Are soft skills a weak spot for your call center team? While product knowledge, scripts, and protocols are important parts of training your agents, neglecting call center soft skills can affect your call center’s performance. After all, service roles are all about building relationships and rapport—and that’s much more difficult to achieve over the phone or chat.
Sure, it’s important to hire people with strong soft skills. But the best agents know how to apply those skills effectively in their role. A new hire who is experienced in face-to-face customer service might not fare as well over the phone at first. It’s up to the employer (that’s you!) to guide them as they discover their strengths and weaknesses in this work environment.
As Mary Poppins once said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Gamification is one of the best ways to help your agents internalize these important skills and use them effectively in their roles. At your next training session, consider featuring some of these engaging activities to help your team sharpen those soft skills!
First, Which Soft Skills Should You Focus On?
It’s important to understand what soft skill application looks like in each type of role so you can guide your agents properly. There are many types of skills that will come in handy in the call center, so we’ve compiled our top picks for improving contact center performance:
Communication and tone
When it comes to contact center work, communication is king. But just because someone is well-spoken doesn’t mean they’ll thrive in the contact center. Agent roles can be challenging because they are limited to two types of communication—voice and text – when supporting customers. They don’t have the benefit of relying on body language or facial expressions.
Tone becomes so important when writing responses or conversing over the phone. Agents should know how to ask effective questions so they can get to the heart of the issue quickly. This will improve KPIs in the long run, including Average Handle Time, Customer Satisfaction (CSat), and First Call Resolution (FCR).
Working with goals and targets
Just because an agent is willing to work with set goals does not mean they are prepared to succeed. After all, contact center work isn’t just about working hard to reach a target—it’s also about knowing how to motivate and pace yourself throughout the day.
Agents who are new to this type of work may get frustrated or even burnt out. And that can contribute to agent attrition and turnover, which can put you in an even bigger bind! Providing best practices for working with targets will help agents better manage challenges they encounter throughout the workday and improve their chances of meeting their performance goals.
Your veteran agents are your best resource. Ask them how they regulate their work throughout the day and encourage them to share tips and techniques with newer agents.
Empathy and intuition
Something people don’t often think about is how much time and effort is spent managing customer emotions. When an agent connects with a caller, they are suddenly thrust into an interaction with someone they’ve never met, who is likely dealing with a frustrating matter. Add hold time to the mix, and your agents may find themselves locked in a conversation with an irate customer.
While scripts are great for unifying company messages and standardizing the customer experience, reading lines verbatim may come across as cold and robotic. Agents should have enough autonomy and training to adapt the script to the situation while validating the caller’s emotions before resolving the issue. This is key if you want to deliver an exceptional customer experience.
Isn’t it frustrating when you’re having a conversation, but you don’t feel heard? That’s the dynamic you want to avoid in your contact center—and active listening is the solution.
In short, active listening means complete attentiveness to what the customer is saying. Agents may repeat parts of phrases or respond in a way that validates them and their situation. This skill involves a combination of empathy and communication, and the ability to ask thoughtful follow-up questions.
In the call center, no two interactions are exactly alike. That’s why critical thinking is an essential part of a call center agent’s role. After all, you are there to guide the support process and help solve the customer’s problem.
Agents should be able to independently tackle problems, spot important details, and find a solution to each problem that comes their way. They should also know when it’s time to escalate to a manager. No matter who picks up the phone, you want to make sure the customer is in capable hands.
5 Group Training Activities to Develop Call Center Soft Skills
A PowerPoint presentation can be helpful for listing and explaining the above soft skills. The bigger challenge is encouraging your agents to practice, internalize, and apply these to their daily work.
So how can you get agents to engage in sharpening their soft skills? The short answer: make it fun! The activities below will help your agents flex these skills and better understand how to apply them to their daily work.
Play a short voicemail message left by a customer, and have agents practice active listening. They should take note of their tone of voice, as well as any other phrases or details that can help them read into the customer’s situation.
This exercise is meant to help agents read between the lines of what the customer is saying, as well as understand their tone of voice. Once everyone shares their impressions of the voicemail, have them discuss what steps they would take in the follow-up call.
At the end, reveal what the real resolution was and how it was handled. Were your agents far off with their assessments?
The Drawing Game
Organize your agents into pairs. Agent A will be given a simple drawing, and Agent B will have a paper and pencil. Agent A should describe their picture (without naming the item) to Agent B, who will try to recreate the drawing on a blank sheet of paper. Neither agent should be able to see the other’s sheet of paper.
For example, Agent A has a picture of an ice cream cone. They may describe it as an “upside down triangle with a big circle on top”. Agent A and B may talk to each other to complete the picture, as long as Agent A doesn’t say that it’s an ice cream cone. When the time is up, the pictures are revealed and compared. This activity encourages communication and problem-solving in agents—and even a little friendly competition!
Customer Call Roleplay
Most contact centers use roleplay in their technical training, but did you know this method can be applied to soft skills as well? Pair up your junior agents with more seasoned agents and have them engage in roleplay.
Have the more experienced agents play different types of customers on the phone. Think of customer personas, such as the ones listed here. How do agents respond to individuals who give short answers without much detail? How should they approach an irate customer who begins the call with a long list of complaints?
Encourage your veteran agents to draw from their personal experiences and coach your newer agents through these scenarios. This will helps strengthen their problem-solving, as well as active listening and communication skills.
This classic road-trip game encourages your agents to think critically and ask thoughtful questions. Have one agent select a mystery word that falls into the category of “person,” “place,” or “thing.” Then, each agent will ask a question that can be answered with “yes” or “no” to narrow down the word.
Challenge your team to try and get the mystery word in 20 questions or less. This exercise will help agents ask more insightful questions and understand customer situations a lot faster.
Who Am I?
This is another game that is great for encouraging thoughtful questions—with a twist! In this game, an agent is given a mystery word (a noun) that only the other agents can see.
The other players then take turns making statements to try and describe the mystery word to the agent. The goal is to get the agent to guess their mystery word in as few tries as possible. This game is especially good for improving players’ communication and active listening for the main agent.