At Intercon Messaging our call centre agents serve as the front line for your business. They are the people who are there when you can’t be. They answer your phones and they deal with your customers whenever you’re unable to do so yourself. It’s an important job, and like many of the things that matter most, it’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds. Sure, pretty much anyone can answer a call, but there’s more to being a live call agent than simply picking up the phone. A skilled live call agent is a special kind of person who comes with a unique set of abilities and the right amount of training.
So what are some of the qualities that set a good live agent apart?
Stacy has been in the business for about ten years. She says the most important skills for an agent are the ability to stay calm during a difficult call, to always be polite and professional, and perhaps most importantly, to be accurate.
“It’s the ability to adapt to the caller,” says Kayleigh, who has been an agent for six years. “How you handle each person is different. For instance, if someone is in a rush or angry it’s important to be able to adjust.”
Having empathy with the person on the other end of the line is also key, according to Nicole, who has spent 13 years working in the industry. It’s important to understand that every call an agent answers is important to the caller and to behave accordingly. Mildred who’s been an agent for 15 years, highlights attention to detail, the ability to think on your feet and, once again, being able to remain calm if things get challenging.
“You have to be prepared to multi-task and enjoy what you’re doing,” she says. “It can be stressful sometimes but it’s all in a day’s work.”
A typical call lasts two minutes or less. But calls come in a steady stream throughout the day. The phone system Intercon uses means that the agent is always aware of which client’s phone she’s answering before he or she picks up. That prevents any possibility of confusion. That same system even prompts the agent with suggestions of what to say to each caller based on criteria specified by the client.
That makes the job easier, but technology can only go so far. When things get busy – and they often do -- it’s important for the agent to have a clear head, to be able to keep her wits about her and to always remain organized.
“I like the pace and the attention to detail,” says Mildred. “I make sure I exceed customer expectations and I give 100 per cent every day.”
With all that in mind you can see why both accuracy and efficiency are important. But adaptability and flexibility are also valuable skills. Every client comes with his or her own set of needs or wants and every call is different from the last. A lot of Intercon’s business is related to the oil and gas industry, but the company also deals with clients from just about every sector you can imagine.
“Medical and dental, real estate, restoration companies, repair companies, tow truck companies, technical support companies, hydro companies, regional and municipal offices,” says Stacy. “Each company wants their calls handled a particular way.”
So an effective call agent is quick-thinking, calm, well-organized and adaptable. But to be good at what they do, the right training is equally important. New agents are given an extensive introduction to the business in order to make sure they’re both competent and comfortable with their role before they ever answer a call alone. And the learning doesn’t stop. It’s part of an ongoing and evolving process. There are always opportunities for an agent to upgrade his or her knowledge and skills.
“Pat (Vos, Intercon’s owner) gives us many opportunities for improvement and I take as many as I can,” says Kayleigh. “Pat’s very much a believer in improving her employees to improve her business.”
With any number of calls coming from an array of different businesses or industries every day is different. That keeps the work both varied and interesting, which is one of the reasons some find the job appealing. Some live call agents, such as Stacy and Kayleigh, also enjoy the comfort and flexibility of working from home, while others work out of Intercon’s Drayton Valley call centre where the mood is positive and collaborative.
Nicole says it’s the people she works alongside in the call centre that make the job so enjoyable.
“The atmosphere here is usually very good which is my favourite part of the job,” she says. “We make sure our work gets done while also having a little bit of fun too.”
Good live call agents come from a variety of backgrounds and each has their own perspective on what makes the job tick. It’s a job that demands a high degree of efficiency and concentration. And, of course, having a good telephone manner helps too. And there’s one other thing all of the agents we talked to agree on. In spite of the demands of being a live call agent they are all proud of their work and they all enjoy what they do.
“I love it,” says Kayleigh. ‘It’s definitely not for everyone, but personally I love my job.
“I love being a call centre agent,” she says. “I’ll continue doing this kind of work until I retire.”