Most weeks, we hear stories and learn ideas from thought leaders in the contact center space. But rarely do we hear from the people in the trenches: the agents who are fielding calls, responding to chats, and solving customer problems every day.

Not long ago, Balto CEO Marc Bernstein spoke with a call center agent to discuss what makes his life easier — and more complex — while doing his job. We chose to keep his identity hidden, promote transparency in his answers, and give him the freedom to share his genuine opinions on his work and the call center industry.

Top Takeaways From This Episode

1. Problem Solving Over Empathy

Over-empathizing with your customers is slowing contact centers down and a fast track to agent burnout.

Anonymous admits he might come off as cold or unsympathetic to the person on the other end of his service calls. He knows that other agents are more patient and willing to listen more to customers. As long as both are providing the right answers efficiently, the path they choose to get there shouldn’t matter.

“In general, it’s about respecting that everybody has their own approach to it. And realizing that some people are going to give that extra-mile customer experience. And some people are going to be more on the business end. Not everybody is like me. And so, you know, I try not to knock people for that or, or send feedback for that sort of thing.

If you try to empathize with every single person that comes through, it’s going to burn you out. And in my mind, they’re having a bad day. Get them the right answer, get them off the phone so they can go deal with whatever is causing them to have a bad day.”

2. Culture Eats Contact Centers for Breakfast

Do your agents feel like you have their backs? For Anonymous, a committed support system of supervisors helps him provide better service.

When he feels like he can go to his managers to ask a question, it’s easier to provide better service. There is no threat of being ridiculed, talked down to, or criticized for making a wrong decision. This comfort is especially true if he feels as though the answer he will receive is sound. Having a human resource to expand his knowledge is a requisite for a great experience.

3. Add Context to Your Data

To succeed, every call center needs to measure data against its goals. But you’re missing the macro view when you only measure things like time on-call or other raw numbers like tickets closed. Measuring how often your agents provide the correct answer to customers paints a more accurate picture of success.

For instance, if you provide the right answers every time and are still impacted by negative feedback and poor customer retention, your issue isn’t with service.

Can’t-Miss Quotes

Upper Management Needs to Understand: Saying No Changes the Game

[Some contact centers] may lean more towards placating the customer a little bit. But I feel like the vast majority of them know that no is sometimes the answer that needs to be given. But there’s definitely a disconnect from the upper levels, knowing that that’s okay to the lower levels taking the calls that it’s okay to go that route.

And that was one of the hardest things to learn, just because it does fly in the face of pretty much any form of customer service that you do across any industry. But once I became more comfortable with saying no and delivering those. Negative conversations. Everything went much, much smoother. Once you can relay that message confidently. And you sound like, you know what you’re talking about, the call flows so much smoother. There is no going back and forth. Whenever you can deliver the message in a way that just says, my answer is final and there’s no wiggling around that. The caller accepts it. And your call time drops tremendously.

First and Foremost, Customers Want Their Problem Solved

I’ve got one pretty much the exact same story, but for the internet: I called up, there was very little personal conversation or small talk. Pretty much just, ‘Hey, I need to provision a new modem.’ They said, ‘OK, give me the Mac address.’ I gave it to him. There was about two minutes of silence while I got a provision. And he said you should be good to go. I tested it. We were good. Hung up. The phone call in total was about five minutes. And if every single time I called it into a business, it was like that — it would be wonderful.

Direct Supervisors Are The Glue That Holds Centers Together

A lot of that comes down to their direct supervisors. I know all of the — well, I know that the vast majority of the frontline supervisors, and they’re all pretty good at their jobs at being supportive of their reps, having their back, staying on top of training and new updates. Our back-office team manages that knowledge base pretty well. It gets updated constantly. Any time that you find something wrong, usually within a couple of days to maybe a week, that article is updated with whatever the new information is.

About The Agent

Name: n/a

What he does now: Insurance Call Center Agent

What he did before: Retail Management