Within any company there are specialized roles. Engineers and designers are needed to develop and design products. Information technologists implement and manage complex systems. And customer call agents are tasked with answering customer inquiries and solving customer problems. But not just anyone can handle the complexities of a customer call center.

Wanted: Calm, Understanding Problem Solver With People Skills

A great customer service representative embodies the emotional control of a classically trained actor, the patience of a saint, the curiosity of a scientist and the child-like wonder to find the joy in the simplest of moments. 

Recently Seth Godin wrote that a "complaining customer doesn't want a refund" — he wants a connection. As a result, customer call agents have a peculiar responsibility: to listen without judging, to solve problems with only pieces of information and to provide closure while building a relationship. A good customer service representative can help a company thrive, despite product issues. A poor customer service representative, on the other hand, can destroy a company with a stellar product line. 

We sought to understand the characteristics that companies should look for in their customer service representatives. While many of these traits can be taught, provided the agent is motivated and curious, many more require innate ability. You can't teach passion for helping people — you either care or you don't. However, with appropriate goal setting and rewards, you may be able to inspire agents to go above and beyond to help people. 

Think about your own customer service experiences. What did your service representative do that made you feel better or understand the issue? Even when you weren't as pleasant as you should have been, how did they handle the situation? Were they able to diffuse the tension with humor, empathy or by efficiently expediting your request?  

Build a Strong Customer Team

Companies need to figure out if they're hiring the right person for the job. Asking the right questions is a start. Questions like: 

  • How do you respond when you don’t know the answer to a question?
  • The customer is saying you’re taking too long to solve the issue, what do you do?
  • The customer is pointing out a big known problem with your product, what do you do?

are designed to show whether the applicant has the empathy, patience and motivation to handle the customer, as well as solve the issue at hand. 

Building a customer service team that can effectively answer, help and satisfy customers doesn't happen overnight. It requires a strong commitment to hiring the right people and giving them the tools they need to be their best.