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The People and Skills Needed For Your Contact Center: #ICMIchat Rundown

old fashioned operators 

This week, Roy Atkinson led the #ICMIchat discussion about how contact center leaders find the right agents to join their team, and the skills agents need to be successful.

Join us for #ICMIchat again next Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific on Twitter.

Here is a summary of that chat:

Culture Versus Perspectives

When recruiting new people to join your team, is it more important to look for candidates who fit in well or challenge your team's thinking? We stirred up quite a debate among leaders who want both.

Leslie O'Flahavan rejected the question’s premise, saying, "Hmm. The either/or of this question doesn't work for me. Can't a new hire both fit the team AND bring something additionally? Actually, I'm finding my last sentence to be the very definition of the ideal new hire!"

Dave Dyson highlighted a significant shortfall of hiring candidates too similar to your existing team members: "'Culture fit' can lead to groupthink and lack of diversity…and diverse teams can perform better."

Andrew Gilliam cautioned, "It's vital that everyone gets along, but we must take care not to build an echo chamber in our office."

Old Habits Die Hard

Have you ever encountered a situation where previous experience wasn't an asset? Jeremy Hyde succinctly framed the problem: "The experience itself isn't a problem. However, if the person can't look past 'how it's always been' based on their experience, that can be a problem."

Danny Rehbein pointed out, "Experienced new hires bring positive qualities to a position, however they often retain ‘bad habits’ picked up at previous jobs. They may require less training than someone without any experience, but over time, negative qualities will outweigh. Hire for adaptability!"

Jeremy Watkin aspired for his organization's culture to be a teaching tool: "Certain experience is definitely a plus, but I'd want to gauge what bad habits exist. I'd hope our culture would be strong enough to help them unlearn those and learn the good habits."

Most Desired Skills

What's the #1 skill contact center leaders are looking for these days? We wanted to find out. It's no surprise that empathy was one of the first things that came to our leaders' minds. Roy commented, "I think this hasn't changed very much. Empathy is a big plus for any customer-facing position."

Leslie added the importance of continuous learning to the mix: "The number one skill or attribute to look for in a candidate right now is the willingness to learn as expressed in stamina and hopefulness during times of change."

Jeremy W. shared a resource about the different personalities in customer service. He said, "I agree with that HBR article about Kick @$$ #Custserv. I want a ‘Controller’ who is great at confidently moving the customer to a solution and can do so in both spoken and written word."

Location! Location! Location!

Is the adage about retail businesses also true about contact centers? We dove into how location affects hiring practices and the talent pool.

Jeremy H. observed some key drivers of location selection are wages and talent availability. He says, "Our geographic location requires a higher wage rate than if we were located in a more outstate/rural location and also comes with greater competition. On the flip side, (we have) a bigger talent funnel."

Leslie shared insight from her travels: "I work onsite in lots of regions of our country & world, and I've observed that geographic location of the contact center matters because some regional cultures are better at customer service than others. People in some locations are culturally more patient!"

Danny opined, "With #RemoteWorking on the rise, the physical location of your #ContactCenter is going to be less and less important."

Troy White also noted that offshoring doesn't have to hurt customer satisfaction. He added, "I have moved a contact center to India and did not take a major hit to CSAT. The key is having all the processes documented, well organized KB, and a robust QA program. The customers want answers to questions."

Skills Out of Style

Our chat took a funny turn when we started discussing skills that aren't relevant to contact center work these days. Danny joked, "The ability to quickly zip from switchboard to switchboard on roller skates, unplugging wires & plugging them back in to make connections is definitely a skill that is quickly losing relevance in call centers globally."

On a more serious note, Jeremy W. commented on the ever-increasing complexity of customer contacts. He shared, "The ability to push the password reset button? More than ever #cctr jobs require strong listening, reading comprehension, creative thinking, and negotiation skills. And you have to do that 50 to 100 times per day."

Time to Proficiency

We also wanted to learn how long contact center managers think it should take for their agents to become proficient enough in their work to be productive by themselves.

Andrew shared, "With support nearby, agents can be productive in only a few weeks. It's crucial to balance training with practice, and to enable new agents to grow at the pace they learn best."

Danny raised a good point about a diversity of training practices will help new agents retain what they're learning. He added, "With a combination of a good training program, job shadowing, as well as support from their manager, a new hire should be proficient to start interacting with customers all by themselves shortly after they get released to the floor."

Aligning Skills and Strategy

Roy wisely questioned how organizations could best align their training programs and agent skills with long-term strategies for the contact center. 

Jeremy W. took a prioritized approach by stating, "I would focus training on the top 10 or so queries the agent will handle and work on skills that apply directly to those situations. Then expand from there as they get the hang of things."

Danny added the importance of collaboration between frontline managers and training staff. He said, "Training materials, ongoing resources (help desk/internal knowledge base) need to be kept up-to-date to reflect changes. New hires need to be included in eLearnings & huddles for current employees. Communication between manager and training specialist is key."


Join us for #ICMIchat next Tuesday, March 17, 2020, for another fantastic chat. Next week's chat will be guest-hosted by Jeremy Watkin. Here are the questions: 

IB: In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, when's the last time you really felt lucky? Perhaps you found money, unexpected success, happened upon a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity, or were just thrilled to see the sun shine this morning. #ICMIChat

Q1: What does it mean to be a proactive contact center leader? #ICMIChat

Q2: Are there occasions where it's impossible to be proactive as a contact center leader? In those "reactive times," what does your postmortem process look like to improve for next time? #ICMIChat

Q3: We've all faced unpredictable situations that are completely out of our control (glitches, bugs, outages, inclement weather, etc). How can #cctr leaders respond to minimize the impact to customers? #ICMIChat

Q4: When creating a business continuity plan for your contact center (perhaps you already have one), what are the most essential items in that plan? #ICMIChat

Q5: What are the most important things to consider to ensure that your contact center is appropriately staffed? #ICMIChat

Q6: What tools and metrics help you be more proactive as a contact center leader? #ICMIChat

Q7: Amid recent news of companies sending employees to #workathome, what are some of the biggest considerations for leaders looking to send contact center agents to work at home? #ICMIChat #remotework

Q8: Contact centers aren't immune to stressful seasons and times of uncertainty. What are some of the best ways leaders can care for their contact center agents? #ICMIChat

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