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4 Must-Have Skills for Contact Center Agents

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4 puzzle pieces fitting together

As automated options such as interactive voice response (IVR) and web self-service allow customers to resolve simple issues on their own, expect contact center agents to spend more time on the phone resolving complex issues. Since these interactions won’t be as cut-and-dried as a task like updating a cell phone plan, agents will have to demonstrate or develop a range of new skills.

In a recent survey, management consultant McKinsey & Company found that 94% of customer care executives believe they will “need to hire new agents or train existing agents in new skills.” That means contact center managers will have to rethink hiring practices and training options to help their teams shift to higher value interactions. Says McKinsey: “Focused investments will be needed to improve the skills of customer-care workers in both service and sales and to hire new ones who can handle increasingly complex interactions.”

But what does this mean in practice? What skills should managers include in customer service job descriptions? What types of training will agents need to in order to handle this shift? The McKinsey survey identified four skill sets, and we’ve added one of our own at the end.

Skill Set #1: Exceptional Customer Engagement Skills

The more complex the interaction, the more likely the conversations will be laced with higher emotions. After all, customers can become confused, angry and frustrated as they work through a problem. So it comes as no surprise that 28% of McKinsey’s respondents named exceptional customer engagement abilities as an agent’s most desired skill.

To deliver an outstanding customer experience, agents must exhibit patience and attentiveness, be adept communicators and have the ability to keep their cool. They also should be able to stay positive and know how to shift conversations toward amicable resolutions.

Another desired quality is perseverance. When answers aren’t obvious, the agent should be willing to do whatever needs to be done, such as connecting the customer with the right internal expert to resolve a problem.

Skill Set #2: The Ability to Conduct Both Service and Sales

With more opportunities to cross-sell and upsell, 21% of customer care executives believe agents must have strong sales skills alongside excellent service abilities.

Product knowledge and rapport-building skills will be essential as the contact center transforms into a profit center. Agents will need to be whizzes at mining client information so they can anticipate customer needs and match them with upgrades and new products.

Skill Set #3: Adept at Solving Problems

First call resolution has become one of the top metrics for contact centers today. To achieve their targets, every member of their team must excel at problem-solving. Managers should look for agents who are creative enough to think expansively and not afraid to seek help from colleagues. Contact center tools that can route calls based on expertise and provide online coaching options can assist in improved first call resolution.

Skill Set #4: A Strong Grasp of Technical Knowledge

As products become more sophisticated, the need for specialized support increases. For example, with the Internet of Things (IoT), everything from wrist watches to appliances will require some level of tech support, and contact centers will need to keep pace.

While agents should be trained to answer at least basic technical questions, contact center managers will have to establish small teams of experts to whom they can route more sophisticated technical issues. McKinsey points out that many companies already are sending more complex technical questions to engineering and product groups. Contact center communications technologies can serve as effective tools in getting the right questions to the right person, right away.

And a Bonus Skill: Be Video-Savvy

More than a third of respondents to McKinsey’s survey said they were eager to invest in video, making visual conversation skills another item on the agent’s list of skills. When hiring or training, managers should evaluate each rep’s comfort level for interacting over video, and provide coaching on body language and visual observation skills.

It’s worth noting that 34% of respondents didn’t make a distinction among these skills. Rather, they believed they’re all equally important. As you rework your agents’ job descriptions, keep these skill sets in mind.

Learn more about ShoreTel’s contact center solutions.

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