What to Look For When Hiring a Call Center Representative

By | November 11, 2021

A contact center representative is literally the face of your customer support. It is one hire for which you must exercise extra caution. Here are some traits to look for when hiring a contact center representative.

Contact center representatives are likely the biggest front-facing part of your customer support function. They’re the people customers will talk to, complain to, and come to for answers to their problems. They carry the huge responsibility of delivering customer satisfaction over the phone. That makes the task of finding the right staff is a fairly critical decision.

The right contact center representative can turn even the most irate customer into a loyal one and make them return for more purchases. In other words, the job contact center representative job requires a lot of people skills, flawless communication, and also emotional intelligence. These are some traits that can drive meaningful customer interactions. 

Get those interactions right, and you can benefit from a dramatic increase in your customer satisfaction scores, loyalty rates, and ultimately, the bottom line. Get them wrong, and you’ll quickly see your revenue drop off as dissatisfied and frustrated customers will take business somewhere else. 

How is a contact center representative different from a call center representative?

A call center representative is someone who offers customer support only through phone channels or voice support. 

A contact center representative is someone who offers customer support through phone, email, social media, and even website live chat. 

In today’s digital commerce-led world, customers get in contact with businesses through all channels at their disposal. They start with sending an email and follow up with a phone call and expect the conversation to continue without having to repeat the context of their issue. This is what we refer to as omnichannel customer service. 

A contact center representative is someone who offers omnichannel customer support. They could be working full-time from an office or could be working part-time or even working from home in different time zones. Irrespective of these minutiae, the fundamental traits of an effective representative remain largely unchanged.

We’re going to dig into the basic functions and roles of contact center representatives, and how you can spot the best candidates when hiring a new team of agents. So that you can build a team that accurately and positively reflects your business and gives customers a happy and productive experience.

What does a contact center representative do?

Contact center representatives deal with the majority of the communication between your business and your customers. They work as customer service representatives resolving queries, salespeople speaking to prospective clients, or technical support agents addressing customer issues with products or services. A call center agent might even be entrusted with the task of onboarding new customers and providing them personalized product tours to improve product stickiness and reduce churn. 

Their role in securing repeat business is key: Invesp found that the likelihood of selling to an existing customer is up to 14 times higher than selling to a new customer, and 89% of companies see customer experience as a key factor in increasing loyalty. So it’s clear that your contact center representatives have an important role to play.

Here are some of the basic functions carried out by agents in different contexts:

In an inbound call or contact center: In an outbound call or contact center:
Answering inbound calls, whether they are complaints, queries, or technical troubleshooting requests Reaching out to customers to gather feedback, to upsell products, or to answer or report on existing queries submitted via email or instant messaging
Servicing customer needs where it’s an in-built part of your product or service, for example, if you offer tailor-made software systems Contacting Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) to try and convert prospects into paying customers
Quickly identifying customers’ needs, finding solutions, and if needed, escalating the request to a different agent Speaking to customers when the end of a service renewal period is approaching, to encourage them to continue using your company’s products

The essential traits of a contact center representative

To deliver on these responsibilities, the best contact center agents need to have a fairly consistent set of traits and skills, even for entry-level positions. Depending on your industry, you might find that some of these traits are slightly more important than others, but they generally apply in all cases. So it’s worth looking out for these, as well as following the latest customer service tips, to ensure you deliver a high-quality customer experience.

Flawless verbal communication

A large number of customer service interactions still take place over the phone, and so clear and effective verbal communication is key to making sure customers receive the positive outcome they expect from your business. Verbal communication skills are about being able to speak clearly, confidently, and concisely; explain solutions; and responding to customers’ concerns calmly, and use easy-to-understand language.

To be able to communicate well, your agents primarily need to be strong listeners, with the ability to understand what customers are really saying: reading between the lines, or understanding the context of their request. That will enable them to deliver the best solution possible.

Multilingual communication

Depending on the scope of your business and the markets you operate in, it may be necessary for your contact center representatives to communicate in a number of languages with customers from all over the world. Making sure your agents are sufficiently proficient in those languages will be key for them to communicate clearly, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation. If you are a global company offering customer support from a centralized location or offering customer support to a region with multiple vernacular languages, it is ideal to set a bilingual candidate as the benchmark. 

Empathy

We’ve all been there: getting in touch with a company to share our frustrations, searching for some helpful answers to solve our problem, only to be faced with an unsympathetic voice on the other end of the phone. You’re likely to only get more irritated and frustrated with the company.

When instead the agent seems to genuinely care about your concerns, it makes a world of difference, so it’s crucial that your representatives have the interpersonal skills to empathize with callers, making them feel heard and cared for. Empathetic agents will also be better placed to deal with stressed or angry customers, remain professional, calm, and polite, and even build rapport with the caller.

Technical expertise

Again, depending on the specific role of your representatives, they’ll need to have enough technical expertise to understand the problems callers bring to them and to be up to the challenge of solving the issues they’re having with your products or services.

Larger businesses might categorize their agents based on the complexity of the technical issues they’re able to resolve. But however you manage your set-up, it’s important for agents to have the skills necessary to understand the problems they’re likely to be asked to address, so that they appear knowledgeable and are able to assist. With advanced tools becoming increasingly common, such as machine learning (ML) or AI in contact center software, effective representatives also require the technical know-how needed to operate your systems quickly and efficiently.

Active listening

The best contact center representatives seek to fully understand what a caller needs before moving to the problem-solving stage. Doing so can allow them to provide a more comprehensive solution rather than the initially obvious temporary fix that might first come to mind, and so the best agents ask meaningful questions of the customer that help to unpack their problem. Practicing active listening is also the best way to handle complaints, providing effective customer care to those who want their frustrations heard.

