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Calls may come and calls may go. But call center skills matter forever!

Written by on September 14, 2018

No one faces the wrath of irate callers better than a call center agent. And that’s exactly why they’d have some of the best secrets to share when probed on the call center skills that have helped them come a long way.

We got Harish, the Head of Customer Support, Freshcaller to open up on his journey in customer support. While the first half of his interview was on looking beyond the myths on B2B support, this latter half has Harish telling us about some of the call center skills that has helped him face even the toughest of calls in zen mode.

Without further ado, and before Tennyson calls us from his grave to take our case over copyrights, let’s get Harish to discuss on the next part of his interview — calls and call center skills that he had picked up and aced through on his journey which started from a call center.

To begin with let’s go back a little in time and visit Harish on his first day at work.

Your first day, Harish? How was it? Did a lot of coffee help?

My first job was in a call center and the initial few months of the training was to up my communication and technical call center skills. The day I stepped in, I still remember, I already had to take a call and I was shit nervous. I did have some seniors helping me on the floor. Yet, I was trembling to bits. I took a lot of time to prepare. Seeing the other team members nervously answering calls and messing it up added on to my nerves.

And yes, I had to take a lot of coffee… lots! So, for you to walk in like a boss and pick calls with confidence, it’ll take some time.

So, now that you’ve been there done that, what’d you want first timers on the verge of a nervous fit to lookout for on their first day?

For someone joining a contact center as a fresher, on their first day, they really need to see what’s happening in and around. You have to sit with your seniors, observe how they talk to customers, answer emails. More importantly, keep in mind the issues that come in often and how they are responded to. As simple as it may sound, it’s not so. Each customer has to be handled in a different way and this comes only with experience. So keep interacting with senior folks. If possible, shadow them. You have to keep doing it until you get in your groove and know what works best. And gradually, you’ll cultivate a unique style in replying to tickets or answering calls.

Experience certainly makes things easier. Apart from this, are there any tools that have helped you do your job better?

So that one tool is obviously the helpdesk tool using which majority of my work is done. It cuts down on a lot of manual work and automates most of the repetitive tasks. Another tool is the scheduler/calendar. Since I work across multiple shifts and time zones, multiple teams, having a calendar tool is very helpful. I can receive important notifications on my mobile app, edit links and resend an email to customers or even within the team. It’s one tool that’s often underrated, just like call center support, but is of great help every single day.

 

With a trolley full of happy calls, a backpack of missed calls and wallet of learnings, Harish’s call center days had been quite eventful. What’s intriguing though is that despite having a fair share of experience in his journey as a call center agent, he still depends a lot on phone calls to communicate with customers in a lot of instances at work. And this certainly is contrary to the general prejudice on how phones are being slowly replaced by newer, fancier channels.
I am sure he has lots to share about his call adventures and let us in on some real nice hacks to handle calls like a boss — call center skills that’s been his armour to ace through tough calls.

Let’s talk more to understand better!

 

So Harish, how is a typical phone call for you?

It depends. If it’s an incoming call, the first thing is getting the customer’s account details. Then I move on to hear their issue to make sure that we are on the same page on what needs to be fixed. The initial conversation would mostly be a Q and A session where we decide if we need to go for a screen sharing session. Most of the troubleshooting issues need a screen sharing session to solve the issue. Ideally, most issues get sorted at this stage. The issue is created as a ticket in case we need the devs to step in.  A typical call would mostly be around one of these three stages.

How about a call that went wrong? One where you screwed up big time?

Yes. I’ve had my share of screw ups. As unbelievable as it may sound, while troubleshooting a customer’s OS, I accidentally erased all her data. And she took my case, escalated it to my manager. We had to bring in two of our developers to entirely work on her issue and retrieve her data! All it took for me to screw up was a single checkbox. And yes, that has taught me to never pretend to know something that I don’t or which I’m doubtful about.

What was the most heartwarming phone call that you had?

A few years back I was working as a call center agent for a desktop manufacturer. The call was from a 80 year old person who was using her son’s desktop that he had left behind while moving out for his graduation, years ago. Highly customized with multiple hard drives, graphic cards and a ton of accessories, she couldn’t make head or tail of it. And she had come to me with a hardware-related problem. And that is always trickier than a software issue. A small mistake, a wrong tug and you might end up dismantling some random part. I don’t exactly remember the issue though, because it was years back. But this, I do remember. After getting on a call with her for almost four hours we managed to debug the actual issue and guided her to fix it.

She being extremely happy and overwhelmed, extended her warranty for another 3 years and referred two of her relatives to buy from us. And the best part was when she sent a really long email on how happy she was in being associated with us, and that kept me going for days after.

Once you step out of office, are you done with answering calls? Or are there days when you carry your work home?

Being a small support team, there are days when I still need to take calls from home, answer emails or even pull out reports. Sometimes my work starts even before I step into office. If there is something that is broken or faulty, I’ll need to keep the devs posted. Since we are the ones who are directly in touch with the customers, we need to ensure that customers aren’t affected a lot or put on hold for long.

Would your entire team be able to look at work the same way, see the bigger picture?

