Call center work gets a bad rap for being stress-inducing, soul-sucking, and just plain dreadful.
That may be true for some, but if you’re a savvy call center agent, making the most of your work and walking away from each day unscathed is completely possible.
Not all of us know the secret to keeping a positive and productive outlook while working as a call center agent, but thankfully, we have the Internet.
Reddit, the popular site best known for viral memes and gifs, has a number of threads dedicated to the contact center.
In these ingenious forums, veteran call center employees share their top tips and tricks for working in a contact center. It’s a treasure-trove of sound advice, kind words of wisdom, and general call center hacks that have helped them to enjoy — or at least survive — working in the contact center.
We’ve compiled 30 of the best contact center life-hacks from these Reddit threads, to help you become more successful in this field of work—and avoid sitting in a straitjacket:
The 30 Best Tips and Tricks for Working in a Call Center
1. Use the mute button
The mute button is a great feature for venting (very cathartic on stressful calls). This particular tip for contact center agents comes with a warning: Don’t trust call center software! Just keep in mind that the mute button can be your best friend when it works, and your worst enemy when it’s not working. We would advise you to vent in a non-offensive way, just in case the customer can still hear you.
2. Don’t let customers know if you’re a novice
NEVER say or give off any kind of hints to the customer that you’re a newbie. It makes the customer less confident in you and they could use it against you later in the call.
3. Take lots of notes while on calls
Make your notes as you go. Most employee computers have access to a note pad. Open it up and—briefly—write down the steps you take while you are helping the customer. Then when it’s time to close the call, you will have your notes already done, and just copy and paste into your Call Log.
5. Don’t be hard on yourself
You’ll learn best through experience, so don’t be hard on yourself! Analyze the complicated calls and take notes in case the issue comes up again. Also…don’t be afraid to seek help from your colleagues. Listen to their calls when you’re not on one yourself, and pick up on what you like or what you think are good techniques.
6. Show empathy, not sympathy
The best way you can make your customer interactions easier and improve the customer experience is to show empathy to the clients, not sympathy. Don’t cry with them, but let them know that you’re there to help and listen. You’ll take care of their situation the best you can. If the customer knows that you genuinely want to help it will calm them down.
7. Question everything
If you have a question, research it then ask your supervisor. If the supervisor tells you something that conflicts with your research then press the issue and ask more questions, don’t just go with what they tell you.
8. Speak naturally
Use your natural speaking voice and cadence whenever possible. If you sound relaxed, it can help relax the customer in turn, leading to better calls.
Never challenge the veracity of what they are saying. BUT, lower your voice slightly and the speed with which you are speaking. Many call center workers are able to rapidly speak. It comes across as dismissive.
One aspect to this that the best customer service agents know is that often what’s natural for you isn’t natural for the customer. Most likely their tone will be urgent, concerned, and possibly agitated. Show them empathy by matching that urgency in their tone (but combine it with confidence) and you will have a much easier time calming them down and getting them on your side. Don’t overdo it though!
9. Don’t be afraid to put a customer on hold
Don’t be afraid to put a customer on hold so you can ask for advice from a colleague or supervisor.
But don’t forget to ask them before you do so. And then check in with them regularly if they’re on hold for a while. And thank them for holding. Always thank them for holding!
This might seem over the top but when you communicate well and do your best to manage customer expectations, your calls will go a lot better.
10. Buy some ‘Anger Release Pencils’ for when you get frustrated with a caller
This is a great little trick for getting out some of that frustration from bad customer interactions. Buy a big packet of cheap pencils and keep them close by.
Any time you want to get mad at a customer (or colleague!) break the pencil instead. You will feel calmer after this.
11. Find something to fidget with
Buy silly putty, a Rubik’s cube, or another fiddle toy. Do you macramé? Bring your cord.
You’ll be sitting a lot, with varying periods between phone calls. The goal here is to keep yourself engaged one way or another.
12. Smile! Have fun with your callers
When you talk with a smile on your face, the caller can hear it. Make a fake grimace until it becomes natural; no one can tell the difference, except for the guy in the cubicle across from you, and I guarantee you, he’s seen worse.
13. Be nice to your coworkers
Be nice to all your coworkers. The last thing you want ifs for them to hate you.
If they do hate you, it’s not the end of the world. Eight months ago, I had a call center nemesis. Nowadays, we’re buying each other birthday presents and making inappropriate jokes.
14. Share your stories
If you get a weird caller, share the story. At least some of your coworkers thrive on gossip, and can probably give you tips for handling situations in the future.
And if you’re the creative type, you could even take this one step further: Collect your best stories and write them all down. Make them into a three-minute stand-up comedy routine and do an open mic night. You might not get a Netflix special but you’ll definitely feel better.
15. Dress for fun
Come in wearing a batman mask. Come in wearing one of those “riding a pony” costumes. Come in wearing your pyjamas!
Contact center life can be monotonous and uninspiring. Having some fun with your outfits (with permission from your boss of course!) breaks the monotony and lifts your spirit, as well as the spirits of everyone around you.
16. Own up to mistakes
If you mess up, tell your supervisor IMMEDIATELY. Firstly, because they’re probably going to find out anyway, and secondly because you want to establish a reputation as a trustworthy, honorable person for when you really mess up.
