The 20 Essential Skills Every Contact Center Agent Needs

Contact centers are the heartbeat ofcustomer service in today’s digital world.

CustomerExperience (CX)[1]describes customers’ perceptions of a company or brand throughout the journeyfrom pre- to post-purchase, including all touchpoints and interactions. CX iscrucial for brand success because it taps directly into consumers’ demands forbeing heard, seen, and valued[2].

Whencompanies get CX right, consumers spend more, remain loyal, and refer friendsand family. Conversely, delivering a poor CX can be catastrophic. PWC2 reports that 32% of consumers willstop doing business with a company they love after one bad experience.

Withless than half of U.S. consumers (49%2) reporting that brands provide goodcustomer service, companies are rushing to solve the problem.

Brandsare investing heavily in new technologies, such as artificial intelligence(AI), augmented reality (AR), and the metaverse, to create a more engaging CX,spending over $600 billion[3] in2022 alone. These next-generation CX technologies are exciting, but manyproducts disregard the most important part of CX – the human touch.

Consumerswant to interact with people today and tomorrow. Despite the widespreadadoption of AI tools, for example, 82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers2 report wanting human interaction inthe future. These data show the importance of bringing people and technologytogether to deliver fast, convenient, and friendly service.

Recruiting, developing, and keepingthe best workers remains one of the most important competitive differentiatorsin the service industry. Although contact centers recognize the importance oftalent, achieving new-hire quality and retention goals has proven elusive, withindustry-wide attrition ranging from 35%[4]to 84%[5].

Attrition is expensive and disruptive.Delivering consistent, personalized service with a constantly changing team isnearly impossible. Service-level KPIs mean little when the people responsiblefor them are not around long enough to create meaningful value.  

Despite the challenges, building astable, high-performing team is possible with the right strategy, tools, andsupport systems.

This article is part one of afour-part contact center competency series. Over the series, we will discusstwenty skills contact center representatives must have to thrive, how toevaluate an applicant’s capability effectively, and how to develop existingemployees.

 Contact Center Agent Critical Skills

Industry veterans know that contactcenter jobs span various customer types (e.g., service, sales,problem-solving), channels (e.g., voice, chat, email, and social), inbound andoutbound engagements, and work environments (e.g., office and virtual). However,fewer people realize that critical, job-specific competencies vary across thesame segments.

Contact Center Agent Skills

Research[6] shows that worker requirements oftenchange based on the type of customer, channel, inbound versus outbound, andwork environment. For example, an inbound voice service job in an officerequires several different capabilities4 than at home. Many contact centers fail torecognize these variations when building job descriptions and recruiting plans,causing hiring mistakes.

One large-scale contact center study4 identified the critical competencies acrossjobs. Using data from 3,000 subject matter experts in 16 countries, theresearch identified 30 competencies required by various roles. Fifteencompetencies represented “universal requirements” because of their relativeimportance for all jobs; the remaining themes tended to be job or environment-specific.

This article discusses the 20 mostimportant skills (see Table 1) identified in the published study. You willlearn how each skill is defined, its impact on KPIs, strategies to measure itduring the hiring process, and steps to develop current employees’ proficiency.

Table 1. 20 Critical Contact Center  Agent Skills

  1. Active  Listening
  2. Verbal and  Written Communication
  3. Patience
  4. Empathy
  5. Problem-Solving
  6. Adaptability
  7. Attention to  Detail
  8. Learning Aptitude
  9. Multitasking
  10. Computer Skill
  11. Attitude
  12. Conflict  Resolution
  13. Time Management
  14. Cultural  Sensitivity
  15. Openness to  Feedback
  16. Decision Making
  17. Teamwork
  18. Continuous  Learning
  19. Persuasiveness
  20. Resilience 

Contact Center Skill 1: Active Listening

Active listeningrefers to receiving a message accurately. It involves recognizing thecustomer’s intent and emotions, not simply cataloging spoken words. Agents mustquickly grasp customer needs and concerns to build rapport and credibility. Itforms the foundation of meaningful conversations because it helps customersfeel valued, acknowledged, and heard when done well.

