by Reynaldo Patino November 12, 2022 23 min read
If you're considering a call center agent career, the first step is deciding if it's for you. If you're considering a job with low barriers to entry, good work-life balance, and potential for career growth, customer service jobs in the call center industry might be worth exploring.
In this article, you will get an overview of the various roles, duties, and responsibilities of a call center agent. We will also look over the specific skills required for these careers and examine how the process works for a call center company.
A call center agent is an employee working for a call center company that handles customer service related work. Call center agents are the backbone of any business and are there to ensure all your customer queries are addressed. They handle everything from inbound or outbound calls to email and chat inquiries.
Some might think a call center agent's job is only about answering calls, but there's more to it than that. Call center reps are typically on the phone all day, they deal with a significant amount of tasks. One of the challenges agents face is reacting to obstacles they came across while achieving a contact center’s KPI targets.
A customer service agent might help with a variety of tasks:
Call center agents are widely referred to as 'CSRs' which stands for customer service representatives. They're also known as 'contact center agents,' or 'operators.'
Effective communication skills are probably the most important requirement that you need to be accepted into a call center. Some companies require people that have excellent communication skills while some go for average and intermediate. In this aspect, you may just have to gauge yourself and prove to the interviewer that you can do the job.
Textbook English may be passable. What’s important is that you should be able to display that you have the potential. Call center employees know very well that practice makes perfect, but don’t aim for perfection before applying. Just give it a shot.
We can’t reiterate enough how important it is that the customers can understand you. The way you talk to them is the only thing that connects you to them. They can’t see your gestures and they don’t know what you look like.
They purely rely on the words that come out of your mouth. Not only that your customers will hang up the phone on you if they do not understand you, but they can also get irritated with you too. And when that happens it will not just hit a nerve but it’ll hurt your self-esteem.
You might hear words that you might not even hear from your relatives and friends. The result is that you’ll find your job less and less interesting and you’ll lose the will to come to work. This is why a lot of people find customer support a stressful job.
Customers easily get angry when we, as call center agents do not understand how they value time. But if you’ll put yourself in your customer’s shoes, it’ll begin to sink in. Seasoned agents know this. You must understand that being good at it rakes all the benefits.
Whether by making sales, getting a good survey, high Q.A. scores, or reaching your target collection by the end of the month, speaking effectively will get you there. You’ll undergo accent training probably for a week or two at the most.
But that’s a very short time to master it all. You’ll have to put everything to practice. The fact that you made it to the floor means you’ve got the potential so they’ll do is just polish your comm-skills.
Here are some tips for newbies that might help you showcase your potential:
Some people might not notice it but smiling has a big impact on how you converse. When someone smiles, they tend to soften up and become more pleasant to speak with.
Putting this into practice means that you’re actually enjoying what you do and that reverberates to the other line where the customer hears you. This may be the reason a lot of agents put up a mirror in front of them while taking calls.. but, who knows.
Our company’s favorite policy: English Only: You’ve heard it before, and we’ll say it again. Practice makes perfect. And this time, we’re not telling you to fake it.
Companies are strict in implementing this rule because they believe that practicing makes perfect. And we couldn’t agree more. The more you speak in English at every opportunity makes you more comfortable with it.
And in time it will come out naturally. You should also practice thinking in English so it’s not awkward and it wouldn’t sound like somebody translated what you wanted to say.
It is always good to get yourself engaged in a discussion with a customer. It makes them feel better and trust you more that you can help them.
And that means scrapping your scripts and saying what you really wanted to or else it will lead you to a discussion with poor choices of words. Our advice, read more and watch English programs. As much as possible!
People from some parts of the US speak fast. And that’s fine. Because you can’t complain that you do not understand them.
You’ll just have to ask them to repeat what they’ve said. But if you’re the one going too fast, that spells trouble.
It’s been said that the normal pace of speaking is 2.4 words per second. Go beyond and you’re going too fast.
Slower means your customer might doze off before you could deliver the message. This is just the basic and it doesn’t have to apply to all.
Until you’ve adopted the US accent fully, we suggest that you slow it down. Enunciate every word so they can understand especially if you can’t.
