There are very few differences between actors and call centre agents. Therefore, some call centre agent skills can be extrapolated from the way actors train for their own craft. Both are committed to delivering high quality experiences to those who use or purchase a particular service or product.
Both actors and agents follow a specially designed script to ensure language and communication is clear and easy-to-follow with the customer always centred at the forefront.
Whether you utilise your call centre agent skills to sell products and services, gather research and data or problem solve complex cases, a set of skills such as empathy, improvisation and comedy are required across the board to achieve specific business outcomes, retain customers and promote the overall business.
What are required call centre agent skills?
As the first point of telephone contact for a new or existing customer, a call centre agent is an important ambassador for your business. As well as permanently presenting a professional image of your company, they must acquire a customer-focussed persona. Their job is to communicate with many diverse demographics via telephone in order to listen, engage and interest them in products and services using a range of strong interpersonal call centre agent skills.
This can involve making outbound calls, either using a specific customer base or a cold calling sample. It can also involve answering incoming calls, or transferring calls to other specialist departments while minimising waiting times. The agent’s job purpose can vary. They may be employed to sell products, retain customers, under take research, carry out assessments, conduct marketing, answer questions or problem-solve.
A good knowledge of your company’s products and services as well as a professional and clear speaking voice, an ability to follow the call centre script as well as a positive attitude are ideal call centre agent skills. Each of your customers are unique, important and valued, and should feel satisfied with the customer service they receive from any call centre agent they encounter.
To ensure quality service at all times, the rules and regulations placed on call centre agents must be focused and specific. Some might think that certain procedures are limiting, but there are very good reasons for the policies in place. For example, if a call goes unanswered because an agent is in the bathroom and there’s nobody assigned to cover their phone, or if an agent has deviated too far from the script and become lost, it leaves a bad impression with your customer.
With social media playing such a big part in everyday life, word of poor service can spread quickly, directly affecting your business reputation and revenue. In fact, research carried out revealed that almost $41 billion is lost by US companies each year as a result of a bad customer experience with 59% of 25-34 year-olds posting their poor customer experiences online.
Therefore, the power of customer feedback shouldn’t be underestimated or ignored. A short survey at the end of a call can make all the difference in understanding where service is excelling and which call centre agent skills need improving.
The purpose of a script
A call centre agent uses a support script for much the same reason an actor does. A well-crafted script can assist your agents in establishing meaningful conversations from both a customer service and sales perspective. It maintains a clear message, natural flow and prevents awkward, clunky or mismanaged dialogue. Consistency is essential.
In fact, a 2014/2015 survey conducted by the integrated marketing company Engine Group showed that consistency ranked the third most important factor for a good customer experience.
That said, nobody wants to talk to a robot. Customers will become heavily frustrated if they do not feel they’re having a human interaction due to call centre script restraints. This is why a well researched, engaging yet flexible script is key. It’s there for direction and guidance, not to be repeated over and over in oblique monotone. Think about when the curtain goes up on the opening night of a hit play.
The actors don’t wonder out onto the stage with their scripts in hand, slaving over each word in a laborious display of apathy. They practise, learn their lines, attend dress rehearsals and become so familiar with their roles that their language and behaviour is effortlessly believable. Call centre agents can learn from this. Customers should be unaware of scripting, which in turn will lend to a far more positive call.
Involving your call centre agents in the process of building a script might be beneficial, seeing as they will be the ones talking to customers over the phone. It may also promote empowerment within the team, making them feel valued and important in the overall business plan.
Remember, scripts only work if your customer, as well as your call centre agents understands them. Telecommunications expert and regular contributor to Forbes magazine, Colin Taylor, says – Customer concerns come in infinite varieties, with infinite moods, paces and nuances. So instead of training to a script, the best thing an organisation can do is teach its people to deal with situations, both good and difficult. Give them the tools to recognise behaviours and respond appropriately – . With this in mind, call centre agents can certainly utilise a script, but, much as actors do, will benefit from a system of customer-focused personalisation based on highly intuitive thinking.
The art of improvisation
Call centre agents need a good degree of common sense to know when shifting away from the script is necessary and beneficial. Much like an actor on a Broadway stage, if something unexpected happens, such as a fellow actor forgetting their lines, he or she must use their improvisational skills to adjust to the new scenario. When thinking about call centre script best practises, it is especially important to customise language appropriately when dealing with complaints.
A scripted response of – I hear your complaint Ma’am and I am committed to finding a resolution for you, please hold – , risks sounding artificial and insincere, which may lead to further dissatisfaction. It is therefore essential that each call centre agent is trained to use their initiative during these phone calls to ensure the customer knows they’re valued and individual. Being a good listener is an example of imperative call centre agent skills.
Remember, listening and hearing are two very different processes. To hear someone, you are going through a physiological sensory process. Listening is somewhat different. It involves a much more complex psychological procedure of interpreting and understanding the words being used.
Demonstrating empathy is also a real win-win tactic in less-than- desirable phone conversations. Much as actors do, it’s important to identify with the situation in hand, feel the dilemma and respond sensitively and appropriately.
Research conducted by Hello Operator showed that caring goes a long way. Interestingly, the use of polite words such as please and thank you as well as effective paraphrasing and reflecting ranked as the most important factors in feeling cared about as a customer.
For this reason, call centre agents should not only be flexible, but empathic, attentive and considerate of individual customer needs.
The importance of comedy
Many customers want a relationship with the companies that they do business with. And it pays off! Before launching his innovative company Wufoo, Kevin Hale summarised the psychological and behavioural research he conducted beforehand, stating “Human beings are social and relationship-manufacturing creators”. This means natural human interaction, inclusive of some comedy. Developing solid call centre agent skills means acting more like a human, not a robot.
Comedian tips for support professionals can include incongruity as a humour method. This references an idea, event or outcome that is unexpected, or out of the ordinary. By ditching the boredom and embracing creativity, customers will remain present and engaged throughout the phone conversation.
Another comedian tip for call centre agent skills would be to find a funny pain point. So your computers just crashed midway through a service call, or you’ve muddled up your words while reading your script and said something nonsensical. This is a comedy opportunity. Laugh at yourself, offer an apology but keep the tone light hearted, customer focused and equally earnest. Make your customer feel like a friend, and they will not end that phone call feeling disappointed. It’s worth mentioning that a smile also goes a long way, even if the customer can’t see it. According to a 2010 research report conducted by the University Of Cambridge, a smile can be heard and felt on the other end of a phone call. This allows for the overall mood to lift with an increase in relaxation and productivity.
To conclude, there are many complex and interlinking approaches required to deliver excellent customer service. Agents are like actors in many ways, from their ability to follow and deliver a script to their improvisational techniques, listening skills, willingness to think on their feet, good sense of humour and ability to empathise. While following procedure is extremely important across the board, especially for business analytics, growth and monitoring customer feedback. Flexibility is an important call centre agent skill.
Personalising the individual customer journey not only enhances the overall business relationship, but grows the company’s reputation and revenue.