Active Listening Skill

According to Comerand Drollinger[7], activelistening is “a process whereby the listener receives verbaland non-verbal messages, processes them cognitively, responds to them verballyand non-verbally, and attempts to assess their underlying meaning intuitivelyby putting themselves in the customers’ place …”

Active listeningis a skill that involves focusing on the speaker, showing interest, clarifyingthe issue, restating to confirm understanding, and allowing the person tofinish without interruption.

Active listeningconsists of important nonverbal and verbal behaviors, including:

  1. Eye Contact: Making eye contact to show interest in the speaker.
  2. Non-Verbal Expressions: Nodding to acknowledge the person.
  3. Verbal Acknowledgement: Giving verbal affirmations like “I see,” “Go on,” or “Mmm Hmm.”

Beyond serving asa pillar for effective communication, research shows that active listeningskills correlate with overall job performance[8] and service-level KPIs like service quality[9],  customer satisfaction7, loyalty7, and trust[10]. Moreover, a recent large-scale study[11] found that perceived listening (i.e., thespeaker’s evaluation of the listener’s interest in and reaction to the message)affected job performance and relationship quality. In jobs involving highlevels of social interaction, active listening stands out as a critical workerskill.

Evaluatingcontact center applicants’ active listening skills during hiring can bechallenging. For example, virtual interviewing, especially automated products,reduces the interview to a dispassionate question-and-answer session thatmarginalizes listening skills. And, like public speaking, there’s a largedifference between describing something and performing it well.

One innovativeapproach to assessing listening skills is to use communication assessments. Themost advanced products immerse applicants into realistic, work-relatedscenarios to assess emotional understanding, empathy, and communication.

Intelliante’s WorkplaceCommunication[12] product is a refreshing example of an activelistening simulation designed for contact centers. The test uses a variety ofaudio and text-based scenarios to gauge an applicant’s capacity to recognize acustomer’s emotion, understand the issue, and know how to respondappropriately. Most importantly, Workplace Communication equips recruiters andhiring managers with objective, data-driven insight into applicants’ empathyand active listening skills. The result is better hiring decisions, improvedKPIs, and longer retention.

Active listeningskills are critical to agent and contact center success. Given the variousemotional-charged customer engagements agents encounter daily, workers need tosharpen their communication skills to reduce misunderstanding andmiscommunication, which invariably lead to mistakes and repeat calls.


Contact Center Skill 2: Verbal and Written Communication

Verbal and Written Communication skill

If listening refers to receivingmessages accurately, communication involves sending understandable messages.Building rapport and credibility requires agents to communicate effectivelyverbally and in writing. It’s essential to express thoughts and ideas clearlyand concisely while avoiding technical terms to avoid confusing the customer.Unsurprisingly, it sounds easier than it is, especially given the broad rangeof sophisticated products and services that contact centers support.

Communication[15]involves transmitting information through verbal, written, or nonverbalmediums. People rely on these social exchanges to form bonds, describe ideas,and share information, emotions, or experiences.

Effective communicators conveythoughts and information plainly and understandably. However, it involves morethan speaking or writing well; the best communicators ensure the messageachieves its desired outcome.

Agents who communicate well share acommon set of characteristics, including:

  1. Active Listening: It’s vital to receive themessage, analyze it, and identify its meaning based on content, context, andemotion. It’s nearly impossible to communicate well if one misunderstands anissue.  
  2. Clarity: Expressing thoughts clearly andsimply using relatable language is important. Matching one’s spoken or writtenwords with the audience is paramount. Agents who talk above or below customerscreate confusion (i.e., using words customers don’t understand) or resentment(i.e., talking down to a customer).
  3. Conciseness: The phrase, “I would have writtenyou a shorter letter if I had more time,” captures the importance of concision.Communicating well requires the speaker or writer to share information or ideasin as few words as possible. Make the point, and then listen.
  4. Coherence: Logically presenting messagesimproves communication quality. Combining multiple themes in phrases orparagraphs leads to misunderstandings or missed points. The best communicatorseither find ways to consolidate points or address them one at a time.
  5. Empathy: Agents who receive praise for theircommunication skills recognize the importance of building a connection with thecustomer. Although rapport building starts with effective listening, agentsmust relate to the customer’s circumstances and feelings. Empathy helps drivemore personalized exchanges by altering how agents think about and communicatewith customers.  

