22.12.2020

Call Center Manager’s Assessment: What Should A Call Center Agent Be Capable Of?

By hiring agents considering their personal attributes, you are building a more reliable and stable team in the contact center. Read on, how to evaluate an agent’s soft skills!

Call Center Manager’s Assessment: What Should A Call Center Agent Be Capable Of?

To thrive in a call center environment, agents require a unique skill set: the ability to handle a high volume of dissatisfied customers, to rigidly adhere to scripts yet provide information not detailed in scripts, demonstrating patience, attentiveness, and adaptability. In short, they need to have what we refer to as advanced communication skills, including effective listening.

These are exactly the qualities that make an agent more successful, and are classified as ‘soft skills’. Identifying these qualities can be challenging when just looking at a resume, and even during a standard job interview, these traits can be difficult to discern and evaluate.

Obviously, it’s crucial to verify a candidate’s resume for accuracy, assessing professional skills, computer literacy levels, and typing speed – all essential for the job. However, measuring typing speed alone won’t provide an accurate prediction of how long a candidate will stick it out as an agent.

So, are there any methods to evaluate a candidate’s soft skills?

Can soft skills be measured?

Until recently, methods used to assess personal qualities were subjective and inconsistent. As employers are beginning to understand that these so-called “microsocial” skills are crucial for their agents’ success, more formalized methods are emerging.

There are specially designed tests to detect and evaluate the personal qualities of candidates and staff members, but all of them require self-reporting from the subjects, making them not entirely reliable. Even though these tests show a correlation between test results and work efficiency, there’s still a considerable amount of work to be done in this area. In any case, there are no good tests specifically developed for contact centers yet, leaving managers to invent their own “measurements” of soft skills.

The development of personal quality assessment methods should start with specifying them. The better you define the quality or skill required for work in your contact center, the more likely you are to identify and evaluate exactly what’s needed in your work.

For instance, many deem an agent’s “communication skill” as paramount. But what does “communication skill” mean to you? Does it imply the prospective candidate’s ability to articulate clearly during a heated debate, or does it indicate that the candidate can upsell an additional service to the client? Both abilities are manifestations of “communication skill”, albeit requiring different screening methodologies to pinpoint the candidates who best match your criteria. Once you’ve compiled a list of the necessary skills and qualities, you will need to ascertain the usefulness of each. Frame the question as such: “if we had more agents proficient in X, would our call-center be more productive?” Identifying all the “Xs” to which the answer is affirmative will help you determine what to assess when selecting candidates.This exercise allows you to identify several qualities or skills that are crucial for successful operation of your call-center. Ultimately, you will find concrete actions that can be tracked. For instance, “if I had more agents capable of retaining 50% of problematic clients” — this is something measurable. Thus, defining and evaluating the truly essential qualities for your contact center is the first step you need to take in hiring and retaining your best staff members.

So, what’s in the CV?

Applicants often directly highlight their professional and personal qualities in their CVs. They state that they are “easily adaptable” or have “excellent communication skills”, listing these traits in a special section or mentioning them during the description of their previous jobs.

Looking for descriptions of soft skills in CVs will show you that applicants who mention them at least recognize the need for proper interpersonal interaction. But this is not enough.

First of all, it is important to remember that people are not totally honest when composing their CVs. One study showed that 54% of applicants either speak vaguely or outright lie in their CVs.

Secondly, people are very poor at assessing their own skills. It happens that people, who believe they have excellent communication skills, are barely understood by others.

Thirdly, candidates often write about personal qualities when professional skills are lacking. This means that if the resume places much emphasis on personal qualities, it might be masking a lack of critical skills in the applicant.

Fourthly, think about whether you can draw any conclusions about a candidate’s personal qualities based on their behaviour. For example, according to one study, applicants who use Chrome or Firefox tend to stay longer in call centres. Perhaps this is because these browsers require manual installation, unlike Internet Explorer that comes with the standard Windows OS package. This might indicate that the person likely demonstrates initiative in everyday life, which they might also showcase when working in your company.

Lastly, some candidates, despite having great personal qualities, might not know that these should be noted in their resumes. Therefore, by only reviewing resumes, you might miss out on exceptional employees.

Interviewing for Soft Skills

Since it’s difficult to discern a candidate’s personal qualities from their resume, you should do so during the interview.

And the first approach is to use questions that require detailed answers, allowing candidates to display the qualities you are looking for. For example, you might ask the following questions:

  • Tell me about a situation when there was a misunderstanding between you and a colleague. How did you manage this situation? (Communication skills)
  • Have there been situations where you needed to learn something new? How did you approach it? (Adaptability)
  • Have you ever had issues at work before? Talk us through how you resolved them? (Initiative)
  • Give an example of a time when there was a conflict between you and another colleague. How did you resolve this situation? (Teamwork, Conflict resolution)
  • Have you ever fallen behind your work schedule? How did you catch up the lost time? (Responsibility, Time management)
  • Have you ever noticed a colleague doing something incorrectly? How did you behave in this circumstance? (Honesty, Integrity)

How an applicant answers your questions gives you a clear perspective of how they use those ‘micro-skills’ you expect them to have.

The second way: you can ask applicants to rank their personal qualities by their level of development. While most candidates know how to highlight their strengths, if you ask them to rate their skills from the most developed to the least, it will reveal what they truly think of themselves.

And the third approach: you can design a suitability test that also works as a personal quality assessment.

Salvation in Recommendations

In addition to the information provided by the applicant, you should also check their references. When doing this, try to uncover their personal qualities.

Consider that, when questions about a person’s qualities suggest ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, the recommender tends to speak favorably of their former employees due to various considerations. Therefore, ask such questions that will allow you to learn the details.

Instead of asking the reference provider whether the candidate communicates well, ask them to describe their manner of communication. Inquire about a specific instance, such as a stressful situation that the applicant had to deal with.

Additionally, you could probe negative aspects of the candidate. Just as you would ask the candidate about his or her weaknesses, you can ask their reference what qualities they think the candidate needs to develop or improve.

Personal qualities on the job

You can train your employees on specific professional skills if they have a developed learning skill. Therefore, it’s often more critical to understand what personal qualities a candidate possesses than to determine how fast they can type or how well they are familiar with specialized software.

When you hire agents with their personal qualities in mind, you establish a more reliable and stable team in your call center.

Translation: Oki-Toki, Source: callcentrehelper

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