Chapter 5: Working in a Customer Contact Center

Chapter 5 Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

    1. Describe the difference between the traditional call center and the modern contact center.
    2. List five duties a contact center representative performs.
    3. List five issues a contact center representative may deal with.
    4. List three things a contact center representative may do to provide quality customer service.

The Role of the Contact Center Representative

“A  – also called an agent – is a person who works in a call or contact center and helps customers with their issues. They may do this using a variety of channels, including phone, chat, email and social media. Customer service representatives (CSRs) play an important role in influencing the customer experience.”[1] The role of the customer service representative (CSR) is to offer outstanding service to customers in order to maintain satisfaction by meeting or exceeding customer expectations. A CSR must have many skills including good communication skills, excellent problem-solving skills, and strong interpersonal skills.

customer service representatives working in cubicles
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

“A , as the name suggests, is focused on voice calls. Even if a call center provides some multi-channel customer service, the interactions are siloed in the individual channels. This does not provide a clear view of the full customer journey. On the other hand, a , as the name indicates, allows customers to contact a company not just via calls, but across whatever channel they choose.”[2]

“A contact center is the central point from which all customer contacts are managed. This requires the coordination and integration of people, processes, and technology across the business. Contact center agents, for instance, need to be trained in the best practices of each channel for engaging customers.” [3]

Watch the “Contact Center vs Call Center: What’s the difference?” YouTube video below to learn the difference between contact centers and call centers.[4] Transcript for “Contact Center vs Call Center: What’s the difference?” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Customer Service Representatives have the ability to help retain existing customers, as well as, help obtain new customers, so it is a highly valuable position for any company. You may be wondering if a position as a contact center representative is the right job to begin your career.

Most likely you have interacted with a contact center at some point in your life, but you may wonder what a day in the life of a customer service representative may include. “To work in a call center, you’ll need to be motivated by customer success. Call center agents are tenacious problem-solvers who are committed to enhancing customers’ experience with a company or brand. A call center agent’s workday is typically fast-paced and requires them to manage a handful of different responsibilities. Oftentimes, agents need to be flexible with their workflow and capable of handling unexpected roadblocks. While this causes their workday to look different each day, agents will still perform the same core call center duties regardless of the task they’re completing.”[5]

Contact Center Agent Duties

The job of a contact center agent can be quite varied and interesting. Responsibilities may include the following. [6]

  • Responding to short SMS queries.
  • Answering inbound phone calls.
  • Answering emails.
  • Responding to support tickets filled out over a web form.
  • Engaging in live chats.
  • Making outbound phone calls.
  • Identifying and escalating issues to supervisors.
  • Providing product and service information to customers.
  • Researching, identifying, and resolving customer complaints using applicable software.
  • Processing orders, forms, and applications using applicable software.
  • Documenting all call information according to standard operating procedures.
  • Recognizing, documenting, and alerting the management team of trends in customer calls.
  • Following up on customer calls where necessary.
  • Upselling or cross-selling products and services.
  • Working with colleagues when necessary to resolve customer complaints.
  • Learning about the company products to be able to answer any questions from customers.

Agents may have to deal with a wide variety of issues including the following.

  • Pre-sales
  • Inbound sales and service
  • Outbound sales and service
  • General account queries
  • Bill payments
  • Complaints
  • Technical support
  • Warranty claims
  • Product returns
  • Account upgrades
  • Account closures
  • Appointment bookings or reminders

Agents must make sure that they do the following.

  • Answer calls within a specific period of time.
  • Answer the call correctly, usually giving their name, the company they represent, and the department.
  • Resolve most calls on the first contact or refer them to the correct department.
  • Ensure that the customer is happy and that they do not have any other queries.
  • Log the nature of the call accurately against the customer’s account.
  • Handle an appropriate number of calls per day (or at the very least be in the ‘ready’ state to accept calls for the right amount of time, if call volumes are low).

Some call center agents work in-house, directly for their employer while others may be working for an outsourcing company and accept calls for a range of clients. Some agents work from home (also known as virtual agents), while others work from a central office and commute to work each day.  Some companies operate their own contact centers while others outsource their contact center operations, or part of it, to an agency.