Research shows that verbal and writtencommunication skills correlate with job performance[16]across different occupations. Some data suggest these skills predict contactcenter KPIs, like CSAT[17],customer experience[18],and overall performance. However, the widely held belief that verbal andwritten skills are essential for agent success may reflect personal opinionsmore than peer-reviewed publications.

The relative lack of studies does notmean communication skills are unimportant; it only indicates that datasupporting their relation to KPIs are unclear in the scientificliterature.  

Despite the lack of publishedresearch, many contact centers assess applicants’ verbal and writtencommunication skills. Many automated tools, like the Versant English Test[19], claim to measure conversational English skills.Similarly, various tests assess knowledge of grammar, punctuation, word usage,and sentence construction to evaluate applicants’ writing skills, including 1stScribe[20].Contact centers use these verbal and written tests to match applicantcapabilities and job requirements more accurately.

Conversational English tests usesophisticated technology and algorithms to measure speaking skills. Publisherstypically position these products as a quick and efficient way to evaluate aperson’s capacity to comprehend spoken English and speak clearly andappropriately. The best-in-class products provide evidence supporting their reliabilityand validity[21], anessential condition for using a test in high-stakes decision-making, likehiring.

Spoken language assessments may alsohave a dark side. A large-scale independent analysis (Holland, 2019) ofFilipino contact center applicants found that males outperformed females by 24%(68% vs. 44%, respectively) on a leading conversational English test. Surprisedby the finding, the researcher designed a second study to examine whether thescores reflected differences in spoken English or something else.

One hundrednative U.S. English speakers (i.e., typical U.S.-based contact center callers)rated 120 Filipino voice samples using the Interagency Language Roundtable[22]rating scale. The results showed that U.S. consumers did not detect asignificant difference in spoken English between male and female Filipinoapplicants. Minimally, companies using automated conversational Englishassessments should monitor these tools for potentially unfair impacts onapplicants, especially females.

Most written skills tests use amultiple-choice format that asks applicants to select the correct option fromseveral alternatives; they rely on the idea that knowing is a proxy for doing.These products assume that an applicant’s knowledge of grammar, punctuation,and word choice, for example, relates to writing skills. These tests do notmeasure skill; they infer skill based on an applicant’s knowledge.

Allowing applicants to provide awriting sample is a more accurate and effective way to measure their skills.Recognizing the limitations of the typical contact center writing test, Intelliante[23]designed a

Business Writing[24]test that uses natural language processing (NLP) to measure writing applicants’writing samples quickly, fairly, and objectively. Business Writing scoresapplicants’ submissions against 20 criteria, including spelling, grammar, worduse, and punctuation, providing a remarkably accurate evaluation of anapplicant’s writing skills.

It is possible to improve verbal andwritten communication[25]skills through ongoing training. Developing contact center agents’ speaking[26]and writing skills[27]requires workshops to impart essential knowledge, role-playing exercises, andcontinuous feedback from peers and supervisors on clarity, tone, andeffectiveness to refine skills. Learning more effective verbal and writingskills takes time. Most agents will not perfect these skills overnight or insix months; they require ongoing training and feedback.

Contact centers aretechnology-enhanced communication hubs. When agents express unclear orinaccurate information – orally or in writing – it raises the risk of errors,misinterpretation, dissatisfaction, and customer attrition. Although morepeer-reviewed studies are needed to fully understand how verbal and writtencommunication impacts agent success or failure, contact centers will continueto rely on pre-employment tests to measure these skills.

The best steps contactcenters can take are to ensure the examinations (a) are fair to all people, (b)allow applicants to demonstrate skills instead of knowledge, and (c) predictjob performance at the company.

 Contact Center Skill 3: Patience

patience skill

Contact center agents facecustomer-directed verbal aggression approximately ten times[28]per day, leading to emotional exhaustion and, indirectly, absenteeism. Thesedisrespectful behaviors can cause a decline in customer service[29]performance.

