – but some can be developed over time. Some candidates may not have much experience working in teams. Others may not have had to communicate with other departments, senior leaders, or external partners.

“As we shift from a jobs market that favors employers to one that favors employees, don’t let issues of quality or quantity get you down. If you are confident in the call center skills and attributes you need in a candidate, and have developed methods to located them, you will already be one step ahead in the hunt for quality employees.” – Emily Smykal, 7 Qualities Of A Good Employee and Candidate (According to Research), Jibe; Twitter: @Jibe

4. Think like your call center applicants.

“We’ve all been job seekers at some point in our careers. As you design or improve your hiring process, keep the applicant experience front and center at all times. Yes, this is about fulfilling your organization’s needs, but the more you understand and design the process from the applicant’s point of view, the more successful you will be. Role playing can be invaluable here. Have a team member play an applicant as you design each step of your process.” – Meghan M. Biro, 5 Tips For A Winning Candidate Experience, Forbes; Twitter: @MeghanMBiro

5. Stay on top of changes in the workforce.

“Research from Bloomberg, which I covered here, shows that both business and academia lack plans to equip the future workforce. Only about half of businesses and two-thirds of academic institutions have a formal plan for addressing the impact of emerging technologies. This is a miss.

“Research from Salesforce shows a majority of hiring managers (68 percent) feel that formalized retraining programs are very valuable for employees, but only 46 percent place a high priority on these programs. Another miss.

“Not addressing workforce development and reskilling will only widen the digital skills gap, threatening business’ ability to compete in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Already, 52 percent of IT leaders say skill gaps are a major challenge at their organization. Eighty-seven percent of companies say universities are not adequately preparing students for today’s jobs. Only 29 percent of IT organizations rate their ability to keep pace with technology trends as excellent.

“The World Economic Forum has found that over a third of the core skills required of the workforce by 2020 will be different from those today. Meanwhile, customers expect companies to provide new products and services more frequently than ever before, and it takes more than ever to impress them. In order for companies to cultivate an innovative culture, and produce innovative products and services, employee training and reskilling must be on the forefront of their business strategy.” – Vala Afshar, Hiring managers say AI will change how we work within five years, ZDNet; Twitter: @ZDNet

6. Look to current superstars for qualities.

“Chances are that you already have at least a few good employees working in your company. They’re the ones who show up on time, do their work without reprimand and are always willing to help out where needed. Of course, there’s more to being a good employee than simply showing up for work on time and not talking back. Good employees give each task their all, not settling for “good enough” or just doing whatever passes inspection in the end. There’s a pride to their work, even when they don’t particularly like the task at hand. They can handle constructive criticism without taking it personally, and they’ll be honest if you ask them questions about how things can run better. Even if they’re not the fastest or the most productive people that you have on your team, they’re the employees that everyone wants to be around because they get the job done regardless.” – Jack Gerard, Characteristics of a Good Employee, Bizfluent

7. Find and team members who go above and beyond and take initiative.

“They do their current job well. More than well, actually – they should be going above and beyond their job description on a consistent basis. If they’re sending out a ‘that’s not my job’ vibe at any time, they’re not a star performer. Look for participation in projects that serve the company’s overall goals and mission statement – taking part in social events and party planning doesn’t count as going beyond the call of duty.

“They take initiative. Whether it’s learning a new skill or jumping into the next task, a star performer is self-directed, and doesn’t waste time waiting for guidance at each step.” – 8 ways to spot a star performer, Workopolis; Twitter: @Workopolis

8. Pay attention to employee feedback to keep your staff engaged and motivated.

“One of the most surefire ways to boost employee morale and motivation is by actually listening to what they have to say. Be sure you meet regularly with your employees to check-in and make sure they’re still happy and motivated.

