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Inbound Call Center Agent 101: What Makes a Great Agent?

Inbound Call Center Agent

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Author: TCN

It’s enough to make any veteran inbound call center manager despair. Managers probably try hard not to think about it. Because obsessing on it might keep them from serving who’s left.

But it’s still a problem. And the truth is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

We’re talking about the unparalleled high agent turnover rate in the contact center industry.

According to The Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC), the industry has a 30-45% turnover rate. That’s more than double the average of other industries. Yikes.

So how can managers extinguish the high turnover fires in their call center? They can practice leadership habits that boost morale and loyalty.

Still, managers need to identify potential agents with productive habits and qualities. Otherwise, those initiatives have no chance of long-term success.

Today we’re breaking down what inbound call center managers need in a great agent.

The Top Skills Managers Need in a Great Agent

Since inbound call center managers are used to the high turnover rate reality, they may need to upgrade their interview process. Asking the right questions could reveal a candidate’s real character.

An agent with top-notch character increases their chances of delivering outstanding service and working well in a team setting.

Because we don’t want managers to continue losing untold sums of money in training costs, lost productivity, or worse – heavy regulatory fines.

Here are the top qualities managers need to identify in a great agent…

Clear Communication Skills

A great agent always knows how to communicate clearly. Agents face a wide array of customer issues and concerns. If they can’t simplify complex information for the customer and explain how they are solving their problems, they’ve lost the customer.

Clear communication skills also aid in establishing rapport with fellow agents and the manager. There’s no doubt a manager’s inbound call center is in trouble if their agents can’t communicate clearly.

Empathy and Active Listening

An agent who demonstrates a deep understanding of their customers is a manager’s secret weapon. Managers need to deploy empathetic agents both in standard customer interactions and red-alert-the-customer-is-angry situations.

A great agent can feel the customer’s predicament and show they care.

They actively listen, acknowledging particular details of the customer’s troubles. When the agent presents all available solutions, they communicate their sincere desire to find what works best for the customer.

Coachability and Ability to Learn

In their search for the perfect inbound call center agent, managers tune their antennae for the most coachable candidate. These agents are always open to feedback and quickly learn from mistakes.

They also learn and adapt to new systems and procedures (think TCPA compliance) quickly.

Their goal is to perform at the highest level to satisfy customers and meet all performance goals. Managers should still be cautious in how they provide feedback. They need to reiterate expectations, provide guidance, and show faith in the agent.

Managers who connect agents’ sometimes mundane work to a higher purpose only help foster this quality in great agents.

Problem-Solving Skills

The best agents know how and where to find the answer to a problem. When it comes to complex issues, they can critically analyze a situation and develop the best solution in the time given.

In an inbound call center setting, potential problems are everywhere. And managers don’t have the mental resources to solve them all. Great agents take leadership when necessary.

For example, a great agent can solve misunderstandings or conflicts between them and another agent (thanks to clear communication skills!). Also, a great agent can go above and beyond for an angry customer, ready to discontinue their business.


While an inbound call center gives agents structure to operate (a desk, call scripts, entering data), a great agent is flexible.

An agent’s degree of flexibility is closely associated with their problem-solving skills. It all comes down to the agent’s ability to make the right decision at the moment. And that’s valuable.

They need to know when to “call an audible” and go off-script. Managers need to retain agents who can demonstrate flexibility regularly.

Ability to Gain Customer Trust and Respect

While the previous qualities contribute to establishing good customer rapport, they don’t guarantee it.

A customer needs to feel like their agent respects and values their business. They want an agent who advocates and educates, providing them with insights that enhance their product experience. An excellent agent can do this and more.

What’s Next? The Essential Habits Agents Need to Attain Greatness

Managers who find agents that demonstrate the 6 “soft skills” have solved one-half of the “great agent” equation. Congratulations!

Now it’s time to teach them the hard skills that elevate them from good to extraordinary. Here are the top habits these agents will need to make the leap…

Master the Call Center System

A great agent who masters their call center software system radically increases their productivity and customer service. That’s why this is the first hard skill managers need to teach.

Mastering the call center software system empowers agents to find workarounds, grab appropriate information to enhance customer service, and generally solve customer issues faster.

This lowers average handle time (AHT) and increases first call resolution (FCR) rates.

Utilize Customer Information

Utilizing information from a customer’s history is one of the quickest ways to build rapport and respect. A great agent uses tools like the Agent Gateway to comb through a customer’s account history, which includes inbound and outbound notes.

They then use this information to connect with the customer on their last reported problem. This helps agents anticipate customer needs. A well-designed IVR system also provides the agents with pertinent information to use.

Contrast that with an agent who disregards customer history. They could accidentally frustrate a customer who has to explain their issue for the third or fourth time. That’s a surefire way to spoil the customer experience and jeopardize their continued business.

Schedule Regular Check-Ins

While quickly solving customer problems is an inbound call center agent’s number one priority, following up with customers is a close second.

Great agents are proactive and scheduling regular check-ins with customers. They invest in customer relationships and provide ongoing product support.

That way, a great agent can handle any minor issues before they blow up into customer catastrophes.

Understand Products and Procedures

A great agent not only needs to know their software system inside and out. They need to understand everything about the product their company sells, too. And how to best support customers in using it.

The more an agent knows, the more comfortable they are serving customers naturally, speaking conversationally without the crutch of the script. Because of their comfort, a great agent is ready-to-use one of the multiple preplanned solutions.

When it comes to procedures, a great agent stays on top of customer:

  • Verbal Agreements
  • Commitments to Pay
  • Sale Agreements
  • A Change of Address
  • Changes to Existing Arrangements

First Call Resolution and Low Transfer Rate

Although specialist agents are highly valuable, generalists make great agents, too. A generalist agent can handle a multitude of call issues.

They can solve a customer problem in a flash. And because they are top quality problem-solvers, they rarely have to transfer a call.

This leads to faster resolutions and higher customer satisfaction.

Always Going Above and Beyond

The best agents create relationships with their customers. They treat customers as partners to serve them for the long-term.

That means they follow up with customers if they notice an address or phone number change. They also stay on top of customer payment issues.

Everything they do communicates one thing: they care.

Discover the Inbound Call Center Hacks That Improve Agent Performance Faster

Managers now know which agent qualities contribute to a thriving inbound call center.

But that’s all managers need to create the highest level of efficiency and effectiveness. After all, managers could have the most excellent agents in the world.

However, managers underserve agents when they don’t have the right tools to capture and organize data and get it to them in real-time.

Because these fantastic tools that harness and distribute data help agents create unforgettable customer experiences.

If you want to learn more about how these tools help managers:

  • Forecast costs and agent needs
  • Measure and increase agent productivity
  • Fulfill their inbound call center’s potential

Then check out our webinar on “Queued Call Back: Increasing Customer Satisfaction Using Innovating Techniques.”

Watch the webinar now, and get access to what you need to radically increase your call center’s performance.

About the Author: TCN

TCN is a global provider of a comprehensive, cloud-based call center platform for enterprises, contact centers, business process outsourcing firms (BPOs) and collection agencies. Founded in 1999, TCN combines a deep understanding of the needs of call centers with a unique approach to pricing – no contracts, monthly minimums or maintenance fees – that supports rapid scaling and instant flexibility to changing business needs. TCN’s contact center platform, TCN Operator, features a holistic set of easy-to-use, automated agent tools and advanced apps for omnichannel communications, workforce engagement, compliance & data management, integration & automation, intelligence, reporting & analytics and collaboration & accessibility. TCN is trusted by Fortune 500 companies and enterprises of all sizes in multiple industries in many countries.