If you don’t have an American accent, neutralize. If you’re an agent living in the Philippines, India, or South America, then you probably have an accent.
There’s nothing wrong with it. But it matters to the people that you speak to on the phone. You might be servicing a customer in U.K, U.S, or Australia, and it’s almost impossible or difficult to mimic them.
You can try though but unless you can copy the accent very well, you’ll sound silly. Especially those of British and Irish accents.
So the key is even though the customer realizes that you’re not local, it should be fine. They didn’t call for chit-chat. Just make sure that the issues are resolved and to be able to do that, you must be understood.
This is crucial, especially on issues that deal with technicalities. As a call center agent, you can never assume what the problem is even though you know what your customer is trying to get at.
Listen to every word and avoid interrupting your customer. So when it’s time for you to speak, you have something useful to say rather than, “Uhm… say that again please?”
This is not all, I’m sure there is a lot of things we can also do in practice to become more effective agent. Bear in mind that if you’re thinking of changing careers to call centers, you probably think that you have the potential. And that’s a start.
We’ll give you more tips on the next topic, so for now, grab a smoke, or coffee, or rush to the sleeping quarters.
Key performance indicators or KPIs are the way that an agent’s performance is measured. It is a crucial factor for someone to keep their job or to get a decent increase for next year’s performance evaluation.
How to attain this goal rests on different factors and below are a few things that you would want to pay attention to. Mind you that each account or client tends to give more importance than the other factors.
But below are the most common and probably most important KPIs also known as stats or metrics.
Attendance and adherence are self-explanatory and are basic common sense for call center performance indicators. The key is to be consistent, and come in every day and on time!
Call center companies to realize the importance of this so they give incentives to people who diligently come to work on time and every day. If you wonder why, the reason is that a single person (who takes approximately 40-50 calls a day) absent in a group of ten, means that the rest will have to step up.
They’ll have to fill the shoes of the person missing and as a result, that’s an additional 5 or 6 more calls to each of them. That means more work with no additional pay. They call it teamwork. And if you’re in a call center with hundreds working, imagine the effect if many weren’t present.
We’re not talking about call abandonment (calls that weren’t answered and the customer chose to just hang up) yet, which affects the company’s performance and productivity as a whole. Call abandonment severely affects the customer's experience of a company.
Clients prefer to have different approaches to resolving customers' issues. Therefore while in training, agents are taught step-by-step in resolving an issue.
This training is referred to as call flow. This is a method and a step-by-step instruction on how to resolve an issue so no single detail would be missed.
Companies and their Q.A. scores are strict with call flow because it is a way to save time and therefore to become more efficient. They also want to make sure that no single detail is missed and no rock is left unturned.
In the event that a single step is missed, this could spell disaster or more time on the phone at the very least. This is true, especially for the tenured agents who loves jumping to the conclusion.
Experienced expro agents become so confident and everything becomes so easy for them that the moment the customer states what the problem is. They tend to think they already know what’s wrong and assume what should be done next.
While they may be right most of the time, call center managers want to make sure that they follow the company's standard procedure. In that, resolving an issue should always start with the basics before going to the more complex ones.
This is so true, especially with financial accounts where you have to make sure that you start with verification. The procedure must be followed to the letter or you might face some consequences.
Imagine visiting a doctor to examine if you are having symptoms of a cold and then he immediately recommends an operation because it might be cancer. Well, you get the idea. As long as you know how to follow, you should be OK with your Q.A. scores.
Satisfy your customer and the way to know that is by asking and getting positive feedback. There’s just no better way of doing this rather than resolving their issue fast and efficiently.
But this poses greater challenges when you work for a company whose right-hand doesn’t seem to know what the left hand is doing. You may resolve the customer’s issue and yet the customer is still upset when the issue was caused by the company itself.
Although it rarely happens, in a few of my customer interactions it does actually happen. The challenge is to turn the customer experience into a positive one.
This may even result in compensating the customer for the inconvenience. But wouldn’t it be great if you’ve done this without the company spending a dime? Because that’s the real test.
Companies call it “WOW the customers”. That means giving them an excellent or if possible, an unforgettable experience. Large call center companies believe in word of mouth on results.
