Call Center FAQ: Agent Management

Updated: April 30, 2009

What's the best way to find qualified agents?

Locating skilled, articulate and personable agents is any call center manager's top priority, yet it's a task that requires a great deal of work and perseverance. Employment services and classifieds — both print and online — are the basic tools businesses use to find qualified agents. Creative managers, however, also use various other techniques to locate "hidden" talent.

Current employees, for example, are often able to recommend friends or family members who would make productive, reliable agents. Consider offering a financial reward to any current agent or employee whose recommendation leads to the hiring of a new call center agent.

Managers can also tap into craigslist, MySpace, Second Life and other community-oriented online services to find qualified applicants who may not routinely peruse online newspaper classifieds, Web-based job sites and other traditional hiring venues.

How do I know if the agent I'm hiring is really qualified for the job?

Speaking with an applicant one-on-one is perhaps the best way to get a feel for the person's speaking skills, friendliness, ability to think quickly and other key work attributes. Additionally, a competency-based assessment test, available from vendors such as Limra International Inc. and Employment Technologies Corp. , can evaluate candidates to ensure that they have necessary call center skills and are motivated self-starters.

How can I hold onto my current agents?
While pay rate is a strong motivating factor, overall job satisfaction plays an even larger role in agent retention. There are many ways of enhancing job satisfaction without raising base pay rates, including performance bonuses, awards, clean and comfortable work environments, friendly and knowledgeable supervisors, clear and fair work rules, flexible working schedules and various other "quality of life" enhancements.

Remember, however, that a limited amount of turnover can actually be beneficial to a call center — as long as the job losses come primarily from the bottom 10 percent or so of the agent performance pool.

What is the best way to train agents?

Agent training starts at the top with knowledgeable supervisors who can provide both formal and informal agent instruction. That's why it's important to hire talented supervisors with great interpersonal skills and to keep them on top of their game by providing training that can help them mentor call center agents.

The training that agents receive from supervisors should be supplemented with instruction provided by either software- or classroom-based lessons. A growing number of call centers are also deploying e-learning instruction via the Web, which allows agents to study at their own pace — even on their own time — via any Internet-connected computer.

How can I get agents to perform at top efficiency without reducing morale?

No employee likes to hear the crack of a whip. Fortunately, it's possible to motivate agents to work harder and more productively without making them feel like they're being driven like a team of horses. The best way is to make sure they have technologies at their disposal to perform their tasks smoothly, efficiently and without frustration.

Agents, like most other employees, also appreciate having some control over their work. Giving agents flexibility in granting refunds or service upgrades to customers, within reasonable guidelines, will help boost both agent performance and customer satisfaction.

Is there software that will help me manage agents?

While there's no substitute for direct management, software is available that aims to enhance call center agent and systems performance. Check out offerings from vendors such as Jacada Ltd. , Voice Print International Inc. , Enkata Technologies Inc. and Merced Systems Inc. .

What's the best way to fire an agent who misbehaves or performs poorly?

Firing people is never easy, and only the most cold-hearted manager actually enjoys the task. On the other hand, it's sometimes necessary to rid a call center of an agent who is chronically absent, disruptive, insulting, slow or stupid.

Start by telling the agent that you're dissatisfied with his or her performance. Offer to help the individual with additional training or mentoring. If such gentle tactics don't work, issue the agent a firm verbal warning that describes the observed problems and cites specific actions that the agent must take in order to remedy the situation. If this fails, issue a written warning. If the agent doesn't respond by either improving or quitting, hand the walking headache a pink slip and wave goodbye.

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