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Time to rethink the signs of a great service rep

2nd Sep 2020
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Most people working in customer support think they know what makes a good agent: being a good listener, having a pleasing accent, being patient. Well yes – these are all important qualities, but if you want a team that delivers the best possible customer service, you need to think again.

The role of the customer service agent has evolved from the traditional call centre operatives thanks to technology and changing customer expectations. We’ve been asking customer experience leaders what they aim to deliver to customers and what they’re looking for when hiring top-performing agents. With this insight, we have compiled 5 key characteristics:

1. Empathy

Let’s get this one out of the way as it is the obvious one and nothing has changed here. Empathy is a trait you cannot teach but you need agents who are great at communicating with your customers and the CX leaders we’ve spoken to are unanimous on this being the number one skill required for the role.

The importance of responding to customers quickly and empathetically has been highlighted through lockdown. Customers proved they can be reasonably understanding in extraordinary circumstances! Businesses that were unable to resolve the customer’s problem immediately or give them the answer they wanted to hear – for example airlines cancelling flights and unable to provide a refund straight away - will have bought some time and customer loyalty by providing prompt and personable communication.

2. Outspoken and opinionated

In normal times, however, your agents should not be handing out tea and sympathy. Listening is great up to a point, but not if it prolongs a call without solving the problem. A study by the Harvard Business Review claims that agents who try to understand other people’s problems are not the best performers. Rather, being outspoken and opinionated were listed as two of the top qualities for a stellar customer service agent. People with these characteristics are comfortable exerting their strong personalities, taking control and guiding customers along the best path to the desired outcome – which is usually a speedy resolution.

Most customers are only willing to spend up to 10 minutes resolving their issues. Time on the phone - or waiting for the next speech bubble in an online chat to a customer service team - is time wasted. The outspoken and opinionated among us focus less on asking customers what they’d like to do and more on telling them what they should do, which means that problems are resolved much faster and more efficiently.

3. Speaking the customer’s language

Another customer expectation is for communication in their mother tongue. Hiring agents for their language abilities can lead you to deviate from the key skills you should be looking for. Translation software can handle this aspect of the communication but it needs to be sophisticated enough to learn about your business so that your agents can respond quickly and accurately to the questions they face.

Customers aren’t always clear about what they want and they won’t always be speaking in English. Your business may have jargon and technical terms that can result in incomprehensible replies from basic translation apps that simply frustrate the customer. An AI-enabled human translation platform can be trained to deal with these nuances and, with the right tools, your agents can provide an authentic response in the customer’s language.

4. Leave the script

Technology certainly has relieved CS agents of much of the mundane in their role. The increased use of self-service, AI and automated call handling allows simple queries to be dealt with by an FAQ or a chatbot. This means that the majority of questions that make it through to the agent are relatively complex and require agents to respond quickly to the unexpected and think on their feet. The former contact centre requirement of following a script is outdated and recruiting candidates who are good with processes and can follow the rules is going to attract the wrong personality for today’s demands.

Many modern businesses are looking for people who are prepared to go off script and express their individuality, while representing the spirit of the brand. That could mean using humour in their responses, engaging in banter with customers if the mood allows, and giving a more personalised service.

5. Self-starter

The nature of the CS agent is changing and part of that is down to the increase in home working, accelerated by the recent lockdown. People who work from home typically have different characteristics to your traditional contact centre worker. Think self-starter, self-motivated, output focussed, versus someone who thrives in a busy workplace, with clear management, coffee break gossip and set working hours.

Businesses are increasingly looking for workers who can adapt to changing situations, whether that is fast moving brand and product changes, or global pandemics. If the working model becomes more working from home than office based, the challenge for CS leaders is to continue to assign clear deliverables and outputs and accept asynchronous communication and workflows. Regular and frequent communication with remote workers is paramount to ensure independent but coordinated work and to infuse the team spirit that will nurture the brand amongst the people who are talking most to your customers.


These are the traits that constitute the best equipped agents to deliver the best customer service: fast and useful solutions with a human touch. Hiring for customer service requires a new approach and businesses now need to devise recruitment processes that provide opportunities that reveal these characteristics in candidates.

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