Consider the following exchangebetween a customer and an agent.

  • Agent: Thank you for calling Acme. My name is Alex.How can I assist you today?
  • Customer: Finally! I’ve been on hold for ages. Iseveryone there just lying around, or what?
  • Agent: I apologize for the wait and appreciate yourpatience. How can I help you today?
  •  Customer: This shouldn’t even be an issue! I justreceived my bill, and you overcharged me for the second time. Do you enjoystealing from your customers?
  •  Agent: I would be frustrated, too. I’m sorry youhave to deal with this issue. I’ll help you resolve the issue. Can I pleasehave your account number?
  •  Customer: This is absurd! Why can’t you keep track ofanything? It’s 19526XXXX.
  •  Agent: Thank you. I’m accessing your account now.Okay, I see your current bill. Can you please point out the specific chargesyou’re questioning?
  •  Customer: Isn’t that your job? Look at the bill! It’sobvious which charges are wrong to anyone with half a brain.  

Why do customers display rude,impolite, discourteous, and sometimes aggressive behavior toward agents?

The first reason is that the leastinfluential employees[30]tend to be the easiest targets. Contact center agents are accountable forcustomer experience metrics, and businesses cannot operate without customers,creating a built-in advantage for customers. Some customers use the powerimbalance[31]to achieve a favorable outcome through any means necessary, including making threatsor switching[32]companies.

The second reason is that customersbecome impatient[33] when the wait time exceeds theirexpectations. According to a national U.S. survey[34],consumers are willing to hold for six minutes; another study[35]estimates it to be only two minutes. Unfortunately, respondents reportedlyspend an average of 17.4 minutes waiting, or 2.9x longer than their upperlimit, a finding that corresponds to accelerated dissatisfaction[36].Adding to the problem are data showing that when customers blame the serviceprovider for the wait, they exhibit significantly higher impatience and discontent30.


By the time an agent is available,many customers are already agitated, increasing the likelihood of capitalizingon the power imbalance.

Agents must support difficultcustomers while managing changing job requirements4 to succeed. Arising from these job-specificstressors is the risk of agents reacting impulsively (i.e., fight or flightresponse[37]), and sometimes unprofessionally,because of the combined influence of biology34 and personality[38].When agents respond carelessly to customers or coworkers, it can underminerelationships and service levels.

In an ironic twist, organizationsrequire agents to show patience despite their feelings of anger and frustrationwhile interacting with customers who have lost whatever patience they may havehad. The interactions may force agents to adopt surface acting (i.e., changingfacial expressions) or deep acting (modifying feelings) to navigate theengagement; some research links both types of acting to burnout[39],while others[40]found that only surface acting predicted emotional exhaustion.

Patience[41] is the “propensity to wait calmly inthe face of frustration, adversity, or suffering.” Patience can represent acharacteristic (e.g., Alex is a patient person.) and state (e.g., The customerwaited patiently.). And importantly, patience only describes the adaptiveresponse to an event; it does not encompass an attempt to change what happened38.

Patient people remain calm, tolerantof others, consider alternative actions carefully, manage emotions effectively,and act in a controlled, purposeful manner.

Agents who show patienceexhibit the following types of behaviors:

  1. Tolerance: These people can handle a lotwithout becoming emotional. However, the capacity to tolerate others reflectstheir willingness to respond purposefully, not weakness.
  2. Steadiness: Others often describe patientpeople as steady during crises or stress. Patient individuals assess situationsthoughtfully and avoid making rash decisions.
  3. Open-Minded: Remaining open to new ideas andbeing comfortable with uncertainty or ambiguity often accompany patience. Thereason is that patient people tend to think things through before forming anopinion or making a decision.
  4. Emotional Regulation: The capacity to manageemotions is a hallmark of patience. Patient people recognize, understand, andcontrol their feelings rather than suppress or react based on them.
  5. Understanding: When interacting with agitatedor aggressive people, agents who show patience try to consider the person’scircumstances and emotions (i.e., empathy) rather than condemn the person orreact forcefully.

Research[42]shows that people susceptible to stress perform more poorly on service KPIswhen handling customer complaints. The way service workers manage emotions also impactsperformance.

