Published: March 07, 2023 | Comments
Each month, we ask contact center and customer service thought leaders to weigh in on important questions that impact the contact center industry. Here is this month’s question:
To excel at customer service, we often talk about soft skills, but what technical skills are indispensable for a successful career in the contact center industry, and how can one get better at those skills?
Bone Up on Basic Skills
VP – Customer Engagement, Happitu
Let’s start with the most basic – typing/keyboarding. I learned to type on an actual typewriter(!), but as long as keyboards remain the primary method of data entry, being able to type efficiently and accurately will remain a critical skill. Lots of companies will require a pre-hire typing test that will benchmark your skills.
You may need to type an adjusted 30 to 50 words per minute, which accounts for typing errors. You can practice at sites like keyhero.com and typing.com. Like all skills, getting better is all about practice. Depending on the nature of the business, being proficient in Ten Key (the separate number keys on the right side of a keyboard) may be required, as well.
Task switching is critical, even if your contact center is operating in a “single pane” environment. Few truly are.
Agents may need to initiate a special process to take a payment, move between talking to the customer and reading account notes, reach out to a supervisor for help, or even switch channels based on customer preference or need. The better agents are at task switching, the more efficient they are.
Knowing how to use Quick Keys/Shortcuts is an efficiency skill. While mouse clicks can be fast, using Alt+Tab to switch between applications makes the aforementioned task switching even faster. Using Ctrl+F to search a knowledge base or FAQ eliminates unnecessary scanning for the information needed. Knowing how to use Ctrl+X/C/V for Cut/Copy/Paste is faster and can reduce errors in data entry. You can find all Windows keyboard shortcuts here and Mac shortcuts here.
Until generative AI tools like ChatGPT can be relied on to provide accurate information, the final skill I’ll highlight is being able to effectively use search tools like Google. Understanding how to use search operators and how to sift through search results for relevant and accurate information can still be a critical skill if your knowledge base isn’t up to par.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software is Key
Trainer/Speaker, Reflective Keynotes Inc.
Contact center staff need to know how to use your company’s CRM system, and its associated applications, to be able to execute customer service functions, such as placing orders, tracking shipments, providing credits/refunds, and returns. They also need technical skills for your company’s specific product or service. For instance, an agent answering a computer support line may require technical skills in hardware and/or software. As a result, most agent new hire training courses spend more than 80% of their time on technical skills and product knowledge, rather than customer service skills.
At the team lead and front-line manager level, it is important to understand how agent KPIs roll up into their overall team’s performance. It is also important to understand how departmental-level KPIs, such as average speed of answer and abandon rate, need to be managed.
Managers at all levels require the technical skills to use Microsoft office (or Google workspace), Microsoft Teams (or Google Meet), and Chat. Senior leaders should also understand how their CRM and telecom platforms work, and have an understanding of AI, as contact centers continue to automate.
Show Me the Numbers
CX Evangelist, UJET
Data analysis is one of the most important technical skills to develop for a successful contact center career. By leveraging data insights, you can make informed decisions that improve your team's efficiency, enhance customer satisfaction, and drive business growth.
Here are some tips to improve your analytical skills:
Study the fundamentals
Start by familiarizing yourself with the basics of data analysis, such as data visualization, statistical analysis, and data cleaning techniques.
Gain hands-on experience
Experience is vital to improving your analytical skills. Look for opportunities to work on data analysis projects, even if they're not directly related to your job responsibilities.
Learn the tools
Many tools, including Excel and Tableau, help with data analysis. Invest time in learning how to use these tools effectively.
Staying up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices is crucial. Attend relevant training sessions, read industry publications (like ICMI), and seek new learning opportunities.
Soft Skills? There are Only Skills
Director of Customer Service, FELLERS
What some have called “soft skills” are not “soft” at all. These interpersonal skills can be learned, practiced, and mastered. Skills like active listening, patience, empathy, and the ability to tailor language and nuance for the benefit of the customer are crucial skills. Being able to treat each customer as an individual, not letting a previous customer negatively impact how I treat my current customer, while also keeping my eyes and ears open to patterns that might cause unnecessary customer effort might be one of the most important skills.
Other skills, such as the ability to learn and use new technologies, and the basics of computer troubleshooting are vital in today's contact center environment. The first step to get better at these skills is to recognize that they are skills one can learn and practice. Being vocal to your manager about your desire to improve is a good starting place. And although I believe companies should support further education and training in these areas, these are skills that can help in many different types of roles, so taking some time to learn about them on your own is beneficial. Pick a subject and you’re sure to find books, blogs, and podcasts on the subject. YouTube also can be a great place to start!
Multitasking a Must
Principal, SB Global Human Capital Solutions
Some technical skills that are indispensable for a successful career in the Contact Center industry are having the ability to navigate between multiple screens, multiple devices and, in some cases, multiple channels at the same time.
We have always needed the listen-talk-type skillset, but the requirement to do these multiple tasks quickly and properly are even more in demand. With the increase of the channels of communication, agents need to be able to manage multiple chats at the same time.