And since you’re already at it, it helps if you go the “extra mile”. That means doing something for the customer that you do not normally do or is out of your scope. Satisfying comes naturally if you just know what you’re doing.
This is the least important key performance indicator but still important. Handling time is calculated daily on average and depending on your client and program. The key is to resolve an issue in the amount of time required or allowed.
Note, that this doesn’t mean that you have to resolve everything fast at lightning speed. The clients had put in a lot of effort and studies to determine the average acceptable time you can spend on the phone with the customer.
Although the clients want issues resolved fast, too fast also raises some questions. You don’t have to time yourself on the phone, as some issues are too complex to resolve.
That will eat up a lot of time while some issues are pretty basic that it will be done even with your eyes closed. Let's just hope you don’t fall asleep.
There are a couple more specific accounts worth mentioning. Financial accounts, for instance, pay so much attention to ACW or after-call work, Hold time, and Aux time.
These are moments when you’re idle and not answering any inquiries from a customer. It all boils down to how you perform and your productivity.
They want agents to be on the phone, ready to take calls 98% of the time that they’re on the floor. That leaves you about a couple of minutes to go to the restroom and finish documenting the call.
Some customer service-focused accounts also pay attention to FCR or first-call resolution. That means making sure that the customer’s issue is resolved right at the time that they first called.
If you’re in a collections account or assigned to a sales account, the conversation rate counts too. Now there could be more, but that all depends on the program that you’re in.
There’s not much to say on this part although this is the most important skill. The thing is that there’s not much advice we can give you today but just to focus on the account that you’re in and learn it well.
Product knowledge is your most important tool in order to resolving your customer’s issues. We’ve discussed before how important it is that you know the type of account or post that you’re applying for.
Most people just apply for some positions that they do not even understand. Technical support for instance is a type of account that’s just not for everyone.
If you’re someone who lacks technical knowledge, you’ll surely have a hard time. Again, we’re not just talking about computers here.
It could be mobile phones, televisions, printers, and servers. In the same way that you can’t be a collector or in sales if you’re too nice, or too shy.
Now let’s say you lack the skills but you’ve got the potential, then it might also work. You’ll struggle probably at first but if you persevere, we’d say you might still be able to make it.
You might be able to manage to be good at it, you'll never know. Now I hope you’re not sensing a lot of negativity here, but this is only a caution. If you can imagine studying a subject that you hate, then you might be in for the same experience as you were in college.
Your trainers will teach you of course and you will undergo some training and testing. But they’ll just barely scrape the surface.
During product training agents only tend to learn just about 30-40% about the account. And that’s in two or three months at the most. You’ll have to learn the rest on the floor with the help of some mentors.
It could be your Team Lead, your seatmate, or the floorwalkers. The good thing is that by the time your classroom training is over, you’ll be able to assess yourself if you really want in.
However, while you’re at it, ask questions and do not be shy with your trainers. It’s even better if you would grill your trainer or test their experience on product knowledge.
Some of them just read some slides and didn’t even take calls on the same account! You better have your questions answered sooner than later.
Your performance, statistics, and almost everything relies on your product knowledge. If you know your craft well enough, you’ll be able and finish your calls in no time thus saving your call-handling time.
If you were able to wrap up the call and the customer was satisfied because you were so knowledgeable. Congratulations, you’ll definitely receive excellent customer satisfaction feedback which means the first time they called, that’s the first call resolution.
A reminder though, it’s different when you’re dealing with the Q.A.s. Resolving the issue doesn’t guarantee a passing score for your quality assurance score.
Again, it’s important that the call flow was followed. But, if you had everything covered, then hooray!! The next task is to do it in each and every call.
Let’s cite an example, shall we…
In 2010, I was hired as a Customer Service Rep in a call center in Cubao. I thought okay, I have the experience so I’ll go for it. But to my surprise, it turned out that the account was a healthcare account.
It was Humana, I struggled and my stats were numbers that even a dyslexic wouldn’t even bother to look at. It was an eyesore. I don’t even bother to check even my Q.A. scores because it was humiliating.
