Hiring and Training CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work



By Doug Taylor

In today’s world, customers have become accustomed to serving themselves. This phenomenon may have started with fuel. With the notable exception of New Jersey, customers have been pumping their own gas for decades. Self-service quickly spread across other industries. ATMs have all but replaced drive-through services at banks. Self-service checkout lanes are proliferating in grocery stores. Even post offices have kiosks where customers can weigh items, buy postage, and send items, all without the assistance of a customer service representative (CSR).

Why the proliferation of self-service options? It’s all about time and efficiency. People believe they can do things faster themselves, and most often they can. They also want to be able to complete transactions—whether at the bank or grocery store or hundreds of online locations—when they want to.

Emotional intelligence is about being socially aware, self-aware, and able to recognize the effect of emotions on behavior. Click To Tweet

Self Service and the Contact Center

This trend toward self-service has moved into the contact center industry as well. Modern contact centers are offering digital channels, such as interactive voice response (IVR) menus, websites, chatbots, SMS, and even social media sites, to give customers as many options as possible to find information and complete transactions in the ways they prefer.

Digital channels offer customers an avenue for completing simple tasks online. But when those tasks are more complex, customers need to talk to a CSR. Customers can certainly pay car insurance bills online without assistance, but if they want to change the amount of coverage they have on a vehicle, add additional vehicles, or report an accident, that often involves speaking to a person. That means the CSRs taking those calls must be trained and ready to handle these complex questions. They also need the soft skills to handle the emotions that come with a higher level of question.

The New Breed of CSR

CSRs are now expected to answer and assist with increasingly complex questions. They are also speaking with customers who have looked for answers online and come up short.

These CSRs need better training than their peers of just a few years ago to help the digital-first customers who are contacting them. They can’t simply read answers from a script, as customers have already found that online. CSRs must be able to think critically and act quickly. In addition, CSRs with high emotional intelligence (EQ) can sense what a customer feels and how to respond appropriately.

Just as CSRs need new skills, contact center managers need to adapt the processes they use to hire and train new CSRs. Hiring for more complex skill sets means looking for different attributes in individuals. It also means using distinct training methods to ensure that new CSRs can help customers with complex tasks.

How to Hire New CSRs for Digital Contact Centers

In general, it is easier to teach and prepare people in areas in which they are already strong. This holds true with contact center recruiting. Hiring managers should seek individuals who have a natural inclination to help others. This service mind-set cannot be taught.

For digital contact centers, CSRs need to have excellent critical thinking skills and a high degree of emotional intelligence. While people can be taught ways to improve critical thinking and problem solving and can learn strategies to improve their ability to read emotions in situations, it’s easier for trainers and managers to start with recruits who already have some ability in these areas.

Scenario-based questions help assess potential hires for critical thinking, EQ, and problem-solving skills. To assess, a hiring manager might give a potential hire the following situation: A customer calls into the contact center because his card is declined at a point of sale. When looking at the system, there appears to be no reason for the card to be declined.

What step would the potential hire take? In assessing critical thinking, hiring managers aren’t looking for a correct answer. It would be nearly impossible for a potential hire to know the correct steps to take for that specific contact center. They are looking for potential hires who go beyond the response: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” Managers should look for potential hires who state that they would ask customers and themselves questions to get to the root of the problem. Managers look for that way of thinking.

Additionally, emotional intelligence is about being socially aware, self-aware, and able to recognize the effect of emotions on behavior. Hiring managers screen potential hires for EQ by observation and through behavior-based questions.

To help determine EQ, a hiring manager can ask, “What are your two biggest strengths?” A person with a high EQ is self-aware and gives an answer that matches everything else the interviewer has observed. If she says, “I’m very outgoing, and I like to meet new people,” yet spends the entire interview sitting on her hands and whispering answers, she may not be very self-aware. Although it’s ideal to hire someone with a high degree of self-awareness, if she has a service mentality and excellent critical thinking skills, a few lessons in reading emotions will help bring her up to speed.

How to Train New CSRs for Digital Contact Center Work

For digital contact center work, trainers begin with defining the desired mind-set. They explain that CSRs must use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to be successful. Prior to self-service, contact center work involved reading scripts and learning workflows to assist customers. Since customers are taking care of simple issues themselves, a CSR’s priority is now unpacking a given situation before figuring out which solution to apply.

Situation-based training works best when preparing CSRs for digital contact center employment. Trainers can give new hires a scenario and then talk them through the process of solving the problem, pointing out tools they use along the way. As they progress, new hires practice with calls coming in from a trainer in another room. CSRs then move to a nested environment, where they take live calls with a seasoned CSR nearby to provide support and take over if needed.

To assist new hires in learning to read customers’ emotions, trainers play ten-second recorded clips of the beginning of calls. Trainees identify each caller’s state of mind and determine the best approach to take when communicating with that caller.

Since different callers require different approaches, CSRs must be prepared to change the way they interact with customers based on what they hear. Take the declined credit card at the point of sale, for example. If the customer calls in when being declined at a business lunch, he may be demanding and frustrated. A CSR would approach this caller differently than a person who calls in from a family reunion and wants to chat for thirty seconds about seeing relatives for the first time ten years.

In the first scenario, CSRs would use an “all business” approach to quickly reinforce that they understand the problem and get to work by asking questions to diagnose the situation. If CSRs use that approach with the second caller, they risk offending someone who has just shared a personal story and seeks acknowledgment.

A third caller may be hesitant and doubt he even has an issue. This caller needs reassurance that the problem is real, and the CSR can solve it. Acknowledging customers’ emotions helps diffuse the situation, since people ultimately just want to be heard.

To Sum Up

Scenario-based training is the most effective method to train new contact center agents and prepare them to serve customers. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be taught. While EQ is a level of intelligence, CSRs can work on developing skills to improve the way they read and serve callers.

Hiring managers can also use situation-based questions to determine which potential hires have a high EQ and a natural aptitude for critical thinking. They can also use an interview to assess whether an individual is self-aware and has a service mentality.

Combined, these attributes help hiring managers make the most intelligent decisions in staffing digital contact centers.

Doug Taylor is vice president of operations at HighPoint Global, which helps government agencies elevate citizen experiences, whether calling, online, or in person.