Businesses constantly measure call center agents against the toughest of judges: angry customers hungry for a quick resolution. And it’s not like customer satisfaction rates are skyrocketing, according to Statista

What kinds of call center agent skills make a good agent? Call center agent skills should include efficiency, patience and empathy — no matter how upset or off-putting a caller may be.

“As a result of the pandemic, the role of customer service representatives has fundamentally changed,” said Eric Williamson, chief marketing officer at CallMiner. He cited a Forrester study commissioned by CallMiner that found organizations agreed call center agents are now dealing with more complex customer requests (67%) and emotionally charged customers (70%) than ever before.

“In order to effectively address these complex and emotional inquiries, contact center agents need to be able to anticipate customer needs to display meaningful, genuine empathy,” Williamson said.

What are some other important qualities of a good call center agent? What are some important call center agent skills?

Listening Skills

Call center agents must have active listening skills to ensure customers' requests are handled accurately, according to Safir Adeni, head of channel alliances and partnerships at Uniphore. The challenge, he added, is there are so many distractions on calls for agents to be an active listener.

An agent with good communication and listening skills can establish a connection with the caller and build quality relationships, according to Chris Bauserman, VP, segment and product marketing with NICE.

“Capabilities that elevate soft skills such as active listening — without interruption — help agents understand the problem and are critical to putting the customer at ease and being able to identify a solution,” Bauserman said.

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Demonstrating Empathy Across Channels

Williamson said the empathetic call center agent includes being in tune with how interactions differ across different channels, such as voice, chat and email. Should empathy be a call center agent skill? Yes, but it's all about context.

“Agents need to be aware of and pick up on subtle nuances and emotional cues, and reply appropriately based on the channel they’re interacting on,” Williamson said. “How a customer communicates an issue on chat is going to be inherently different than via phone. Understanding and responding to customers empathetically, depending on the channel, can do more than just deliver a better outcome. It can strengthen customer loyalty and relationships.”

Empathy is key to ensure that even irate customers are transformed and ultimately converted to loyal customers, Adeni added. Agents need to demonstrate empathy and a good understanding of the challenges the customer could be experiencing, according to Adeni.

“Good customer service always starts and ends by thinking about the customer,” Bauserman said. “To provide the best experience possible, agents must see and understand what their customer’s complete journey is like, what the customer’s sentiment is and where things can go awry in that process. Understanding these moments of customer frustration in real-time helps agents take proactive customer service measures to maintain brand loyalty.”

Learning Opportunities

Problem-Solving Skills

Given the complexities involved in today’s products and services, many businesses are faced with an enormous challenge to solving dynamic problems. Customers expect call center agents to identify the root cause, and effectively resolve their issues in the fastest possible time, Adeni said. “Agents need to be agile thinkers and problem-solvers,” he said.

Contact center agents are often the only human contact a customer has with a business, according to Bauserman. Call center agents must answer the customer’s question and solve their problem. This call center agent skill has a significant influence on the customer experience.

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Flexibility, Adaptability

Many contact center agents handle more than one channel. That said, they must juggle between communications platforms on a regular basis, according to Bauserman.

“With new channels emerging fast, helping agents see the customer journey across all the channels on a single platform can boost agent ability to be agile and multi-task,” he said.

Opportunistic Upselling

Interactions between customers and contact center agents include opportunities to increase both customer satisfaction and the bottom line. If business train call center agents and coach them in how to identify these opportunities, they can use these calls to upsell new products, recognize customer loyalty, increase compliance or simply improve the customer experience.

“Regular coaching, evaluation and training are just as essential to nurturing agents as any hard skills they must learn,” Bauserman said. “AI trained to look for and advise agents on critical behaviors that boost CSAT in real-time sets agents up for success.”

Related Article: Call Center Employees: The Superheroes of Customer Experience

Using AI to Their Advantage

Contact centers had already started to explore and implement AI tools and strategies, but COVID-19 accelerated that adoption, especially as agents and supervisors were forced to adapt to working remotely and changing customer demands, according to Williamson.

“There was some anticipation that AI-powered tools would replace agents, but in practice, they’ve emerged as tools that can supplement and support agents’ work,” he said. “Contact center agents who embrace these AI tools are going to be at an advantage. For example, agents can more quickly and accurately gauge customer emotion and be guided in real-time with next-best-action advice. Additionally, supervisors can use AI to ensure customer service success metrics align to CX goals and other enterprise KPIs. The use of AI in the contact center is only going to grow.”