So for my team the primary concern is to take calls during their work hours. They may not really appreciate taking calls from home. But yes, if it’s really needed they would. But it’s not what I’d ask of them either. As an agent, talking to customers, answering emails day in and day out and handling frustrated calls by itself would be taxing enough. It’s best that the agent takes enough rest before stepping in the next day to be able to work properly. Only if they feel relaxed, they’ll have the energy to come back and start their day afresh.

How about you telling someone, “Never ever do this”. What would it be?

Hands down this is about handling a angry phone call. If the agent is new, they tend to get emotional when customers get angry, and on top of this they might not be able to sort the issue right away. This situation gets tough to handle, making one hasty and emotional. And that’s exactly what you should never do. That’s why support is never a cakewalk. With other professions, you have a certain degree of control over the response to your work. But with support it’s never under your control. It’s almost always chaotic. But more than handling tickets and answering calls, what sets a good agent apart from a normal one is the way they handle the emotion of customers.

When was the first time you went all Hulk-mode at work? How did you get yourself together — calm down and stay composed?

It’s not just about the first time. However patient a person I am, it happens to me quite often. But I’ve come a long way in not reacting despite getting furious. I just put my headphones on. Sit in a quiet corner at office and continue doing my work. Often, we think closing our laptops and stepping away from work might help us forget the bad phone call. But trust me, it never works that way. We often end up overthinking about it and eventually get more frustrated. So the best thing is to zone out to a more relaxed state. Create this state with whatever suits you best — coffee, music, chocolate, cat videos or anything that relaxes you. This’ll help you continue with work as if the call never happened.

Does being calm and composed have something to do with your perspective of the whole support job — like not taking it personally?

I think as a support agent it’s important to be intelligent. It’s not about being intelligent in understanding the problem. It’s being intelligent about understanding the why of customers’ emotions. Being aware that nothing is personal, be it anger, frustration or hatred. And also that not all problems need to have a solution right away. But just reassuring the customers that they are being heard out would ease them down.

So how then will you handle a tough customer?

If I am talking to a customer over a call, I’ll first let the customer open up and vent out for the first few minutes. This will help them calm down without any conscious effort from my end. And one more thing, I would never say a sorry just like that. It’s ok to apologise. But simply using ‘sorry’ as a means to escape their wrath will only annoy the already unhappy customer. And a mere reassurance would not help either. To make sure that their issue is resolved, you’ll need to follow up with the customer as promised. And this is where one’s emotional intelligence helps.

Given that this is how you handle a tough call or customer, what are the skills that you hold dear to your heart? Ones that have been your life line at work?

The first major aspect is patience. It’s something that has helped me a lot.

Then it’s about connecting with people. In this job you might have to talk to a 20 year old as well as a 80 year old. But, the tact of talking to each one at a different level will help you connect with them better.

And finally it’s about empathising with your customers to help them towards the solution.

So now, let’s just say you wake up one day and there… you get to know that you can’t use phones anymore at work? How would you feel?

Oh… ok… honestly, life would be so different and… difficult too. Troubleshooting would take more time than normal. Actually, no. It might be way more complicated than I imagine. I might have to compromise on a lot of my time. Certain things can’t be resolved over email or text. It’s plain complex. A lot of issues might be difficult to understand without talking over a call. As a support person I might not be able to give full fledged customer support experience if I can’t talk to the customer over call. A lot of time and energy is needed to get the same work done with an email as compared to a phone call—especially troubleshooting.

Great!

That’s a wrap from my end Harish. Thanks a lot to have shared bits and pieces from your support journey. A lot of small details that came out of this interview is sure to double up as some great call center skills.

So is there anything more that your 8 year old support genes are throbbing to tell us?

Spending almost 8 years now in the support function, the things that I understood are,
– I am not merely answering tickets or sending a reply. I am talking to a person who is waiting for some solution from the other side.
– As a support person, patience is important like I mentioned before.
– Also, you’ll need both tact and maturity to handle customers.
– There is no room for frustration of any sort.
– You must choose your words right. You can’t be insensitive or indifferent to your customers’ frustration knowingly or unknowingly.


So ya. That’s about it. Thanks again Harish.

Well, that conversation did bring in new perspectives while still sharing the essence of someone who has stayed motivated enough to hold on to the same job while figuring what he does best. It’s not common to find someone who has a job that he loves, is good at it and can make a living out of it as well.

You’ll need to understand the what and why of the important call center skills to hit the sweet spot of being a soulful call center agent. Knowing what you love, getting better at it with the right set of skills (the right set of call center skills if you want to grow as a call center agent) and slowly making a career out of it is one of the most gratifying feelings ever.

Water cooler talk -call center skill

The hedgehog concept – An ideal job

Oh… And before I forget, was it just me or did it occur to you guys too — how Harish’s last response tied so well with a typical relationship advice?

Thinking more on those lines, a lot of parallels can be drawn between customer support and being in a relationship. Patience, honesty, maturity, understanding and prompt reply. And with every call, it’s like falling in and out of a relationship. And more importantly, wanting to nail every relationship while you are at it. Once the love bug bites, there is no turning back. And so is the relationship with support for Harish 😉

There are so many more interesting functions and niches that would make for good conversations and discussions. Do leave a comment below on the specific topics or even personalities that you’d love to hear from 😀

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