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Give agents the right tools to do their job

A popular opinion in the industry is that anybody can be an agent in a call centre; however, this is not the case. The first mistake often made when establishing a call centre is in the selection of agents. A good agent is hard to find – they have to be made into one.

1. Let's start at the beginning - with agents

I believe that agents are very important as they are the ones on the front lines, and are the face of the company, sharing their space with couriers, drivers and salespeople. These are the employees who the clients see and hear first, and we all know that first impressions count the most.

Agents are the first point of contact with clients. The company depends on them to attain potential clients and, most importantly, to retain them in order for them to become loyal customers. Of course, in reaching this goal, they need to get to know their clients in detail: their consumer habits and wishes, and they need to gain their trust. A lot of information has to be gathered, even that which might seem irrelevant.

If I stray from the topic a little, I would like to add a piece of my first mentor’s advice, he said: “Ask them if they have a dog and what food they feed him, because you never know when that information might come in handy – perhaps we’ll be doing a sales analysis based on dog breeds, or we’ll just send them a veterinary suggestion.”

The times when all you needed to do was to be nice to clients and have a quality product/service have passed. Every client is now unique and the expectations are for us, as providers, to understand their story and even help in writing it, and of course, giving the story a happy ending.

To know what type of an agent we need, it is important to be well acquainted with the company’s goals – to know what will help the company move in the right direction. The goals need to be clear – how to accomplish them is decided, planned and carried out with the cooperation of the employees.

2. Is there only one type of agent? – No!

There are two main types of agents:

  • Customer care agents: their primary task is taking care of clients. They deal with complaints, help clients with any problems, are good team workers, do not get involved in conflicts, and like to be a part of a stable and calm work environment. They are good listeners and give good advice. 
  • Sales agents: their primary task is sales – attaining new clients. They are competitive, individualistic and goal-orientated. They tend to be combative at times and can often be recognised by their extrovert nature and impulsive behaviour. 

It wouldn’t make sense if we tried to combine these two types of agents in one person. A customer care agent is unlikely to be successful in sales, and similarly a sales agent is unlikely to be good at solving client problems because of the personality traits mentioned above

3. A call centre or a contact centre?

A call centre is a department that handles inbound and outbound calls. It provides support to clients, promotes sales, and is responsible for marketing, carrying out surveys and many other important jobs that help achieve better business performance.

When we take a closer look at all the tasks that a call centre is responsible for, we can see that it is not only focused on calls but also uses multi-channel marketing (e-mail, messages, live chat).
Clients are contacted through several channels, usually the ones that the client is most familiar with. We have to be aware that people come from different generations and some may prefer e-mails, some are keen on phone calls, and others prefer live chat. It is because of these differing wishes that the call centres need to be “armed” with all of the tools to cater to a client’s needs.

As a result of these new channels that enable us to communicate with the client better, the call centre has become more than that – it has become a contact centre.

4. An additional expense or a competitive advantage?

I believe that a contact centre is valuable to a company because it gives it the opportunity to come up with new ideas, create a strong client database and grow based on constructive criticism from clients. In my opinion, the customer care agents should have regular meetings with sales, marketing and business development departments as they are the ones who know clients the best. Lack of communication across departments is common for some companies, the downside of which being a blocked flow of important information. Often employees are not even aware what other departments are in the company or what their jobs entail. An idea: An Open-Door Day in the company, or ‘The Department Introduces Itself’ day would perhaps help erase the boundaries that should not even be there.Working in a contact centre is extremely dynamic. I can say that customer care/sales agents carry out most conversations in the company on a daily basis and good knowledge about the products and services that the company offers is vital. Therefore, good communication and listening skills are a must.

This is the reason why I think that everybody working in the company should try working in a contact centre – they are the centres of information. Based on experience, I agree with the statement: “Contact centres are the hatchery of quality personnel.”– quoted by the mentor at previous work place. 

Of course there are opposing opinions that contact centres are nothing but an additional expense and have no positive contribution to the company – to this I say: “Never trust what you can only see, even salt looks like sugar.”

5. What is the biggest problem?

We obtain a great deal of information but the next logical question is – what to do with it? Certain contact centres own programs/tools/applications that don’t actually process all of the information that the agents collect, or the information is gathered in databases that eventually somehow get lost, are disorganised or are not logically connected. Give agents the right tools to do their job.

A good agent knows exactly what they need; good management knows what information is important for the growth of the company. This is why it is essential to define processes and be familiar with them. It is vital to write them down so that they are transparent and accessible to everyone who needs them to do their job. With this we encourage employees to start thinking actively, to pass on knowledge and especially, to learn about new things daily. It is the only way we can improve and be up-to-date.

Striving for constant progress, staying open-minded, being innovative, and most importantly, committing to a life of learning is key.  

Lidija Mlinaric, Application Consultant

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