“If you’re willing to go the extra mile, spend some time with your customer service team as they perform their day-to-day. Many companies, including Zappos, Amazon, Craigslist, and Rackspace practice ‘everyone does support,’ a model that calls on all employees to spend time responding to support tickets and engaging with customers. You won’t simply get a better appreciation for what your customer service team does and build a better relationship with your support employees; you’ll also learn potentially business-changing insights about your product that you’d never get from hearing customer concerns second hand.” – Marie Johnson, 4 Ways to Motivate Your Customer Service Team, Customer Contact Week; Twitter: @CustContactWeek

9. Look for reps who mesh with the rest of the team.

“We look for people that are very collaborative because nobody – even somebody who has an S on their chest and a cape on their back – can do everything alone. So, we look for people that believe that by working with others they can amplify what they do.” – Tim Cook, as told to Catherine Clifford, 5 traits Tim Cook looks for in an Apple employee, Make It (CNBC); Twitter: @CatClifford

10. Keep the three key factors of employee engagement in mind.

“The top three drivers of employee engagement – getting emotional commitment to an organization and its goals – are Growth, Recognition and Trust. For growth, we need to feel like we are learning and be challenged and advancing in our career. For recognition, we need to feel appreciated at work. For trust, it’s not so much about ethics but rather trusting that leadership has a specific company goal, a plan to get there, and we know how we fit into that plan.” – Kevin Kruse, as told to B.J. Shannon, Kevin Kruse’s Quick Tips for Employee Engagement, TINYpulse; Twitter: @Kruse

11. Provide tools to help your employees bring your brand values to life.

“In Fusion, I outline nine general brand types.

“One type of brand is Service, which are companies like The Ritz-Carlton that use service to differentiate their brand from competitors. So, a service-focused culture becomes critically important for these organizations.

“But all companies need to provide good customer service, even if it uses luxury, value, or another brand type besides service to differentiate itself. It’s essential for all companies to have a brand guide or toolkit that helps all employees bring your brand values to life in all facets of the company.

“This helps people align their decisions with the brand and culture, such as how to interact with a customer.” – Denise Lee Yohn, as told to Jeff Toister, Insider Perspectives: Brand Expert Denise Lee Yohn on Culture, Toister Performance Solutions, Inc.; Twitter: @deniseleeyohn@toister

12. Keep an eye out for under-performing reps.

“Usually poor performers simply resent over-achievers for their obvious tenacity and drive and tell themselves that they are just as good as anyone else. Their self-deception often causes them to make excuses for their poor performance and to look for ways to make the superstars look bad. The result: Poor morale, lack of teamwork and ultimately, reduced production and poor financial performance for the entire organization.

“What is the answer? For employees, it is imperative that they know what their motivations are and then seek out jobs that excite them. People who apply for jobs that do not interest them for the sole purpose of achieving status or fortune will generally achieve neither. Employers who hire random bodies or people who say the right things during interviews instead of hiring people who are truly motivated to do the job they are offering, are continually disappointed. Often, they are left scratching their heads as to what went wrong. If you want to be happier in your work, identify your passions and find a job where you can realize and cultivate them.” – Wayne Kehl, What Makes A Superstar Employee?, SelfGrowth; Twitter: @SelfGrowthNow

Characteristics to Look for in Successful Call Center Representatives

13. Make sure reps are customer oriented.

“From the very first interaction with prospective employees, organizations should make thinking about customers and their needs a clear priority. At Hootsuite, the social media management platform, marketing and human resources executives collaborate to do this.

