It’s THAT time of the year when the shopping madness kicks in – whether it’s a Black Friday or Cyber Monday haul, a Christmas bargain hunt, or a random midweek splurge to get you over the November slump.

People love to shop and this time of year provides a valid excuse to do so. Customers flood the high street and bombard the net looking for the best deals around. Brace yourself for a busy few weeks ahead if your business is on the receiving end of it. Contact centres are also at their busiest dealing with delivery queries and returns. Wouldn’t it be brilliant to have an army of perfectly trained, multi-skilled, customer-centric and efficient staff to take the heat?

If you run or manage a contact centre, you’ll know better than anyone else: not all agents are the same. Some are introverted some are extroverted. Some are motivated, some are downright lazy. Some are people-focused and some have more than a little work to do in that department. Even though personality traits and motivators vary, consistent delivery of good customer service is key, especially during the holiday season.

Contact centres often recruit temporary staff over the holidays and their motivation (or lack thereof) can negatively impact a business, especially if they aren’t managed properly. And while you might think – wouldn’t it be good to clone Lucy-The-Super Agent who hits her targets weekly, realistically this is never gonna happen. Sometimes it’s not about getting the agent who can do it all, but making the most of the staff you do have. Uncovering the unique strengths of your agents is extremely important.

As we have some insider experience into the life of the contact centre agent, we’ve picked a few agents types you may be familiar with.

Wilma or Winston the Wallflower (Introvert).

You may find yourself thinking Santa only knows why an introvert would end up in customer support, especially when it can involve taking phone calls. A Customer service agent’s job is all about interacting and that’s the last thing an introvert ever wants to be doing, right? Wrong.  Introverted people often take comfort from the fact that they are not face to face with the customer. Some like being at the other end of the phone or behind their computer screen.  Introverts often enjoy fixing problems and are notoriously task orientated.  Not all introverted agents end up in customer support because they need to raise some dough for a January getaway to Malaga. Some of them have the desire to be there.

(Photo source: Thehunt.com)

Other strong points: empathy, attention to details, focusing on the task rather than chatting to fellow agents.

Weaknesses: Introverts are not too comfortable with chit-chats and small talk on the phone, and even their high level of empathy doesn’t always come through – they might come across as rude, when, in fact, they are just being straight-to-the-point.

How to spot: They normally hide behind their screens, trying to blend into the background.

How to make the most of them: In the ideal world, introverts would be best placed to deal with e-mail or chat queries, but the reality is, every agent should be multi-skilled, and the phone is still customers’ preferred channel. Don’t go too hard on your introverts for not being as chit-chatty; praise them for their little victories

Bubbly Barbara and Bubbly Brian.

Some would say ‘enthusiastic’; some would say ‘outgoing’.  Bubblies are usually cheery and likeable. Most of the time customers love this type of agent. Their contagious energy and can-do attitude shines through. You can always count on a Bubbly to cheer up a de-motivated team and they will always be the first person to organise a social night or remember a teammates birthday. On the other hand, a bubbly can fall into the trap of becoming too carried away with small talk over the phone and can miss key signals such as the customer becoming impatient looking for a prompter conclusion to their issue. Bubblies can often cause distraction on the floor, enjoying a frequent chat to their colleagues during wrap time.

(Source: Ultimategaga.com)

Other strong points: empathetic, engaging and well-remembered. Combine these qualities with professionalism and you are on to a winner. Customers will come back just because they get to talk to ‘that lovely Barbara’ or ‘nice Brian’ rather than just another incognito agent.

Weaknesses: Sometimes bubblies are so willing to help; they may overlook some crucial details. Bubblies love making their customers happy.  Watch the ‘goodwill gestures’ not only is this bad for business, if used at the wrong time can spell disaster. For example, if a £5 gift certificate is offered to make up for a diamond ring lost in delivery, the customer is not going to be entertained. (True story, by the way. Don’t ask!)

How to spot: The smiler

How to make the most of them: A Bubbly comes across amazingly over the phone because their personality comes through in the most favourable fashion. Their customer interactions will always have a positive spin.

