Upskill, reskill or rehire? How to get the best call centre agents for the job.

Oct 30

Upskill, reskill or rehire? How to get the best call centre agents for the job.

Customer experience is hot right now. But more than just being the newest business trend, creating a good customer experience brings in actual results like higher sales values, longer lasting customer relationships and better margins. Customer experience should be front of mind for every call centre agent and their manager. In fact, it should be front of mind for every staff member, whether they’re in customer support or not.

But how good is your customer’s experience going to be if the support team that take your inbound calls don’t have a solid understanding of your businesses and products? Or, if your support team understand the products but don’t have essential call centre skills such as empathy?

Consider these two scenarios…


Scenario one

Your customer support is run by your product specialist, not your call centre agents.


Customer: Hi, your product isn’t working.

Support: (Silently rolls eyes) It will work, you’re just not doing it right.

Customer: No really, it isn’t working!

Support: (Dips into a tub of sarcasm) Have you tried plugging it in.

Customer: (Hangs up).



Scenario two

Your customer support team are really nice people, but their knowledge is limited.


Customer: Hi, your product isn’t working.

Support: OK, let’s see if we can get that moving for you. Have you plugged it in?

Customer: Yes, but it’s not doing the thing. Look, I’m in a hurry can we speed this up?

Support: OK, do you see an error message.

Customer: It says “I’m not working because &()#^97343 code.

Support: OK, I’ll need to transfer you to one of our technical team for that. Please hold.

Customer: (Hangs up).


Ideally you need to man your phones with the warm fuzzy customer care feels you know your call centre agents are good at, but also give them access to knowledge to turn them into problem solving whizz’s with enough technical knowledge to service the customer on the first call.


Your ideal customer support team should have call centre skills and customer experience skills and product knowledge. To up your customer service game you have three choices: You can upskill, reskill or rehire.


Option 1: Reskill your technical support team

Your technical team know a lot of stuff. A wiktionary full of stuff. But half the time no one understands them. They speak in technical terms, assume that everyone understands their particular set of acronyms. The danger of using them in a support role is that they can lack empathy. They may be smart but are they personable?

While these guys have the knowledge, they need reskilling in communication. Teach them:

  • Patience
  • Attentiveness
  • Empathy
  • How to use positive language
  • Listening

Training and scripts will all support their reskilling, but also use listening tools from your contact centre software to hear how they are really tracking and key areas they can improve. Consider also building in customer service SLAs to their contracts and rewarding positive interactions with customers.


Option 2: Upskill your call centre agents

On the other hand you have a call centre agent who has all the listening and empathy skills in the world, but without access to technical knowledge can’t actually solve the customer’s problem.

Upskilling these agents doesn’t mean sending them off to get their MBA, it means providing them with the information they need to fix almost any customer support call that comes through. Ways to upskill your call centre agents:

  • Regular, in-depth product training
  • Access to Wikis
  • Internal message boards
  • Utilising knowledge sharing features of your call centre software

Your call centre software should come with several features that allow agents to immediately improve their technical knowledge, or at least look like they know what they’re talking about when helping customers.

Instant messaging gives agents a direct line to their supervisor or a subject matter expert. If they’re hit with a curly problem from a customer they can shoot off a message looking for solutions while still on the call to the customer. Instant messaging improves First Call Resolution rates reduces the number of times a customer is transferred or offered a call back.

Script wizards are another way to help agents ‘fake it until they make it’. Agents don’t need to know the answers, they can follow wizard prompts on screen to ask customers essential yes/no questions and be guided to the end solution which they can read off screen.

Option 3: Rehiring

When all else fails you may need to consider hiring new staff who fit in the sweet spot between technical expertise and having a first-class phone manner. We recently wrote about the key skills every agent should have in 2018 and your ideal customer support staff should tick all these boxes:


  1. Empathy
    Empathy is critical in developing a meaningful relationship with your customers. They need to know you care and are invested in their success.
  1. Product Knowledge
    If a call centre agent can quickly and accurately answer a customer question, without putting them on hold or transferring them, it’s a win-win situation.
  2. Patience
    Customers aren’t always fun. Fact. But the ability for your support team to remain patient and understanding, even in the face of a full blown customer meltdown may ultimately save you that customer.
  3. Active listening
    The ability to show customers you are really listening, is very important. In the real world we use visual clues such as eye-contact to show we’re listening. It’s a lot harder over the phone. Agents that repeat what they’re being told, re-phrase it in a different way or relate it to their own experiences show the customer they are paying attention.
  4. Adaptability
    Your support staff are going to hear from lots of different types of personalities. The ability to adapt their tone and style from one to the next will mean they’re more likely to finish the call with a positive outcome.
  5. Calmness
    The ability to stay calm when dealing with an angry person is a skill essential to anyone taking support calls.

Whether their background is in the call centre, or they started out in product or on the technical side of things; the best call centre agent is the one who can solve customers problems fast and with empathy.