Hard Skills, Soft Skills

hard skills. soft skillsCall centres, contact centres, help desks, etc., not all are bad. Likewise, not all are good.

However, a recent survey carried out by my own company has shown high levels of dissatisfaction among the call centre industry, specifically the ground level staff and 1st level management.

As a generalisation, these people feel as if they have been let down. This is the yawning gap in customer satisfaction experienced by a number of companies, this is the very expensive yawning gap of finding trained and motivated call centre staff.

From my own observations and experiences on strategic UK, European and global projects, I have found that many call centres consistently fail to live up to their full potential.

This leads to both negative human and financial consequences resulting in poor customer service, lost business and a high level of disillusionment within the call centre industry.

The reasons for this across the board failing are varied, but specifically from a strategic point of view it is mainly because of the imbalance between the above two skill factors: hard skills and soft skills.

It is a commercial necessity that many senior managers have to focus on the hard skills area. However, the failings start to appear when this complete focus is pressure fed cascaded along the chain of command all the way along to team leaders.

The focus on stats is of course important, but there also always has to be a balance with the soft skills area of call centre work, and indeed in most other areas of work/ life.

All the way along the chain of command straight to agent level, most call centres focus on the stats to the detriment of soft skills development and the “people” element of the call centre.

This has the unwanted result of agents being bombarded with the demands and requirements emerging from the hard skills area. While agents and team leaders need to know what is expected of them – and why – they invariably respond more effectively to the soft skills approach. This is often overlooked and results in a decreased performance throughout the call centre and an unwanted culture.

The problem is it is unusual to find that desired blend of hard and soft skills within the call centre management structure. This is mostly because of extensive pressure from above, forcing managers to concentrate only on the hard skills.

Let’s face it anyway, many managers and people in general already have trouble with soft skills. Call centres are especially prone to such vagaries of human nature and tend to amplify those potentially negative short falls due to the sheer intensity of the work and the heavy reliance upon one another.

People – and especially call centre agents – need to be inspired. This will rarely happen from the pure hard skill area of work. Make no mistake – stats and financials are important and necessary for a full business understanding.

However, what inspires people more is the human approach, the emotional approach, lifting them from what may be overwhelming financials and stats into a state of self belief, and from this, a state of achievement. When this happens, any negative stats there are, are quickly swept away because positive and inspired agents will produce more positive and inspired work.

From experience, this is where most call centres fail to live up to commercial and agent expectations. Most call centres experience some form of negative feedback spiral culminating in agents feeling a definite lack of respect and appreciation resulting in less work and decreasing results. This is so easily halted with soft skills dealing with motivation and communication.

Based upon an understanding of the financials and agent buy in through motivation and a shared responsibility of success, call centres can become more effective than they tend to be – for the long term sustainable benefit of everyone involved.

Call centres come and go but only the successful remain. This success is built upon sound financial results driven from motivated agents. Motivation gained from proper communication and an appreciation of the inherent factors that create within people that elusive sense of achievement.

Inspiration is the key.

Inspiration created from ourselves as professional, motivated and experienced call centre managers. Call centre managers are in a unique position to inspire their staff. They are in a unique position to spread the fruits of success and to make the agent experience a worthwhile and attractive work / life function.

About the Author

James Stuart writes for of CCDynamics. CCDynamics defines, designs and delivers evolutionary strategies for a new generation of contact centres.

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