Another hard skill would be the ability to learn and understand various collaboration platforms like Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Slack, or any other internal communication tool. These technical skills can be developed through a variety of learning models. There can always be some interactive, hands-on instructor-led classes. There definitely has to be some self-learning activities and modules, as technical skills can only be gained with a hands-on approach. Another way technical skills could be developed is by allowing agents to work in a variety of practice labs or sandboxes. If this is done in the onboarding phase, they will have greater confidence when actually taking calls. The more diverse and interactive the training, the greater the learner engagement will be. It is important to ensure the learner experience is relaxed and most of all empowering.
The Complete Picture
Back in the Dark Ages when I worked in a contact center, the technical skills that, once learned, made me much more effective were:
Being able to answer customer questions and guide them towards the right solution became so much easier once I understood the products I was selling. I didn’t need to get down to the “bits and bytes” level of knowledge, but having a good understanding of product features and the value proposition to customers meant that I wasn’t constantly calling the product manager or having to consult quick reference guides. My advice to someone starting today is: take the time to learn about the products you sell. Read the marketing literature, spend time talking to the product managers, and speak to fellow team members about how they position the company’s products and respond to common queries.
Office software knowledge
Understanding the capabilities of software packages like Microsoft Office was something I never paid much mind to until many years after leaving the contact center when I saw co-workers do things in Excel, Word and PowerPoint that I never imagined possible. They wielded these tools like artisans, and I realized I’d missed many opportunities to make my job easier in my career to that point. Take a course to learn what the software packages you’re using are capable of.
Know who to speak to within the organization to get answers to customer issues. For me, it came with experience. If I was starting again today, I would ask my Day 1 buddy what the most common customer issues were that required me to speak to others within the company and who could help me with each of them.
The faster you can type on a computer, the more you can get done. Whether it's typing notes onto a customer’s record, composing emails, or just sending Instant Messages, the ability to touch type will make you much more efficient. Take the time to practice looking at your screen rather than your keyboard when you type. You’ll get better at it in no time!
Get Behind the Numbers
What comes to mind when thinking about technical skills is that there is an expected level of technical knowledge about call distribution platforms, CTI, and voice recognition. This is true for our IT and network folks.
In my personal experience in leading large contact centers, there are three technical skills that all operational leaders need to build a high performance culture. When done well, these skills ensure better outcomes when navigating through calm or rough water.
The first and most important technical skill for an operational leader is data storytelling. Everyone can read numbers on a page; the real question is what story the data is telling you. Practice by asking yourself and others this:
- For these KPI trends, what skills and behaviors are driving this trendline.
- For the individuals driving this trend, what are their strengths and opportunities?
- What supporting skill development strategies have been deployed, what’s worked, and what needs to change?
- If our cultural philosophy is that everyone comes to work to do a good job, then let’s ask self-discovery questions to learn the obstacles that prevent our Team Members from achieving their goals.
- Often Sr. Leadership is clear on intent and outcome, but not 100% clear on how to implement a change. Do you have or have you provided an array of actionable strategies for your front-line Team Members to execute with excellence?
The next two skills are related. Our technology partners are good at what they do. The magic, however, resides in the ability to leverage technical functionality to create outstanding customer and employee-centric experiences. This technical skill is the ability to visualize the impact of a change through the eyes of a customer as well as your front line Team Member. The impact is immense. By keeping the change simple and easy, it translates into less implementation time (AHT) and quicker adoption of a change
Whenever you feel that you are stuck in the weeds or in a debate at a meeting, put yourself in your Team Member and customer’s shoes.
- Seeing the change through both lenses, how does it feel for you?
- Does the explanation of the change make logical sense?
- How much effort is required?
Focus on these technical skills and you will lead with excellence.
Director of Customer Experience and Support, NumberBarn
This may not be a technical skill but it comes up so often in our contact center environment: That skill is ownership. In a world where it's so easy to pass the buck and say "I don't know," owners are obsessed with finding solutions for their customers and colleagues. Owners don't always possess the skills or know the answers, but they do always rise to any challenge, taking the time to learn a necessary skill or find someone who can help. If you have an ownership mentality, you'll find solutions more time than not and your customers and colleagues will love you for it.
And an honorable mention would be knowledge of spreadsheets -- whether in Google Sheets or Excel. The ability to learn and write complex formulas will always be invaluable for data analysis and reporting.
SVP – Partner Success, Livepro
Because of the increased work-at-home and hybrid contact center environments, one indispensable skill for agents is to be able to follow basic troubleshooting steps for computer challenges they might be having. Long queue times for the internal technical support line can cause required staffing levels to be compromised, negatively impacting ASA, and abandonment rates. This drives longer AHT when the customer reaches an agent because agents need to spend time calming down the customer. This can create a ripple effect, negatively impacting CSAT and first call resolution, when agents feel rushed.
Agents that take it upon themselves to upskill those skills, can take basic computer troubleshooting classes, and can enlist the help from more technically savvy agents. Learning and Development organizations inside the contact center can also put together classes that agents can take advantage of to increase their troubleshooting skills. The non-customer facing time, that the companies will pay for, is a small price to pay for an agent that can be self-sufficient and not have to wait for technical assistance, which can negatively impact both the customer and employee experience.