17. Get to know your knowledge-base
One major issue that affects customer satisfaction is the low knowledge level of the agents they speak to. It makes sense for customers to get frustrated if they’re relying on you to fix something, but you don’t know how to do it either.
Learn your agent information database. Learn how to get around it quickly. If it has a search engine, which most do, focus on putting in the correct keywords to get the script or article that you need to solve the customer’s problem. For example, sometimes “credits” will be found under “adjustments”.
18. Focus on finding out the real issue
Troubleshoot the issue that is actually happening, not what the customer believes is happening. For example, the customer says, “My router isn’t working”. Instead of just taking that at face value, ask probing questions to find out the true problem, like “Are you seeing any error messages on your computer screen? Are the status lights on your router off, on or flashing?”
19. Take time with computer novices and the elderly
Understand that many elderly people do not see the computer and internet service as separate entities. When they say “My internet is broken”, they may very well mean that they don’t see a particular desktop icon they are used to seeing, or that their homepage has changed. Many detailed probing questions are necessary to deal with these folks correctly.
20. Bring wet wipes and sanitizer
Sometimes it might seem like your station is all yours, but it’s not. Do your part to keep your desk, headset, and any other equipment clean. And bring wet wipes. Just trust me on this one.
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is looking particularly wise. We’d suggest you’d bring some hand-sanitizer into the office with you, and keep it on you at all times!
21. Make use of your spare time
Bring a book, crochet needle and yarn, cards to play solitaire, school books or something that can help you study between calls. Also, bring snacks—healthy preferably—and sit next to someone you enjoy speaking with.
22. Move up when you can
If you’re able to grow from being an agent to being a manager or director, do it. We need more people who have been in the agent’s shoes leading the team.
23. Shadow other departments
One trick that will help agents move up in the contact center world is shadowing other departments from the start. This will help you to develop specialist knowledge that could lead to you either becoming a specialist or getting moved to a specialist team.
24. Don’t take it personally!
This is the easiest tip to say, and one of the hardest tips to put into practice when working in a call center. When you interact with customers — especially when they are angry — it can be very difficult not to take those emotions personally. They are, after all, shouting at you. This, unfortunately, just takes practice.
Try to remember that the customer isn’t really frustrated at you. They are angry at the company. Or they are angry at their mistake. Or they are angry because their mom didn’t give them enough hugs.
But they’re not angry at you, and it’s important not to put those angry emotions on to yourself. Or you may find it hard to get someone to hug you too.
25. Take your breaks
It may seem like a good idea to up your productivity and get your numbers up by skipping or shortening your breaks; this is a dangerous habit. Unlike many other jobs that include natural breaks between work, working in a contact center is pretty much a non-stop tirade of energy-sapping problems to solve. And being empathetic takes energy too!
Take your breaks, when and how often you can get them. You’ll need them.
26. Learn how to breathe like a SEAL
Breathwork is a very powerful tool that we can use in many areas of our lives but particularly to help reduce stress and control our emotions. We would advise you to research the various breathing practices, meditations, and exercises that will help you learn how to control your emotions and overcome your natural responses — which is fantastic for customer service agents.
Probably the most famous breathing technique is called ‘Box Breathing’, which is used by US Navy SEALs to control their panic/adrenaline response in stressful situations, like getting ambushed or kidnapped; so it should work well for you too.
All you have to do is breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, breath out for four seconds, and hold again for four seconds before breathing in. Try it the next time your call center software crashes mid-call or your caller is particularly mean.
27. Find a coping mechanism
The last of our contact center tricks is to find a coping mechanism – beyond just breaking pencils and playing with your fidget spinner. Copious amounts of caffeine is a given. Many on Reddit jokingly suggest minimum alcohol consumption levels.
We would suggest that you find something else to do. Take-up running or weight-lifting. Learn an instrument. Start doing yoga or meditation.
All of these tips work for the newbie support agent and seasoned specialist just as well and can help you to unwind outside of the call center too.
You may also find some comfort in routines. One Reddit user wrote, “While I didn’t turn religious working in a call center, I learned just how good rituals are for the soul!” Many experienced contact center agents have little rituals they follow during certain calls, or just throughout the day.
We’re not sure why this works, but the human brain seems to enjoy a ritual, so we would advise you to work some into your day-to-day routine and see if they make you feel happier.
Bonus Tips for Call Center Managers:
28. Stock up on spare equipment
Get plenty of spare equipment for your contact center agents. Phone bases, headsets, keyboards, mice, screens and seats will all get broken, some within the first week, as a few agents will play employment roulette just to find out what they can get away with.
29. Move to the cloud
Move your contact center to the cloud. It may seem like a big undertaking at first, but it will require less maintenance and you’ll see a return on your investment sooner than you think. That’s why more than 60% of contact centers are expected to move to the cloud by 2021.
30. Get your hands dirty
Take calls. When a site director frequently sits with their agents and takes calls it helps to create a positive team environment and helps them see how to improve agent performance. Some will even take calls and transfer the “sales” to agents to bolster their numbers.
Here are some other things great contact center managers do every day.