Hiring agents capable of displayingpatience and managing their emotional responses when dealing with provocationwill improve service metrics and reduce burnout. Based on the scientific literature, it’sunclear whether structured interviews measure emotional regulation effectively.A more robust approach involves using a well-designed assessment to evaluateapplicants’ capabilities.

Intelliante offers two products – Workplace Communication and Overcoming Adversity – to assess an applicant’s response toprovocation and their responses. These performance-based pre-employmentassessments immerse contact center applicants into realistic job-relevantscenarios to examine how they respond under various circumstances. The toolstake the guesswork out of hiring because they can see an applicant’s currentskillset before hiring.

Contact centers can enhance patiencewhile supporting agents’ well-being by teaching self-regulation skills. It’simportant to remind agents that they cannot control every aspect of aninteraction with a customer or coworker. However, agents can learn to managehow they perceive and respond to customers through a process Bandura[43]called self-regulation. Self-regulation[44]is the capacity to influence behavior, including delaying reactions, adaptingresponses, and controlling emotions to achieve a desirable outcome. Bydeveloping self-regulation skills[45],agents can replace ineffective behaviors with effective ones.

Most studies on developingself-regulation focus on children and young adults. Research shows that adults[46]can also learn strategies to improve their decision-making[47] and responses to stress[48].Teaching relaxation techniques, guided imagery of a “safe place,” andidentifying ineffective or maladaptive behaviors followed by ongoing feedback44 improve adults’ emotional well-being andcoping skills.

Centers can also nurture patience viastress management workshops, mindfulness training, and role-playing exercises.

 On the surface, an agent’s patienceforms an important part of the service encounter. Beneath the surface, anagent’s tolerance, or impatience, reflects their capacity to manage emotionsand responses effectively. For example, impatient agents may rush interactions,make more errors, overlook details, and fail to resolve issues, leading todissatisfaction and attrition. Contact centers can alter KPIs and retention by(a) evaluating an applicant’s ability to manage emotions and responses and (b)investing in ongoing training to build these skills over time.  

 ContactCenter Skill 4: Empathy

Empathy Skill

Frontline contact center jobs aredemanding because of the various technologies, processes, product knowledge,tasks, and KPIs. The emotional labor required by these jobs adds complexity andintensity.  

Arlie Hochschild[49]coined “emotional labor” to describe how jobs require workers to regulate theiremotions. For example, agents must maintain a friendly, cheerful demeanor whiledealing with customers, including the most difficult ones. The effort workersexpend to satisfy, calm, or comfort others is what Hochschild calls emotionallabor.  

Morris and Feldman[50] define emotional labor as “theeffort, planning, and control needed to express organizationally desiredemotion during interpersonal transactions.” Emotional labor frequently involvespresenting oneself in ways that align with the employer’s expectations – evenif it contradicts employees’ inclinations – to create a more pleasant CX.Contact centers (and other service organizations) may create work environmentsthat lead to emotional detachment[51]and burnout47 by

forcing agents to adopt surface or deep acting to construct thedesired CX.

Many SMEs believe empathizing4 with customers is a critical contact centeragent requirement. Empathy is related to active listening[52]insofar as effective listeners must be capable of understanding anotherperson’s situation and emotions5.  

Hogan[53]defined empathy as “the intellectual or imaginative apprehension of another’scondition or state of mind,” meaning that a person can recognize and understand what someoneelse may be feeling or thinking. An individual’s motivation and capacity torelate to another person’s circumstances and, as a result, adjust one’sbehavior for the good of others reflects social and moral growth.

Dealing with one agitated person canbe emotionally exhausting. Contact center agents support as many as 50customers[54]per day, and research[55]shows that at least two-thirds of those customers are frustrated before theyspeak with anyone. Adding to the problem is that empathy requires agents toadjust behavior to the customer’s needs, as Hogan[56]describes:

“An empathic‘‘actor’’ will typically tailor his performances to the needs and requirementsof his or her audience; the actor will also tend to be an effective speaker asa result of an ability to anticipate the informational requirements of his orher listener…” (p. 15)

Qualitative research[57]shows that service employees rely on acting to perform their jobs. However,dissatisfied employees depend on acting[58] more often, particularly surfaceacting, whereas satisfied employees appear to behave more authentically. Data55 suggest thatappearing genuine improves the customer experience – happier employeespositively impact customers.