The medical terms make my head spin. I gave it two months and I left. If I gave it a few more months, it would have ruined me mentally. And it could have ruined my team’s stats as well.
Plus, I find my Team Lead at the time was arrogant so there was no point in staying.
When you show signs lack of product knowledge, means you are not able to do your job well. You are not able to answer the right questions and as a result, your customer service skill is missing product knowledge.
Now back to the present time, if you think that an account isn’t for you, I would suggest that you request a transfer. I’ve seen agents crying at their stations because they find an account so difficult.
Heck, I’ve even seen people taking their lunch and then never coming back. But save that as your last straw. You’ll always have the support of people around you which you will get. Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Now you might be wondering why this is on the list. Because being able to handle irate callers is as important as your product knowledge.
Despite how good you are, handling irate customers demands a lot of patience. If you snap, then it’s over and your customer will demand to speak with your team leader or your supervisor.
This would impact your quality assurance score if this scenario happens. What do you think your Q.A. score would be? or your customer survey score?
You’re lucky if your quality assurance manager didn’t catch you. You might even end up having an auto-fail on your scorecard and that will also reflect on your team.
Handling irate customers and their complaints is the main reason customer-oriented people are preferred to work as call center agents. In fact, it’s one of the reasons that you even have a job.
Inexperienced people tend to break down and cry when they’re yelled at, sworn at, and insulted. Do not blame yourself, it’s not an easy job for someone who can't handle abusive calls.
But learning how to handle these scenarios only takes common sense and a lot of patience. When you come across these types of customers, we have a simple tip. Say nothing. Acknowledge but say nothing else or you’ll make it worse.
Here are simple tips on how to handle irate callers:
You don’t know them and they don’t know you. So whatever they say against you over the phone, they’re merely guessing. So ignore itand just focus on solving the customer's inquiry, not other customer problems.
This goes with racial remarks as well and the easiest way is to ignore their comments! Do not react to these comments.
Take control of the conversation and get on the issue at hand. It may be wise to hand this over to your team member when it gets out of hand.
Find an opportunity to present your solution the moment they stop or pause. And you have to be quick. Because if you miss that opportunity, you may never have another say in the next, uhm… 10-15 minutes of berating.
They’re either mad at the company you work for or the previous agent they spoke with. Unless your caller is your ex-girlfriend whom you happened to cheat on which is about 1 in a thousand chance, it’s probably not your fault that they’re mad.
Most irate customers are second or third-time callers whose issues weren’t resolved the first time. As a result, they call again more furious and irritated, so don't be surprised!
They berate you and tell you how incompetent the previous agent is. So don’t take it against yourself just focus on the solution. Your trainer kept on telling you that to your customers, time is gold. The previous people just wasted their time, so do not do the same.
Remember that in the call center industry, interruption is considered rudeness. They will stop eventually, and you’ll have your chance to help them out.
Interrupting them, even though you already know the solution will make it worse. Your customer will assume that you weren’t interested in listening when you tend to interrupt. Let them finish, then present your solution.
Some customers will ask for a supervisor and some would even ask for the CEO of your call center company. And they have the right to do so don’t walk up to your CEO’s office and ask him to take the call for you.
De-escalating the situation will display your confidence that you know how to help them. If you fail, then you’ve lost the battle. Be ready to rip the result when the survey comes out.
Whether your caller is a nice one or an irate one, your job description will always be the same. So just focus on doing your job. And then it’ll be just another day in the office.
Irate callers are just like any other callers, only that their voices are louder and most of the time yelling but it’s a human reaction. If these people don’t value their time then all that they’ll do is send an email to the company regarding their complaints and wait until somebody responds.
If these people can just post a complaint on a company’s Facebook or Twitter account, then what do you think the company’s reason be for keeping you on the payroll?
Account inquiries customer complaints require agents to work on solving these problems. They’re even the ones paying your CEO’s salary.
Say you were hitting your key performance indicator targets consistently. Then it’s probably time to aim for a higher level or for a promotion.
Now, in the call center industry, there are different interpretations when it comes to promotion. For example, there are agents who were so good at meeting the Q.A. scores that they become quality assurance representatives themselves.
