Contact Center Agent Skills and Roles Evolving
Illustration by Wilson Joseph

Contact centers are in the midst of significant strategic and technological changes that will have a lasting impact on the workforce. The explosion of digital channels, tech-savvy mobile consumers willing to air their grievances before a global audience, an emphasis on customer experience strategy in the boardroom—these challenges contribute to an increasingly complex environment.

Meanwhile, organizations looking to leverage customer experience to build competitive advantage are shifting their facilities away from offshore outsourcing. “The trend across multiple industry verticals has been a reshoring of contact center volume in an effort to provide a higher level of customer satisfaction,” says Connie Caroli, president of TeleManagement Search, a national executive recruitment firm specializing in call center, customer service and telesales.

All of these changes are translating into expanding skill sets across functions, as well as a tighter focus on employee- and customer-centric performance metrics.

Evolving Roles Across 
Contact Center Functions

How has the contact center leadership role transformed to meet today’s challenges? “Organizations are really looking for the total package when hiring contact center leaders,” says Caroli. “In many cases, companies look for a leader with a strong strategic and bottomline focus who also knows the contact center on a granular level—someone with the tactical strength to back up the strategic focus.

“There is also an ever-increasing emphasis on strong analytical skills—the ability to massage contact center data and the reports generated by the technology in place,” she adds. “Companies look for leaders who can readily discern what the numbers indicate, and most importantly, develop and direct the implementation of effective action plans and process improvement plans designed to address gaps in performance and increase bottomline profitability.”

Steve Morrell agrees: “It’s not just about calls taken any more,” he says. “Contact center management will have to wear many new hats—traditional operational and HR, of course, but also customer experience and corporate strategy, and be able to talk with the IT people about how best to achieve business goals in an omnichannel world.” Morrell is managing partner for industry analyst firm ContactBabel, which publishes “The U.S. Contact Center HR & Operational Benchmarking Report.”

On the front lines, companies are recognizing the need to hire agents with broader skills who can thrive in a multichannel environment, and who have the problem- solving capability to handle highly complex calls. “The calls being received now are on average more challenging,” says Morrell. “They have increased in duration from 328 seconds to 367 seconds since 2007 for service calls, and from 406 seconds to 467 seconds for sales, suggesting more complex issues and a greater focus on customer experience, cross-selling and upselling, rather than maximizing call throughput. As such, skills and capabilities of agents will have to increase.”

While it hasn’t happened overnight, there has been a continuing trend toward hiring frontline candidates who are more well-rounded—individuals who have the ability to communicate effectively on multiple mediums, who have writing skills in addition to verbal skills, and the ability to become a universal agent, says Dan Campbell, CEO of Hire Dynamics, a staffing provider specializing in contact centers.

At the frontline supervisor level, however, there has been more visible progress, he points out. “The training and development of supervisors has become more intentional, whereas in the past it has been lacking. We’ve seen more focus on ensuring that there is development versus just promoting an individual,” he says. “For supervisors, there is also much more accountability for their team’s customer experience performance than for speed or efficiency metrics.”

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