Generalists Can be Specialists for Your Brand
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Generalists Can be Specialists for Your Brand

Specialists are good. If you’re going to have knee replacement surgery, you want a specialist in orthopedic surgery. If your company is planning to go public, you want a team of financial and compliance specialists to help prepare. If you’re remodeling your home, you want an architect and builder who are well-versed in local regulations and safe building practices. And if you’re hiring for your customer contact center, you want people who are customer service specialists. And sales specialists. And “people” people. And people who are detail-oriented. Wait—which kind of specialist were you looking for?

Chances are, you’d like your contact center to be staffed by specialists in a variety of areas, like those listed above…which essentially makes them generalists. And before you shake your head and say “No, I want specialists,” think about it—there’s nothing wrong with generalists. Because they are probably still specialists in the areas that count for your brand.

• Good at interacting with people? Check.
• Knowledgeable about your product or well-versed in the features and benefits of your service? Check.
• Familiar with your systems and procedures so they can help customers on the first contact? Check.
• Friendly, offering service with a smile, and helping create loyal-for-life customers? Check.

So maybe it’s a good thing to hire generalists. It’s possible to find people who specialize in both sales and service. The skill sets are different in some ways, but very similar—and complementary—in other ways. Agents with sales and service skills are knowledgeable about your product or service; they are good at reading people to determine the most effective sales pitch; they empathize with customers so they can tailor their approach to each customer’s needs; and they can tell when it’s appropriate to make the upsell pitch or just resolve the issue at hand. Those complementary skills probably mean they are more flexible in the type of customer interactions they can handle, and it’s almost guaranteed they will help that customer in nearly any way possible—because they are steeped in the service mindset while also focusing on sales and upsells. In a nutshell, those sales-and-service generalists are experts at monetizing customer interactions.

Now that we’ve established that generalists can be as beneficial to your brand as specialists…how do you find generalists? Your whole recruitment process is probably set up to find specialists, from job listings to on-boarding to training opportunities. Transitioning away from your current hiring practices to find generalists instead of specialists is not as simple as just changing job descriptions – but it can be done.

Take a look at your overall recruitment process. Do you directly hire contact center agents as employees, or do you use a company that trains and provides agents to handle your customer interactions? Regardless of the way you find contact center staffers, when you shift your focus and target a different agent profile, you must think about a few things. How do you describe the jobs you’re hiring for? What skills are listed as “essential” and “preferred?” What questions are included in the application? What language is used, and does it skew toward sales or toward service? You’re trying to build a new agent profile, one that captures elements of sales and service, to find those generalists to be your brand ambassadors.

Once you’ve got the profile figured out, the hiring process is basically the same. You may have some different interview questions, personality assessments or evaluations that will require some thought—or you may combine parts of your sales hiring process and your service hiring process. But the hiring piece may be the simplest (and most similar) piece of the puzzle. What about training?

Training can be daunting no matter the job description and role. It may be a bit more challenging to design and deliver effective training after changing your agent profile—but, again, it can be done. In addition to the product or service training to familiarize the agent with your offerings, you’ll want to include platform or technology training to ensure smooth interaction with your systems and customers. And you should offer some sales and customer service training to refresh those skills and immerse the new hires in your brand’s culture.

That’s quite a bit of training…so finding a way to make it fun and interesting is ideal. Games are a great way to help people learn. Gamification of training is hot now, and there are so many ways to inject that level of fun into your training. Set up head-to-head competitions, where agents role-play a call and whoever resolves it (fastest, most completely, most creatively) wins points. Tally those points to create a leaderboard, which ideally is constantly shifting as people complete different training pods, earn points and battle for agent supremacy.

It can also be helpful to establish an agent communication hub, whether it’s a dedicated website, chat application or discussion forum. Make it simple and fun for people to interact to share what works and support each other. It balances out some of the competitive aspects of the gamified training and goes a long way to maintaining a community, team feeling—especially if your agents are geographically dispersed.

I offer these suggestions because LiveOps has implemented most of them within our community of 20,000 independent work-at-home agents, with more to come soon, and found them successful. Finding and keeping solid contributors to your bottom line is difficult, no doubt. Do whatever you can to refine your needs, find those right people, train them quickly and effectively and get them interacting with customers. Having those generalists who are experts in monetizing customer interactions whenever possible will keep that bottom line healthy and prepare you and your team for growth and expansion.

And if you’re still hung up on thinking generalists are less than ideal…perhaps it’s time to change your view. Think of them as multi-talented. Think of them as triple (or quadruple, or quintuple) threats. Think of them as exactly what your brand needs to succeed.

Have a wonderful holiday season—hope to see you back here next year!



Topics: People Management, Strategy & Planning

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Mick Stevens — 12:52PM on Feb 2, 2015

"Having those generalists who are experts..." Surely that makes them Specialists then?

#oxymoron ?

Sorry, love LiveOps & normally in complete harmony with Ann on thinking, strategy etc but think we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

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