Some become subject matter experts or SMEs and workforce analysts. Some say it is a promotion while some call it a lateral transfer.
While the meaning of it depends on who wants it, the important part is to determine for yourself that you’re no longer content being at the bottom of the food chain. Aiming for something higher is always nice and we see no reason why you shouldn’t.
For the purpose of the discussion, let’s say you’re aiming to become a team leader. I believe there’s only one way to get to it. To love your job and enjoy doing what you’re doing.
Sounds cheesy, does it? Why I said that is because people who go after promotion often end up being disappointed. They work hard and follow everything that their superiors and management teams asked.
They follow through their statistics month after month, making sure they pass everything and exceed what’s expected of them. What happens is that when there’s an opening for a higher post, they’ll make themselves believe that they’re next in line.
But who told them anyway? When they’re not chosen, they get demoralized and lose interest. Some even end up resigning without realizing how close they are to their goal. If they only just waited and stopped expecting to be promoted when that job opening is available.
I had a Supervisor once who always thought that she was next in line to becoming a manager. She worked her arse off for 12 hours every day and went overtime to please the company.
It made her miserable considering that the post has always been open at the time and it was not being given to her. The result was that her boss took him 2 years to promote her. She received the fruit of her labor though.
But that’s what’s wrong when you’re expecting. It’s like doing something to get something else in return. But do we always get what we want? Sure we don’t.
We’ve never understood how managers promote people. We’ve seen people who are quiet performers but were never promoted. There’s probably a web of bureaucracy in there that sometimes promote the people who you least expect.
They’d even get a supervisor from the outside of the account or the company instead of getting someone from within. But being in the industry for years, I saw a bit of a pattern, I believe it’s not just how you perform but also how reliable you are.
Managers tend to promote natural leaders and a person who can lead the pack toward one goal. Most importantly, it's someone they can trust and not take over their position as another leader.
When I resigned from APAC, I followed a former colleague who moved to West Contact Services. She loved it there and she was never out of the top three in the entire account her whole 11 months.
She was number 1 most of the time and after a little over a year, she was already a Supervisor trainee. And she wasn’t expecting it, why wasn’t she expecting it? Because there were a lot of people who are way ahead of her.
Tenureship doesn’t guarantee promotion that’s why some end up disappointed and bitter. They wait and wait for something that never comes. Then they blame other people. Yes, they may be deserving but the reason why they weren’t chosen will stay with their managers.
We talked about promotion and lateral transfer in our previous topic. Now, assuming that you’re quite the opposite, you were rude, you committed fraud or you simply avoided a call.
Be ready to rip what you sow and you could be on your way to being suspended or being served a "notice to explain" email. If that’s becoming a habit so hard to break, it shouldn’t be a surprise if one day your team leader comes up to you and asks you to log out.
Chances are, you have committed grave misconduct. She’ll present you with an NTE or Notice to Explain email. NTEs are not a punishment as per company rules and regulations.
For most, whenever an agent commits an error whether intentional or not, deserves to explain himself. Most of the time it’s the Q.A. that catches people’s wrongdoings.
At this point do not panic, all you have to do is explain your side to the best of your ability. That you didn’t do anything wrong or at least not aware that you’re doing something wrong.
Now assuming that you committed the gravest of all sins in the call center bible which are rudeness, call avoidance, AWOL, or fraud. The worst case scenario is that you’ll be suspended for a maximum of 30 days and will be called on for your hearing.
What does this mean to you? That means that they will start to gather all evidence to terminate your employment. This is where trust is severed between a call center agent and the company he’s in.
The battle is on with the Human resources against the people who’re accusing you of whatever it is that you’re being accused of. And usually, they’re our favorite people which are the Q.A.s.
And if not, then you’re out of luck, it must be the client themselves who caught you. You’ll have no chance to cover up the tracks of your wrongdoings so if you think you really did it?
It’s better to come forward clean and own up to your wrongdoings. But if you’re confident that you’re innocent, then fight it to the last straw.
The question is even if you win, would really want to come back to them? It happened to me once and surely my answer was no. I wouldn’t be able to stand to see those faces again who ruined me in my workplace.