Depending on the specialization of the agent, they may handle calls falling into several of the above categories, or they may be focused on one or two specific areas.  Some companies, such as financial companies, may assign high-value clients a designated “account advisor” agent who will answer the majority of their calls. This helpful customer retention strategy ensures that the customer interacts with someone who knows the status of their account and who can answer their questions promptly. For complex issues and high-value accounts, this kind of continuity is essential.[7]

All companies benefit from contact center computerized systems that pull together customer information into a reporting system (usually a customer relationship management (CRM) database) which makes it easy for any agent on the team to locate the customer’s history with the company, orders pending and filled, interactions such as complaints, and notes left by other agents before and during an interaction with the customer.  This makes for a positive customer experience and aids in customer retention.

Contact Center Agent Workload

Contact center agents may be working in very busy environments and be expected to answer 50 or more calls per day.  An agent may be working in an inbound center or an outbound center. Inbound centers are usually for customer service calls coming into the company from customers seeking information, looking for product support, returning products, or paying bills.  Outbound centers are usually for calls initiated by the company going out to customers either attempting to make a sale, or provide information about a promotion, improve customer relationships, or solicit new business.

An agent not only takes phone calls but also works with various channels responding to customer inquiries and solving customer issues. Some issues take time and must be researched, reviewed with a manager, or collaborated on with other departments so an agent must set aside time for these tasks and follow-up with the customer later in the day or the next day (as agreed upon). Even if there is no resolution to the problem, the agent should contact the customer at the agreed-upon time to provide a status update and let them know the problem is still being worked on.

“Depending on the nature of the calls, working in a call center can be quite repetitive. Agents who work in departments doing bill payments or inbound sales need to be good typists since they must record addresses and card details quickly and accurately. Those working in support roles need to be able to complete ticket information accurately, demonstrate good listening skills, and communicate instructions clearly.”[8]

Being flexible and adaptable may help an agent overcome the boredom of the repetition of similar calls. Agents may be asked to work in both inbound and outbound centers, offer support on more than one product, answer bilingual calls, or swap between different communication channels. Having agents who can work in different areas and on different systems is a benefit for the employer too as it means less agent downtime.

“Call center work can be stressful if the callers become hostile, but it can also be quite rewarding if the callers are polite and are grateful for the help that they are given. Outbound sales agents, and those who do outbound surveys, can sometimes face hostile responses from call recipients. A good call center agent will handle it gracefully and remove the recipient from the database so they don’t get called again.”[9]

Watch the “Mock Call Sample Recording With Call Flow Guide” YouTube video below for examples of customer calls in the call center.[10] Transcript for “Mock Call Sample Recording With Call Flow Guide” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Contact Center Agent Wages

Many contact center agents earn minimum wage, but agents with multiple skills or who speak multiple languages often earn higher pay rates than those who handle only one type of customer call.  Agents working in technical support, medical or financial areas often receive higher pay rates.  Agents working in sales roles will usually earn a commission on top of their regular salary.[11]

“Because of the relatively low rate of pay for the entry-level positions, the turnover rate for office-based call center work is high. Virtual call center agents usually enjoy better job satisfaction, and a better pay rate in real terms, since they do not have to commute to work and don’t have to worry about packed lunches/eating out or buying work clothes. Since they work from home, their work day feels shorter and they may enjoy more leisure time while still getting the same rate of pay for the hours they work.”[12]

Contact Center Agent Training

Most organizations train their contact center representatives during the first few weeks on the job. Representatives need to become familiar with the company’s mission and vision and specifics around the image the company wishes to portray to customers.  After a few weeks of training, the manager will often coach and monitor new representatives on the job, correcting any service issues they observe. As new technology is introduced into the call center, customer procedures change, trends in service change, or legal or company policies change, representatives may need to be trained on the changes.  Once an agent is trained they may be offered additional training to grow their skills and knowledge so as to work in multiple departments, for multiple customers, or learn more about selling or servicing various products.