“During the interview process, hiring managers are required to ask every candidate, regardless of role, a question to gauge their customer orientation. Kirsty Traill, the company’s VP Customer, explains that this practice not only assesses candidates and ensures that every new employee is aligned to customer-centric thinking, but also sends a clear message to everyone – recruits and hiring managers alike – about the importance of customer experience at the company.” – Denise Lee Yohn, 6 Ways to Build a Customer-Centric Culture, Harvard Business Review; Twitter: @deniseleeyohn@HarvardBiz

14. A rep should be able to handle pressure.

“Working in a call center can be a pretty hectic environment, and keeping calm under pressure is vital to providing a great experience for customers. Personality and interpersonal skills play a big part in call centers. You have to be prepared to deal with all types of problems at any given time, you never know when you may be connected with an irate caller.” – Michael Mahoney, 7 Qualities of a Successful Call Center Agent, Avoxi; Twitter: @AVOXI

15. There’s a lot to remember.

“You may have the ability to look stuff up. But for this job, you’ll need to have the ability to retain what you read and learn and hear. You’ll need to memorize a vast amount of information about your company, as well as typical solutions and how to implement them. And you’ll want to be able to hear the customer’s situation once without getting confused. The goal is never having to be corrected when talking a customer through a problem because you didn’t remember the details of their predicament. You also need to know when you can’t resolve an issue on your own – and who to refer your customer to instead.” – Peter Jones, 6 Skills You Need to Become a Call Center Representative, The Job Network; Twitter: @TheJobNetwork

16. Knowledge of the product(s) and company.

“To field dozens of phone calls a day means fielding dozens of topics as well. Agents need to have a vast and deep understanding of their company’s inner workings, products, and services if they’re to be trusted to accurately represent the company in their conversations. As a result, if you want to thrive as a call center agent you need to have deep company knowledge. This not only helps you feel more confident in the answers and solutions you’re offering, but also increasing the likelihood of a positive experience for customers – which is really what your job is all about.” – Molly Masterson, 7 Important Skills Every Inbound Call Center Agent Should Have, Masterson Staffing Solutions; Twitter: @MastersonStaff

17. The ability to solve customer issues.

“After the call is transferred to the appropriate representative, the customer service agent will work on resolving the customer’s issue. Successful reps possess a blend of experience, product knowledge, and communication skills which helps them fulfill customer needs. Good agents not only know the right questions to ask but also when to ask them, and how to phrase them. Customer service isn’t always as simple as just finding out the right answer – and sometimes you need to rephrase solutions a few times to make sure your customer understands or believes it.

“The goal of the phone call is to resolve the issue during the first interaction. Studies show that “67% of customer churn is preventable if the issue is resolved during the first engagement. This is because first-call resolutions demonstrate that you can provide customers with timely solutions when they need it most.” – Neha Saboo, Working in a Call Center: Everything You Need to Know, Hubspot; Twitter: @HubSpot

18. Speed when talking clearly.

“A top-quality representative should be able to complete their calls quickly and efficiently. You might also say that as long as the rep’s quality is great that’s all that matters. Right?  Well, although that does play a huge role, a representative with great call quality and a low talk time can allow that representative to take more calls, which in turn, means less total headcount required for that the call center.  In addition, having more reps that are able to handle a significant amount of calls can reduce the average speed to answer and improve service levels.” – Rob Canales, Traits of a Successful Call Center Representative, XPS Solutions; Twitter: @XPSSolutionsUSA

19. Emotional stability is critical.

“This is the x factor, which distinguishes an ordinary and an outstanding customer service agent. An agent should be able to stay calm under the different pressures he or she may experience during the course of his work – and that is almost on daily basis. It is due to the requirement of staying calm under fire and emotionally stable temperaments, that customer service is not everyone’s cup of tea. The agent has to respond with patience and tact to an irate customer, who may be screaming their heads off over the phone or shooting off angry e-mails. Possessing great listening skills is a great asset as it is the right of a customer to be heard and his request/issues attended. Hence, it is essential that contact center agents remain detached while actively participating in the conversation and do not take things personally.” – Arvind Rongala, Top 10 Call Center Agent Traits, Invensis; Twitter: @Invensis

20. Creativity can be useful.

“Traditionally, call centers have supplied their agents with scripts to work from and many companies still use this procedure. However, while this may work when fielding common issues or problems, it limits an agent’s ability to field unusual queries or requests efficiently. Callers are put on hold while the agent asks around for a solution. This has a negative effect on caller satisfaction and ultimately on the company itself.

