North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Phase 3 Strategy - Step 1 Skills Requirements

Personal Effectiveness

Today’s contact center agent requires personal effectiveness skills and competencies that demonstrate agents can work with customers, co-workers and management.

This includes interpersonal skills and demonstrating concern for others. Agents must know how to empathize with customers. Empathy isn’t taught in new hire training; it’s expected that agents have already gained this ability prior to being hired.
Every employer is looking for agents that display integrity by showing accepted social and workplace behaviors. These are agents that behave ethically through responsible use of company time and property and whose personal effectiveness skills include dependability and reliability. Agents that value being on time, fulfill job obligations without the distraction of attending to personal business, and maintain a professional presence by adhering to ethical standards typically possess a strong work ethic. These agents also know how to show up dressed for work; they comply with the dress code every day without any questions.
Contact centers look for agents that demonstrate commitment to effective job performance. They are motivated to do a great job by completing work assignments on time and look to achieve results in everything that they do. At every opportunity, these agents demonstrate a commitment to self-development and improvement. They can learn and incorporate classroom and on-the-job training into work performance, easily and readily.
These agents demonstrate flexibility and adaptability, changing with work requirements and demands. These are the agents that get the special assignments, pilot programs, anything that requires quick learning and new focus and direction.
Academic Requirements

Contact centers need agents that can solve customer problems utilizing critical and analytical thinking skills and apply basic academic skills.

Can the agent use a logical thought process to analyze information and draw a conclusion? Can the agent use basic mathematics? Agents are required to understand numerical data on a customer account or use basic math calculations to add a $5.00 fee to a service, for example. Agents need to interpret agent metrics, graphs and reports for continuous self-improvement.
Agents need to be good -very good- at a list of things; listening and speaking are obvious yet it is amazing how many agents are unable to do either. Many agents fail with basic sentence structure, grammar and word usage. Because agents want to decrease per call talk times they speak super fast and the caller has no clue what was said. The caller is left frustrated.
To be an effective agent, agents need to be able to “Touch Type” on a computer keyboard with all ten fingers using complete sentences; no emoticons or texting abbreviations. Many contact centers today provide agents with dual monitors due to the number of applications they have open at one time. It is expected that agents be comfortable with those two monitors on the desk. Customers demand confidence. They don’t want to hear about your computer challenges.
Today’s agent should know how to use and manage basic office applications like email, chats/instant messaging, basic Word and Excel, and how to use the Internet to find information. Today’s agent should be resourceful and locates, reads and uses information to solve the customer’s issue. Knowing how to find information and use it is essential to an agent’s success.
Workplace Competencies

Workplace competencies focus on understanding the relationship between an individual’s own job and the goals and operations of the company and industry.

Can the agent articulate the company’s mission and what it does? How is it different from the competition? Does the agent appreciate and comply with government regulation that governs the industry the contact center works in?
Many contact centers put agents into teams to work certain lines of business. How do the agents accept team membership? Do they embrace team goals, values and norms? There are many circumstances in which agents receive special assignments; can they follow directions? Receiving, understanding and carrying out assignments with minimal supervision are competencies every employer looks for. Contact center environments change daily and can require pulling a team from one product line onto another in a moment’s notice. Following the directions is critical for contact centers to be nimble when called upon.
The workplace is managed by policy, procedure, and schedules. Planning and organizing one’s work includes prioritizing completing tasks and performing them quickly and efficiently per their urgency. Following and adhering to a schedule is nowhere more critical than in a contact center. Can agents plan and schedule tasks to be completed on time? Are they willing to comply with company policy and procedure and do they understand the consequences of noncompliance?
Agents who develop workarounds and more efficient procedures to complete tasks are interested in growing the business and making the job more efficient. Being able to apply problem solving and critical thinking to resolve workplace issues is critical to organizational success.
Industry-Wide Service Center Competencies

Industry-wide service center competencies are specific to contact centers.

For example, quality assurance as it pertains to phone calls. How and why are agent’s calls recorded and listened to? Do agents demonstrate the ability and willingness to take feedback for personal and professional development?
HIPPA and PCI regulations create company policy and procedures for agents to follow, keeping them in compliance with local, state and federal regulators. Many industries require agents to complete regular compliance courses and training to minimize noncompliance and company risk.
Even the contact center phone system is specific to the contact center. Logging into a queue is not like picking up the phone and getting a dial tone. Contact center technology includes CTI’s or screen pops with agent scripts, surveys and customer information. Agents hear terms like ACD, skills based routing, and the metrics they are held accountable to, such as average talk times, schedule adherence and call abandonment, to name just a few. Understanding workforce management and how it optimizes the center by managing all the agents’ schedules and work assignments to assist in providing those metrics is also helpful to know as an agent.
Many industries use customer service and basic sales skills. At minimum, agents should demonstrate building rapport, communicating effectively with multiple generations and cultures, handling upset callers and managing difficult situations. Upselling, right-selling and cross-selling require asking problem solving questions, handling objections, presenting features and benefits, and closing questions.
Industry-Specific Technical Competencies

Contact centers utilize insurance agents, financial advisors, mortgage bankers, collectors, help desk techs, nurses, doctors, sales people and travel and hospitality. Each industry may have its own licensing/certification requirements as well as compliance regulations. Contact centers can choose to provide the licensing classes or elect to hire agents that already possess a license.

Tips!

1. You get what you expect. Set the bar high with standards of excellence. Employees will meet you there if you expect it.
2. Attitude is 90% of success; you can’t teach employees with bad attitudes but you can teach those with great attitudes anything.

Take the Next Step!

Companies expect contact center personnel to have soft skills and technical skills, product, company and industry knowledge and professional workplace attitudes and values as well as read, write and add 2+2. The job of a contact center agent is challenging and the more prepared agents are to handle the many situations of the day the more productive your new contact center will be. Don’t skimp on minimum agent requirements.

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NACSMA Consultant

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Consultant

The North American Customer Service Management Association (NACSMA) assists Service Center professionals with improving the delivery of Customer Care to their clients by providing a collaborative networking approach to operational issues.