Published: February 25, 2016 | Comments
It used to be that you sat in a room with other people, answered the phone, were polite and helpful, resolved customer issues and went on with your day. Now, you could be working from a home office, pivoting between phone calls, live chat windows and social media messages, trying to juggle it all to provide the smoothest possible customer experience—because if you don’t, the Internet will hear about it. The agent role and customers’ expectations have moved far beyond transactional interactions and squarely into ‘professional-class relationship management”.
Despite the changes in technology and expectations, the heart of the contact center is and always will be communication. And to communicate effectively, you must have the right team in place. But building that “right team” can be a challenge, especially when you use the same description to hire every agents.
To develop a top-notch contact center staff, I’d encourage you to consider T-shaped professionals. These professionals bring a depth of skills and expertise in one particular area (the base of the “T”), which is complemented by a breadth of skills (the top of the “T”). This combination allows you to build a better balanced team that can better serve both your customers and other functional departments, with built-in redundancies for when the unexpected occurs.
What T-shape base skills should I look for?
Start with the base expertise—the shared area where people have a deep experience and skill level. (Other skills come in as the top of the “T” shape – but focus on communication first).
There is a very long list of communication skills and expertise you should want in your contact center. Here’s a short list of some of the key features:
- Experienced. This doesn’t have to be contact center experience, but experience with communication in general. Teachers and sales people tend to have excellent interpersonal communication experience.
- Empathetic. Agents must absolutely be able to put themselves in the customer’s shoes to be effective service advocates and empathy is also essential to collaborating well with other employees and departments. There are easily searchable resources online that can help you screen for empathy.
- Helpful. Look for a servant’s heart and a true desire to help others. Volunteer experience might help clue you in on this perspective.
- Calm. Staying cool under pressure—or at least appearing to be—is essential. Part of the ability to remain calm is the ability to ‘think on your feet’ and ‘dance’ in conversation with others. Can they handle the curve ball? Have they ever taken improve classes?
- Personable. You want a “people person” who is comfortable interacting with strangers. Especially one with the skills to quickly turn strangers into friends. Think extroverted but self-aware.
Those may not all seem like communication skills, but they are all essential to the foundation you’ll want for any customer-facing employee. And while they are essential skills, they’re still insufficient on their own…
What about the top of the T-shape skills?
The top of the “T” skills are also important, because they are the ones that offer the ability to collaborate and share knowledge. They create the unique personalities and people working in your contact center. Some of the “top T” skills you should look for include:
- Digital proficiency. It’s not enough to know how to answer a phone call or email. Agents must be able to interact with customers by phone, email, live chat, SMS and social. They need the right tools to be able to do this, but must have the skills as well.
- Sales experience. This is extremely helpful in contact centers. Sales experience teaches some of the communication skills in the base of the “T” and fosters resilience.
- Face-to-Face Customer Service. Just ask anyone who has worked in Retail what kind of self-control it takes to maintain your cool and help customers when they’re looking you in the eye.
- Industry knowledge/experience. Agents with a background in your particular industry can help the rest of team from sounding too academic or scripted in their interactions.
- Product knowledge/experience. And even better when they have knowledge of and experience with the actual product or service they are selling/supporting! Just look up the stats on sales effectiveness of employees who use the products they sell.
- Cross-functional acumen. The ability to interact productively with other people and departments is critical to success. Contact centers may need to call on the marketing department, sales, product development or others to answer questions or resolve issues. Being able to interact professionally and productively will help provide smooth customer experiences.
Combining the deep expertise in communication with a breadth of skills will help create a fully functional and well-balanced team. You’ll want varying levels of expertise in the top of the “T” skills so that team members can jump in and help when and where needed.
Why are T-shape skilled professionals best for the contact center?
You may need to make a case for hiring T-shape professionals. But the truth is that it’s an easy case to make because it’s not just the Contact Center that needs them. All teams need adaptable cross-functional teams that foster better interpersonal communication through any channel at any time, and not just with your customers – but with each other as well.
You’ll have a team with built-in redundancies so customers can always interact with an expert. The team’s finely-honed communication and problem-solving skills help them go the extra mile for customers. Their combination of skills—both personally and as a team—should make them happier overall, which means that will make your customers happier. And that happiness will translate to your bottom line.
The concept of T-shaped professionals is not a new one, but it is newer to the contact center. They bring the potential to improve the contact center experience and enhance effectiveness at all levels. Implementing a T-shape model can bring significant and measurable benefits to your business. After all, customer service and satisfaction really does depend on the team you have in place.