“Call center agents need to be able to solve any problem that comes up. This often requires a degree of creativity on their part to arrive at a solution that will satisfy the caller while preserving the best interests of the company. Here again, you can check on a candidate’s problem-solving abilities by contacting their former employers.” – Top Qualities of a Successful Call Center Agent, EvolveIP; Twitter: @EvolveIP

21. Motivated but not egotistical.

“Now that you have a product to sell, you need someone who can effectively move it. The champ is your quintessential salesperson: zealous, dynamic and driven to be the best. Champs are confident in their ability to succeed, and they often do. They are great communicators who read people well and don’t discourage easily. However, champs also tend to wear a chip on their shoulder. Often, this chip motivates them to keep selling, even in the face of hardship. But in immature champs, the chip can manifest itself through arrogance, resentment and clashes with authority.

“Mature champs have learned to temper their ego, and can become high performing, charismatic leaders. In addition to sales, they flourish in management and executive-level positions.” – Don Fornes, These 4 Personalities Make Up Your Startup ‘Dream Team’, Entrepreneur; Twitter: @Dfornes

22. Character is often more important than skills.

“Branson warns that you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on the applicant’s past experience. After all, cultivating a diverse team – including candidates from different job sectors – can lead you to better, more creative solutions.

“Citing Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once said ‘Character is higher than intellect,’ Branson goes on to explain that Virgin conducts group interviews where applicants are asked to play games with one another: ‘The idea being to let applicants’ personalities shine through in simulated real-life situations – we want people who can laugh and have fun with our guests, which is not something you can easily reconnoiter by reading a CV and asking questions over an interview desk.’

“And sometimes, if the applicant is really nervous during an interview, Branson will ask them to tell him a joke. It’s a great icebreaker, he writes, allowing them to express their own, unique personality.” – Zoë Henry, How Richard Branson Hires Remarkable People: 3 Rules, Inc.; Twitter: @ZoeLaHenry

23. Great reps treat all customers well.

“Don’t just look to suddenly do right by your angriest customers, while treating only your VIPs with class all the time. All of that customer data can provide companies and agents with a holistic view of their customers and the ability to personalize each interaction instead of using it to push buttons. With customers having more power and choice than ever before they expect the brands they favor to personalize their interactions at all times, and understand and even anticipate their needs. Providing a highly personalized experience that puts the customer relationship first is key to modernizing the customer experience.” – Brad Birnbaum, Everyone Should Love Customer Service. This is Why., Forbes; Twitter: @bradbirnbaum

24. Honesty is a super-skill.

“Hardworking, honest employees with ambition can keep your company’s morale high. Employees possessing these traits are marketable, can be trusted with increased autonomy and are the ones you want to stick around. Honest, ambitious employees can sometimes be hard to find – so once you have a high-quality candidate pool, find ways to keep them engaged and satisfied.” – The Top 6 Qualities of a Good Employee, Benefits Bridge; Twitter: @UnitedConcordia

25. Self-awareness is rarely thought about, but important.

“Self-awareness is one of those qualities that you would rarely ever think of, but once mentioned to you, you realize that they are absolutely crucial! It is a great quality for an employee to have because it means that not only do they understand who they are and where their strengths lie, but they also understand their limitations. They know what they can and can’t do, and make a conscious effort to place themselves in situations which they know are most beneficial to achieving the goal.

“Those who are self-aware also tend to have a certain level of emotional intelligence which guides their thinking and behavior. Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are amazing qualities, but also rare ones. Don’t worry, though, because you can develop them in your employees (but only if you really know how they’re built!).” – Leen Sawalha, 8 Qualities of a Good Employee Every Manager Wants in their Workforce, Atman Co.; Twitter: @atmanco

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