First time Freddy or Fran

Easy to recognise: wide-eyed and nervous.  Whether it’s their first job since leaving school, their first time working in a contact centre or their first-time in a temp position, they’re a far cry from being in their element. FTF’s are different to introverts who, most of the time, have a good level of self-awareness and know what they’re doing.  They are a little wet behind the ears and need a lot of mentoring from senior agents.  FTF’s come in 2 forms:

  1. The panicker – Worrying comes naturally to them. They read way too much self-help blogs like ‘What Makes a Great Customer Service Agent.’ With the right encouragement, they can grow in confidence and become a valuable member of the team.
  2. The ‘How Hard Can That Be’ guy – Attitude in bucketfulls. Often this FTF can find their way into trouble if their energy isn’t harnessed properly.

FTF’s are usually eager to learn; besides, every manager knows training people is easier than re-training them (see Hard-core Temp).

(Source: http://www.teamhughesrealestateschool.com/)

Other strong points: FTF hardly question the company’s policies and quickly identify with the brand, referring to his workplace as ‘We’.

Weaknesses: Lack of experience multiplied by nervousness can sometimes get a FTT making unnecessary mistakes, like forgetting to clock in first thing in the morning. They also tend to take angry customers’ rant too personally which, apart from making them unhappy, affects their productivity.

How to spot: They don’t know their phonetics. Picture this – A is for emmm, ‘Apple’ and B for ‘Baby’.

How to make the most of them: Praise and simple appreciation works best for a FTF. A manager’s approval motivates them much more than competing with fellow agents for better customer feedback scores or average handling times. Be patient and understanding.

Helen and Harry the Hard-core Tempers (aka Serial or Professional Temp).

The Hard-core Tempers deliberately choose temporary/flexible hours type of employment to have more freedom for whatever else is going on in their life – whether that’s further study, family or other commitments. They put on the temp hat so that they have greater flexibility. HTs often have lots of experience; they can adapt well to the call centre environment and can hit the ground running. While a HT is great in some respects, they do have some disadvantages. Having seen it all creates a ‘know it all mentality’. During training sessions, they are often found challenging the trainer or worse loitering at the back of the room, yawning and rolling their eyes.

Other strong points: Hard-core Temps are rarely fazed by furious customers. They are great at diffusing difficult situation while remaining calm and composed.

Weaknesses: Lack of empathy and sometimes a bit of an attitude. They are not particularly motivated by management’s pep talks and hardly buy into the whole team spirit thing.

How to spot: Their desktop background picture might look like this:

Other strong points: Hard-core Temps are rarely fazed by furious customers. They are great at diffusing difficult situation while remaining calm and composed.

Weaknesses: Lack of empathy and sometimes a bit of an attitude. They are not particularly motivated by management’s pep talks and hardly buy into the whole team spirit thing.

How to spot: Their desktop background picture might look like this >>

How to make the most of them: Embrace the cynicism. I know this goes against every management book out there but since when was being honest a crime.  A cynical person is open and embracing this aspect of personality creates transparency and trust. Their cynicism is a side-effect of their vast experience. Never try and micro-manage a HT. It will never end well!

In this blog, we’ve only chosen to cover 4 types of agent, but we recognise we are only scratching the surface here. We didn’t even get a chance to speak about the Over Friendly agent (you know type that calls everyone pal, mate or bruva, (including the high-end customers), the Muncher (the one that could feed a small army off his keyboard breadcrumbs), the Eye-roller (answers every customer query with an eye roll), not to mention the Manager’s Special (every manager’s dream, but a bit too keen.)

While this blog is meant to be a light-hearted take on the contact centre and the type of agents you’ll expect to find there, it does have a more serious undertone. A one size fits all approach doesn’t work. Treating agents as unique personalities will increase your chance of harnessing ‘the right qualities’ help improve your customer service. An annual employee satisfaction survey simply isn’t enough – invest the time in getting to know what makes them tick and you’ll reap the rewards in the long run!