Adaptability

Particularly when dealing with inbound calls, effective agents need to be highly adaptable, in order to react to the changing needs of each call and to resolve concerns in a timely manner. Adaptable representatives can find new ways of explaining solutions to customers and are able to stay agile to the changing situations they find themselves in. 

In the modern world of omnichannel contact centers, they also need to be able to efficiently switch from phone calls to note-taking, instant chat, emails, and social media messaging. Time management is critical for any role in customer support management. Adaptable contact center representatives will often prove the most effective both in terms of solving customer problems in the shortest time possible.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but, a primer of the traits that you must check for before offering employment in your company. 

How to spot a good contact center representative candidate worth hiring?

When looking to recruit agents to work in your contact center teams, it’s important to remember just how big an impact these individuals can have on your customers’ experience of your business. It, therefore, makes sense to consider the key things you’re looking for, and how you’re going to go about assessing candidates in a structured way, before you begin the process.

Here’s are some steps to finding your unicorn of a contact center representative:

Step one: Define the exact role and job title

It’s far easier to accurately assess candidates – and for the right people to apply for your posts – if you clearly define what it is they’ll be doing. Break down each important aspect of their job and the tasks you’ll expect them to perform on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. As we’ve seen, there are many different types of contact center representatives operating in different markets, with varying product focuses and complexities of roles.

So it’s crucial that you set out exactly what you’ll expect from your new employee. Explain in the form of a written job description what you’re looking for to potential candidates. Use straightforward language – after all, clear communication is the name of the game. Use bullet points to break down key expectations and what the ideal candidate is expected to do on a regular basis. 

Think about:

  • Whether they’ll be dealing primarily with inbound or outbound calls
  • Which software systems they’ll be using on a day-to-day basis
  • The work environment – whether you want a work from home call center agent or office-based working personnel, and how flexible you can be in terms of a hybrid work setup
  • The kinds of customer interactions they’re likely to have, and what support they will have access to during these conversations
  • What training do you offer, and how quickly do you expect them to get up to speed with your systems, products, processes, and any scripts or protocols your agents follow
  • The level of experience you’re looking for: is this an entry-level role, or will you be asking for specific certifications or a minimum number of years experience in similar roles?
  • Advertising the benefits of your position such as any healthcare packages, as well as your equal opportunity policies

Step two: Prioritize the skills you’re looking for

We’ve already covered a wide range of traits that good agents should have, from language fluency to empathy and interpersonal communication skills. Based on the defined role that you’ve drawn up, work out which skills are most important – because it’s unlikely every candidate will have precisely all the strengths that you require.

Is being multilingual essential for your communications? Is there a particular level of technical expertise they’ll need to be able to work with your company’s products and services? Will they be working to handle complaints, and as such need to be particularly approachable and easy-going?

Rank these skills in order of importance before you begin recruiting, and you’ll find it much easier to determine each candidate’s suitability for your company.

Step three: Assess your applicants’ resumes

Once you’ve advertised your role and received a number of applications, it’s time to look at the details each applicant provides. You’ll of course want to examine their relevant experience and how they describe themselves, but it can also help to look at how well-prepared their resume is. A good resume is usually sufficient to set apart elite candidates from casual job seekers. 

Ask yourself:

  • Have they laid out the information in a clear and accessible manner?
  • Do they demonstrate a natural talent for communicating clearly and effectively?
  • Do they come across as a friendly and helpful member of a team?
  • Are they open to new experiences and ways of working, and will they be flexible and adaptable to the needs of your business?
  • Based on how they present themselves, would you be happy to let this individual represent your business to a customer?

Following your gut instinct from these documents can really help you to build an impression of each candidate, which may not be vastly different from the impression they’d also give your customers once employed. 

Step four: Hire character, train skills

If you’re recruiting candidates new to customer service you won’t get applicants with all the skills you need. Fresh employees are unlikely to have specific experience with customer relationship management (CRM) systems or any other software you’ll expect them to use.

But that needn’t be a problem. When you can’t get everything, it’s important to prioritize a recruitment strategy based on the character of the applicants rather than their skill sets. While someone can relatively quickly and easily be trained to operate your software and communicate in your house style, traits such as empathy and a natural ability to speak clearly and calmly are much harder to develop.

Following this rule of thumb can often help you make the final decision when choosing between candidates for a role, by focusing on the traits you can’t teach, rather than the skills you can.

Final Thoughts on building your world-beating team of contact center representatives

Building any team requires some effort. Elite teams are made up of individuals who display extraordinary skills and expertise in their individual areas. Even in a contact center, you must hire an individual who can perform at par or even above the average standards of the industry. 

Also, even the best performers need tools to match, so as well as fine-tuning your recruitment plans, you want to give your contact center representatives a sufficiently advanced platform. Modern omnichannel solutions allow call center representatives to provide customer care with far greater flexibility and efficiency. Cloud communication has removed all possible roadblocks to virtual communication. It can also help your agents address more queries and in a more efficient manner will reduce your overheads and increase your productivity.

Having a strong team of contact center representatives who show your business in a positive light is likely to have a big impact on your customer loyalty rates and future revenue, and with advanced developments such as AI in contact centers becoming more prevalent it’s worth getting both your tools and your recruitment right. 

Illustrations by Nikhil Kanda

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About Freshcaller

Freshdesk Contact Center (formerly Freshcaller) is a modern-day contact center that enables businesses to provide omnichannel customer support through phone, chat, helpdesk, email, and social channels with great efficiency. With its cloud-based architecture, Freshdesk Contact Center brings together the best of legacy features like IVR, call waiting, VoIP solutions, and advanced call routing capabilities like Smart Escalations, Customizable Performance Reporting to help you set up state-of-the-art call center operations. 

Visit our website for more information.

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