Want to improve customer service agent performance? Stop hiring the wrong people

Sara Yonker

February 20, 2023

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If you want to provide best-in-class customer service, you need the right team to do it. The problem? Research indicates that most contact centers are full of the wrong types of people performing the job. When those people leave - which happens at alarming rates in the high-turnover customer service industry - managers repeat the same mistakes and hire the wrong type of people to replace them.

It's time to shift our focus to finding agents who possess the key traits needed to deliver great customer experiences, built customer loyalty, and create happy customers. And those traits aren't what you might think. 

In a global study of customer service jobs, researchers identified seven personality types of customer support agents. Although thousands of personality profiling tools exist, this particular view only looked at how customer service representatives approached their job.

The 7 personality types in customer service

What type of people are on your customer support team? Take a look at the types of personalities the study found:

  • The Hard Worker: Follows rules and focuses on numbers 
  • The Empathizer: Good listeners who like to help
  • The Rock: Difficult to offend, hard workers
  • The Innovator: Creative, behaves differently based on situations
  • The Competitor: Convincing and focused on performance metrics 
  • The Controller: Talkative and freely expresses opinions 
  • The Accommodator: Trusting and helpful 

If you assumed that empathizers create the most positive customer experiences and resolve customer issues - you'd be wrong. 

However,  most customer service supervisors, 42%, preferred to hire “empathizers” over  the other six personality types. It’s no coincidence that empathizers were the most common personality type among the front-line customer service jobs, making up about 32% of the workforce.

Empathizers are good listeners, like helping people, and are service-oriented. The only problem? They aren't the most adept at solving customer problems efficiently. They can struggle to make decisions quickly, articulate potential solutions for customers, and problem solve on the spot.

Identifying strengths in each customer service agent

Excellent customer service happens when customer interactions are efficient. 

The people that delivered the highest level of service were what the study called “Controllers.” They are opinionated, talkative, assertive, and problem-solvers. Also nearly as effective were the “Rock”s, who were unflappable, didn’t take difficult interactions personally, and worked diligently toward a solution. To build a great team, you must first shift your focus to recruiting and hiring these people. For your team members who aren't natural controllers, don't worry. Effective coaching can help others display characteristics of controllers.  

Think of it this way: Your customer experience strategy should be biased toward the end result. Every piece of customer feedback and customer satisfaction survey focuses on whether the agents solved the problem, question, or situation. No matter how kind your customer team is, if your resolution times or response times are slow, you're going to face more angry customers than satisfied customers.  

Use targeted coaching for your agents

Even if your contact center only has people you might categorize as empathizers, you can still create a culture of exceptional customer service by shifting your coaching efforts and focusing on behaviors that make the biggest difference.

Get help: Download our agent coaching kit, which has helpful cheat sheets to guide your agents' responses during difficult customer service interactions. 

Download Agent Coaching Kit

Measuring agent performance with critical KPIs

Measuring agent performance requires a focus on key metrics. Traditional KPIs may not actually reflect true agent capabilities or service levels. You should base performance evaluations on what agents can control. If your product fails or service wasn't performed well, that's not the fault of your customer service team.

Traditional customer service metrics 

Individual agent performances are often based on traditional call center metrics. While these measurements provide value, they don't always give proper context. High-performing agents in these areas may not always deliver exceptional service, which is why you need a holistic approach to performance and allow agents to diagnose and treat complex issues with care. 

  • Average time to answer
  • Average handle time
  • First call resolution/ Average resolution time 
  • Transfer rate
  • Average hold time
  • Average idle time or silence time
  • Adherence to script
  • Customer satisfaction scores (NPS, CSAT, Customer Effort scores) 

Customer support metrics that focus on the customer journey 

  • Use of probing questions
  • Issue resolution
  • Customer satisfaction with explicit positive feedback 
  • Action focused language (also called customer advocacy)

Take advantage of coaching

In conclusion, if you want to improve customer service agent performance, identify strengths in each customer service agent and use targeted coaching for your agents. Measure agent performance with metrics that focus on the customer journey. 

The most valuable training you can provide your agents gives them the crucial information they need to solve problems and complete tasks for customers. Improving customer service agent performance should start by understanding what types of problems they can't solve on their own.

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Learn how to identify what optimal agent behavior looks like, how to coach to improve performance, and how to cultivate a team of top performers.

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