Empathy concerns connecting withothers, sensing their emotions, and recognizing their perspective. It’s acognitive and emotional bridge that fosters understanding and connection.Characteristics of empathic agents include:

  1. Trusting: Belief in the goodness, strength, honesty,or reliability of others.
  2. Prosocial: Concern for others’ well-being,like helping, sharing, donating, and cooperating.
  3. Forgiving: Letting go of resentment or anger whensomeone has done something wrong.
  4. Openness: Trying new things, considering newideas, and being receptive to new experiences.
  5. Sensitivity: Perceiving and responding to theneeds and feelings of others.
  6. Active Listening: Receiving verbaland non-verbal messages, processing them, responding to them verbally andnon-verbally, and attempting to assess their underlying meaning intuitively byputting themselves in the customers’ place.

Service industry professionalscommonly think empathy is central to the employee-customer relationship[59],but what does empirical research say? Surprisingly, few studies have exploredempathy’s impact on customer service[60],but there is some research to draw on. Research across Chinese telecoms[61]found that empathy was indirectly related to higher customer satisfactionthrough its association with affective commitment and perceived servicequality. Service employees who interact with customers with appropriate levelsof empathy foster more positive attitudes toward a company and the serviceexperience, leading to higher satisfaction. Another study argued that empathyis insufficient to improve the service experience[62].

These researchers discovered that deep acting (i.e., emotional labor) helpedtranslate empathy into more positive service outcomes. These studies correspondwith research[63]showing that scripted empathic responses (e.g., “I understand” or “That must bedifficult”) are less effective than actively listening to the customer,evaluating the best way to reply, and communicating at the proper level toresolve the issue quickly, a style they labeled “empathy work.” Despite theabove studies showing the bright side of empathy, another study suggests thatidentifying emotionally with customers can increase employee stress[64]and the potential for burnout.

There may be value in hiring contactcenter agents with empathy and emotional understanding skills. The value ofassessing empathy during an employment interview is unclear. For example, one studyreported interviewer agreement reliability of .47[65]when measuring empathy, which is too low for decision-making.

Intelliante’s WorkplaceCommunication test relies on a more objective and holistic approach toassessing empathy and active listening skills. The test uses a variety ofrealistic customer-specific scenarios that portray a job-related circumstance.After experiencing (i.e., hearing, reading, or watching sign language) thecustomer’s issue, the applicant must demonstrate the capacity to recognize theunderlying emotion and respond appropriately.

Workplace Communication is themost modern performance-based measure of empathy and listening worldwide.Employers need not rely on inferences or assumptions about an applicant’s skillset because they will base decisions on actual examples of the person’sperformance.

Intelliante recommendspairing the Workplace Communication test with its Overcoming Adversity productto reduce the risk of emotional exhaustion or burnout. Overcoming Adversitymeasures resilience and conflict resolution, which are coping skills that helpcontact center agents manage work-related stressors more efficiently.

Developing empathy ispossible, though the impact on affect and behavior remains unclear. Researchshows people can improve their empathy-related knowledge skills[66] using various trainingtechniques, like demonstration, didactic, and video. Nevertheless, data do notsupport post-training behavioral change or showing affective empathy towardothers.

Marginalizing empathy’srole in a contact center can be detrimental. Without it, agent-customerinteractions become transactional, devoid of an emotional connection. Customersmay feel like just a number, leading to detachment and dissatisfaction. Agentslacking empathy might misjudge service encounters, leading to unsuitableresponses and unresolved issues. Moreover, the absence of empathy can causeinternal rifts within teams, as employees may feel unsupported and undervalued.A lack of empathy will ultimately diminish customer loyalty, erode teamcohesion, and tarnish brand reputation.

