If there was one boon that the British gave us – it will undoubtedly be the gift of English language. So etched it is into the Indian culture, that till today it stands tall as one of the two preferred official languages of the sub-continent.
We were quick to learn the language and were able to win the hearts of the British bosses and create unparalleled proximity to work, higher learning and beneficial partnerships. Englishmen have left behind a legacy of the language, that brought us to one of the biggest revolutions of the 21st century – the call center.
Rise of the Planet of the Call Centers
By the 1980s and 90s, the focus had slowly shifted to the Americans who quickly noticed potential and to cut operational costs, started outsourcing non-core competencies to India. We still had a substantial supply of English-speaking labour. The well-educated student who was adept at the language was easily offered a job as a call center agent at cheap rates. By the beginning of the 21st century, BPO businesses started reaping as much as 40% of their total revenue from call centers.
The superheroes called Call Center Agents
The thriving BPOs across the country survived on one thing besides its call center software – the call center agents. As a growing response to the demands of off-shore companies looking for low-cost labour services, India had already occupied 8% of the global markets by 2005. The large talent pool of young urbanites with English communication skills and knowledge could earn around $3000/year, which was rather high for the Indian, but yet was just about one-sixth of what an average call center agent in the US would earn.
There are many challenges that call center agents face such as difficult working hours, stress and that too combined with a rigid shift system. Where process and communication training are a necessity, it does take away valuable call center agent labour time. Besides, the first few weeks of ‘call barging’ can leave the agents all weak in the knees with fear.
Where these woes are not unknown, BPOs are making it a point to provide agents with the requisite skills and tools to combat such impediments. However, there are also certain skills that agents develop which help them deal with day-to-day operational hurdles.
Here are a few we have identified:
The angry customer – This is normal for any service industry. Customers always feel that they have a right to feel irate because they are paying for the goods. The answer to deal with some of the most aggressive and nastiest customers is to be nice to them. “The angrier they get, the nicer we get”. A professional attitude towards angry customers stops call center agents from getting frustrated. It is all about not personalizing the conversation and to know that the customer is angry with the product and maybe an operational mishap and not you. They are probably angry at something that did not even involve you in the first place.
Coming back to the point – The extra-chatty customer just loves to talk – particularly the senior citizens. They are just prone to chatting. But with the limitations on the agents’ call time, there’s nothing you can do but to steer them back to the point. It can be stressful and hard but maintaining a little professionalism always helps you and the company.
Patience towards misunderstanding – It is common in the profession to come across customers who will forget their passwords, misunderstand numbers on their credit cards (for example) which can be an extremely frustrating experience. While this may be true, adopting patience is a virtue that goes a long way in closing calls without any untoward incidents.
Product knowledge – As common as it may seem, it is really important for the call center agent to know the product lines very well. Attending all process and product training is imperative besides continuous product updates that are recommended on for job. Constantly updating existing product knowledge and the competitor’s product knowledge will help you as an agent to answer any query with utmost ease.
That human touch – Customers are not just a number, they are definitely human. It is imperative for customers to feel that you as a company care about them and are there to resolve any issues therein. Clearly explaining processes and unknown operations of the company will help the customers plan their purchases better.
The call center agent is the first voice of the company and the direct, first impression that a customer gets. It is, therefore, very important to keep frustrations away and to not dwell on failures that have gone by. Each day has to be dealt afresh and when you go home – leave work at the workplace. When you come back the next day, you will get that refreshed feeling to start all over again.