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Call centre skills: A comprehensive guide for hiring managers and candidates

For support team leaders, employing agents with the right call centre skills is essential. Here are some of the personal qualities and technical skills that HR managers should look for in agents.

By Mark Smith, Content Marketing Manager

Last updated November 3, 2022

Let’s face it: being a call centre agent is a tough job. And being an HR manager tasked with finding people who have call centre skills isn’t easy either. A wrong decision made during the hiring process can have far-reaching effects, and not good ones.

That said, a call centre manager who understands the qualities that an effective customer service agent must have – from personal attributes to technical skills – stands a much better chance of employing the right candidate.

In this guide, we’ll examine what a call centre supervisor should look for in a customer service representative, as well as provide tips for how managers can help agents provide the best customer service.

Important call centre skills required by every agent

When looking for the right candidates, you’ll want to consider both hard and soft skills (hint: both are very important).

First, the hard skills:

  1. Technical aptitude

    Test candidates for their ability to search for and evaluate documentation, such as self-service articles and notes left in customers’ records in call centre software. Have they used a support tool before? Do they have well developed computer skills?
  2. Channel experience

    This might seem obvious, but previous phone-support experience is vital. In previous support roles, how many calls per shift did they usually resolve? Can they explain best practice and provide examples of how they have handled challenging situations?
  3. Aptitude with data

    See whether the candidate has a basic understanding of data analysis, and can navigate and understand dashboards.
  4. Bilingualism

    Perhaps your business will be expanding into a new region, or you already serve clientele who require support in multiple languages. A bilingual or multilingual call centre representative is a huge boon to a support team.
Attributes of a call centre agent

What attributes should a call centre agent have?

When we talk about attributes, we mean the personal qualities that enable one person to excel at working the phones while another struggles to provide a good customer experience.

These characteristics aren’t just necessary for the contact centre’s short-term requirements though. It’s also important to think about whether the candidate has the personal attributes that will make them a solid, long-term employee and, eventually, a leader.

Here are some things to look for during the interview process:

  1. Tenacity

    Does the applicant for the role of call centre agent show a willingness to tackle the unexpected? Are they resilient in the face of adversity? Formulate an interview question that will help you determine whether the candidate is equipped to handle new problems effectively.
  2. Flexibility

    Remember, what a customer needs from a customer service team might change over time.
    As customer expectations continue to rise, will your call centre agents be able to make the adjustments necessary to keep rates of customer satisfaction steady? Will the candidate be able to pick up knowledge quickly?
  3. Process oriented

    You want creative agents, but it’s also vital that these representatives don’t cut corners or the chain of command. For example, will the candidate be the kind of agent who can be counted on to document solutions to common (or uncommon) problems in your Help Centre articles?
  4. Problem-solving personality

    The right candidates want to go beyond the easy answers or a decision-making grid. They look at unusual problems as an exciting challenge. Look for job seekers who possess strong critical-thinking skills.
  5. Good communications skills

    Make sure that new staff understand how to communicate clearly with customers. Like a doctor with a good bedside manner, effective agents show patience and kindness, and they engage in active listening. They don’t assume the customer has the same knowledge that they do.
  6. Genuine empathy

    Stock phrases just won’t cut it with customers. They’ll be able to hear whether or not an agent actually cares. For many customers, the moment when they call customer support is one in which they’re already frustrated or angry. This is one of the most important skills for call centre agents.
  7. Consultation

    Will they be proactive and recognise opportunities to help customers avoid future problems? This can mean everything from passing along a bit of helpful, unprompted advice to pointing customers in the direction of Help Centre articles.
Call centre performance

Tips for improving call centre performance

So you’ve employed agents with the personal attributes and skills required to be effective call centre employees. Here’s how you can help them elevate their game:

Emphasise time to value

Call centre agents must focus on offering substantive replies and encourage collaboration with customers. Customers want to know that agents are working diligently to resolve the problem.

You need a deep understanding of what your customers want from you

For example, as the Zendesk 2020 customer experience trends report shows, the top priority for 60% of customers surveyed is to have their problems resolved quickly. These customers expect friendly service, they don’t want to repeat themselves and they absolutely hate being put on hold for long periods of time.

Keep your team informed and properly resourced

Provide agents with as much information as possible so that they have resources readily to hand. Representatives who have been through extensive call centre training can spend more time focusing on interactions.

And as call volumes rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are reporting a 10% increase in phone calls, on average. The ones that have been most successful at handling higher rates of inbound calls have increased staffing by 16%, while leaning towards self-service options.

Think about customer lifetime value

Call centre agents need to bear in mind that the customer journey really matters. About half of customers say that they would switch to a competitor after just one bad experience. In the case of more than one bad experience, the number increases to 80%.

The journey doesn’t stop after staff have been employed

Knowing which customer service skills make a strong call centre agent is one thing, but it’s crucial for HR managers to also think about their role in helping prospects grow into the role.

Schedule a training session (including simulation training) with agents and use data to identify areas that need improvement.

By making informed decisions during a call centre interview, managers can set up employees to achieve the kind of agent performance demanded by customers.

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