 ContactCenter Skill 5: Problem-Solving

Problem-Solving Skill

Anyone who has worked ina contact center knows that dealing with challenges is part of the job. Agentsmust think quickly and solve problems efficiently. The capacity to filter outthe noise to identify a problem’s root cause goes beyond answering questions;it involves diagnosing the issues and navigating social, emotional, andtechnical obstacles to answer customer inquiries.

Problem-solvingdescribes the process people use to analyze and overcome challenges or reachconclusions using reasoning or creative thinking[67]. It is an essential skillin information-intense, fast-paced environments that require people to identifyand resolve issues quickly and efficiently. People who demonstrate strongproblem-solving skills show the following characteristics[68]:

  1. Focus:Define problems and set goals.
  2. InformationGathering: Observe, research, and formulate questions.
  3. Memory:Learn, retain, and recall information.
  4. Organizing:Order, classify, and compare information.
  5. Translation:Convert information from words to diagrams or formulas and vice versa.
  6. Analysis:Identify attributes, patterns, ideas, and errors.
  7. Generation:Infer, predict, generalize, elaborate, and simplify based on available data.
  8. Integration:Summarize and restructure information.
  9. Evaluation:Establish criteria, verify, and identify assumptions and conclusions.
  10. Flexibility: Shift perspectivesand try new approaches.
  11. Interpretation: Uses formal andgathered knowledge reliably and accurately.
  12. Describing: Makes inferencesprecisely.

Based on the last tenyears of published research, we did not find studies exploring the relationshipbetween agent problem-solving skills or general mental ability and contactcenter performance. Although one study[69] found that first-callresolution – a proxy for problem-solving – and call abandonment predictedcustomer satisfaction, it tells us nothing about agent skills. The lack ofresearch leaves us to infer the importance of problem-solving based onlarge-scale studies showing the validity of cognitive ability acrossoccupations[70].However, a recent study[71] challenges the magnitudeof the relations reported in earlier studies.

Marketing materialaside, research in the last ten years does not appear to evaluate structuredinterviews’ ability to predict problem-solving skills in contact centers.Centers can use indirect measures (e.g., general mental ability) orjob-specific problem-solving tools like Intelliante’s MultiChannel CustomerSupport™ product. MultiChannel Customer Support[72] is a configurable contactcenter simulation that immerses applicants in realistic customer encountersacross voice and chat channels. Applicants must identify the customer’s problemand then use system tools, such as knowledge management, to resolve the issuequickly and accurately.

We can help agentsimprove problem-solving skills through training and workshops. Jozwiakdescribes one framework[73] for developingproblem-solving in two broad steps. First, teach learners about differentproblem-solving theories, techniques, and terminology. There is noone-size-fits-all approach to problem-solving, so there’s value in exposinglearners to various approaches. Second, use activities that draw on whatlearners must know (declarative knowledge, e.g., facts, concepts, andprinciples) and be able to do (procedural knowledge, e.g., performing an actionor exercising a skill) on the job. The exercise should present learners with achallenging but solvable problem. The instructor should walk learners throughthe problem-solving process without leading them to the answer. Allow learnersenough time to analyze the problem. After finishing the exercise, the instructorshould review the proposed solution and ways to improve it. Foshay and Kirkley[74] offer a more detailedapproach to teaching problem-solving.

Marginalizingproblem-solving skills in a contact center can have negative consequences.Hiring applicants with basic problem-solving skills and the capacity to learnis the fastest way to improve engagement metrics. However, there is also valuein recognizing that some people are better prepared to solve problems thanothers, so training agents to resolve issues properly is vital. Failure to doso risks agents providing superficial or inadequate solutions, leading torepeat calls and customer dissatisfaction.

Strengthening agents’problem-solving skills will improve the customer experience and brandreputation. Achieving the goal requires a two-pronged approach involving hiringand training.



In Part I, we reviewedthe first five critical skills: Active Listening, Verbal and WrittenCommunication, Patience, Empathy, and Problem-Solving. Although SMEsconsistently identify these as essential skills for contact center jobs,research supporting their value in the hiring process is mixed. Although mostresearch is not published, it also means that it has not undergone peer review,making it more susceptible to marketing biases.

 The next article willreview Adaptability, Attention to Detail, Learning Aptitude, Multitasking, and ComputerSkills.











































































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