Let’s say that you were called in for the hearing, you defended yourself because you really believe that you’re innocent. And yet, they terminated you nonetheless, this next post about NLRC is for you.
Trainers will probably miss some things to point out during product training. However, they will make sure that they taught you everything that you need to know about the dos and specially don’ts.
Most of these are common sense but still, a lot of agents tend to commit them due to a lack of interest and motivation. These people will choose the easier path of resignation because they knew inside that they were guilty.
The last topic we’re talking about is some grave offenses in a call center. I do hope that our pointers in some ways helped to set your expectations for your call center duties.
But also, have given you a heads-up on what you’re about to come across in pursuing a career in the call center industry. We’ve discussed the things that you should almost always do, and now we're talking about the no-nos.
The following are the gravest of all offenses that you may commit in a call center. Being a call center agent isn’t hard if you have enough motivation.
We’ll leave you with some warning just in case you don’t know what these terms are. These offenses warrant immediate termination once you’re caught in the act.
Avoiding a call varies on so many factors and circumstances. The principle is if you try to avoid just a single call, you might be well on your way out the door.
Assuming of course that what you did wasn’t so obvious, you may still be given an NTE or notice to explain what just transpired in the call. If you’re transferring a call to a different department, make sure that you’ve disconnected yourself when done.
Whatever your state of emotions, do not listen and stay on the line! This also applies when you hung up the phone with a customer. Regardless of whether at the beginning or in the middle when you pretended that the line went dead.
Note: The sound of cracking candy wrappers no longer works so stop pretending that the line was static and you had to hang up… if you know what I mean.
There are times that you will snap when you’re yelled at, sworn at, or called many names that are racial in nature. I warn you to get a grip on yourself and focus on the call to resolve the issue. Do not fight back because you will gain nothing.
This applies to all accounts that involve transactions, especially money. Accounts that either your mandate was to collect a payment, up-sell, or make a sale.
Financial accounts are strict and they accept no excuses when the subject is money. Disclaimers and terms should always be stated when you’re selling to your customer.
Do not mumble words or whisper when you’re stating the amount or charges that the customers will incur as a result of the sale. Be honest because it’s just not worth the trouble you will have to endure.
The commission may be tempting but it’s not worth putting all your month’s hard work to risk. Because some account penalizes agents who commit fraud and takes half or the whole of the commission that they were about to get simply because of a single act of indiscretion.
AWOL stands for absent without leave (leave of absence). This happen when you suddenly felt that you needed extra days off. When you were too lazy, or too shy to call in, or you forgot to send an SMS to your team leader that you will be absent.
No matter what the reason is, it’s important that you advise your team leader at least 2 hrs before your shift. Be professional. They need a heads-up to re-calculate the number of people that they needed on the floor.
Even if they end up calling other casual employees to come in or asking other workers to extend hours to fill in your shoes. Some companies also block the days before and after payday which most of the time, are the days that agents suddenly get sick.
This term in the call center industry jargon is called the critical working days. Unless you can present a medical certificate from an accredited clinic of your health provider.
You really have to fight the temptation to report for work. Also, when you advise an excuse that you’re sick and can’t come to work.
Make sure that you don’t hang out anywhere near the office where your colleagues might see you. Or worse, your team leader or the management team themselves caught you red-handed.
After reading what is the real scenario of being in a call center company. Would you still work as a call center agent?
In the modern world of customer service, it is essential to have the right people in place to answer your customers’ questions or handle their problems. Call centers are an integral part of any business that relies heavily on customer service.
The agents who work at these centers need to be knowledgeable about the company they work for and what they are selling as well as have excellent communication skills.
The job of a call center agent can be extremely challenging at times. They have to deal with irate customers on the phone every day. They are required to have excellent communication skills and product knowledge in order to handle customer queries effectively.
This is all there is as far as the basics are concerned. The Exprosearch team wishes you good luck with your chosen career path in the call center company of your choice. If you need help with the most common call center interviews and how to answer correctly, how to pass the SVAR exam or how to apply for jobs, feel free to browse our other guides online.
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