What Makes a Good Call Center Agent?

By Luke McNally

For everyone in call center management who regularly has the opportunity to walk the floor and scan the rows of faces, you’ve no doubt pondered the questions at the heart of employee retention: Why do certain call center agents excel in this environment while others fail? Why are some happy and others dissatisfied? How can some people thrive when others can’t keep pace? Perhaps a bigger question is: How can you identify an individual’s potential before extending the offer?

We all know about the timeless personality models on the market, such as “Colors,” based on the DiSC model. Do “Blue” people (those who are analytical) perform better than “Green” people (those who are engaging with high affiliation needs)? Or do the “Yellows” thrive (those who are fun, upbeat and spontaneous)?

Personality models can typically describe an individual’s dominant personality traits, which is helpful when you’re trying to improve collaboration among a group of people. However, current research confirms that no single personality type dictates success among call center agents.

So what makes a good call center agent? There are many complex explanations and models to address this question. The following model, resulting from many years of primary research and profiling agents in hundreds of call centers to collect over two million data points, was created to identify success profiles of effective call center agents.

Four main factors influence whether individuals will become great call center agents. They are competencies, motivational fit, personality, and external factors. The more of these factors that are aligned and in play, the more likely the agent will be successful.

These factors and all of the issues they cover are like a Rubik’s cube, interrelated in numerous ways, but with the proper perspective and a framework for evaluating prospective employees, the puzzle becomes much easier to solve. While these are all important, the degree to which they affect an individual’s likelihood of success varies, as shown in the diagram.

1. Competencies: The most obvious of the four, the competencies factor has the greatest impact on overall job performance. It indicates whether an agent has the skills, knowledge, and ability required for the job. This includes technical knowledge of the product or services the company offers as well as knowledge of various call center systems, such as computers, telephony systems, and CRM databases – all of which can be easily taught and tested for.

Competencies also reflect a person’s ability to speak clearly and articulate a passion to meet and exceed customer expectations, along with the ability to develop rapport with every caller. It involves solving problems and managing difficult situations to end every call positively – even turning complaints into additional sales. Finally, competencies include navigating multiple software applications.

2. Motivational Fit: As the label suggests, this factor indicates how well the job characteristics match with the personal motivators of call center agents. This factor consists of three elements:

  • Job Fit: Does the job motivate the person? Is the nature of the challenging call center work fitting (constant monitoring, demands for promptness, endless pressure to perform, confinements to space, and so forth)? Environmental factors, such as seating arrangements, also come into play, as do ergonomic characteristics of the center, like lighting and general noise levels.
  • Culture Fit: Does the culture of the company and call center match the individual’s priorities and interests? This includes the type of people who work there, how call center management leads, company values, and company commitment to employee development and training.
  • Personal Interest: Does the company offer what the person wants? For example, if a person has loved working in a fast-paced, high-energy retail environment, it’s not likely he or she will enjoy working in a sedentary call center job.

3. Personality: Personality type impacts many aspects of fit and success potential, as well as how call center agents will respond to the other factors. However, as discussed earlier, there is no single personality type that will be more successful than another in a call center.

4. External Factors: External factors are those beyond the control of the agents and call center management. They include competitive compensation, location, and transportation availability. All of these factors can strongly impact a person’s willingness and ability to do the job, as well as quality and productivity levels.

This article is intended to help you create the framework for your own agent success profile. Knowing how to identify success for your call center agents is the first step to building an effective, efficient selection system.

Luke McNally is President of Select International’s Contact Center Division, which helps companies to develop, select, and retain a stronger workforce.

[From Connection Magazine May 2007]