Watch the “How to Survive Your Call Center Training” YouTube video below for information call center trainees will want to know.[13] Transcript for “How to Survive Your Call Center Training” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Providing Quality Service in a Contact Center

No matter how experienced you are, never assume you know more about the customer’s needs than they do. These types of assumptions can lead to miscommunication and frustration for both of you. Instead, communicate thoughtful, personalized solutions. No two customers are alike. Each one has their own unique needs and goals that are specific to their situation. Recognizing these differences and adapting your communication to align with each customer is a great way to build rapport.[14]

To stand out from competitors, you need to do more than just provide the right answer. Exceeding customer expectations and providing positive, memorable experiences help retain customers and make them loyal advocates which means more revenue for the company. When customers have questions, they want answers quickly. That means you need to be organized and capable of thinking on your feet. It also means that you need to be proficient with call center technology. Most agents will receive training during onboarding or orientation on how to use the computerized systems. You need to document and respond to tickets (issues to respond to) efficiently.

Observe recurring patterns or customer roadblocks.  If several customers complain about the same thing then this may be a significant problem and you should report these issues to management.  The company can then correct the issue whether it be a processing problem or a product flaw.  Correcting the issue early means avoiding future angry customers and ensuring a better customer experience.  This makes your job as an agent easier too.

It’s tempting to provide a customer with an easy, short-term solution; however, it’s important to solve the customer’s long-term needs, and not for your own convenience. Customers will recognize the difference and will remain loyal to your business if you truly go above and beyond for them.[15]

Stay calm under pressure, especially when dealing with angry customers. Your professionalism may be tested when dealing with angry customers, but doing a quality job means actively listening to complaints, calming the situation, and resolving the issue as effectively and efficiently as possible.  This may mean following up with the customer after you have done some research on their problem.  Sometimes you need to transfer the customer to a manager when you do not have the authority needed to solve the issue. Other times it may mean working with another department to get the customer issue resolved.  All you can do is remain calm, work diligently, and reassure the customer that you are working in their best interest and trying to solve their issue quickly and effectively.

Watch the “How to Deal With Angry Customers” YouTube video below to learn some tips for dealing with angry customers.[16] Transcript for “How to Deal With Angry Customers” Video [PDF–New Tab]. Closed captioning is available on YouTube.

Key Takeaways

  1.  A Customer Service Representative (CSR) – also called an agent – is a person who works in a call or contact center and helps customers with their issues. They may do this using a variety of channels, including phone, chat, email, and social media. Customer service representatives (CSRs) play an important role in influencing the customer experience.
  2. A traditional call center, as the name suggests, is focused on voice calls. Even if a call center provides some multi-channel customer service, the interactions are siloed in the individual channels. This does not provide a clear view of the full customer journey.
  3. A modern contact center, as the name indicates, allows customers to contact a company not just via calls, but across whatever channel they choose.
  4. A contact center representative has many duties, some of which include: Answering inbound phone calls. answering emails, responding to support tickets filled out over a web form, engaging in live chats., and making outbound phone calls.
  5. Contact center agents may deal with a variety of issues, some of which include: inbound sales and service, outbound sales and service, general account queries, bill payments, and complaints.
  6. To provide quality service, a contact center representative should communicate thoughtful, personalized solutions, be organized and capable of thinking on their feet, be proficient with call center technology, observe recurring patterns or customer roadblocks and report them to management, solve customer issues for the customer’s long-term needs and not for their own convenience, and stay calm under pressure, especially when dealing with angry customers so as to maintain their professionalism.

End-of-Chapter Exercises

  1. Jobs. Search the Internet to locate three job advertisements for a contact center representative (or agent) and compare the duties to those listed in this chapter.  The job titles may differ, for example, a job advertisement posted on the Coca-Cola Company website is entitled “Customer Resolution Specialist” working in the “Customer Care Center” while the job duties are those of a contact center representative.  Try searching company websites for jobs at companies you might like to work for one day. Starting out in a contact center is a great way to get hired and work your way up the proverbial ladder within your desired organization.
  2. Contact Center Software. Search the Internet to locate information on contact center software. Contact center software allows companies to manage a high volume of inbound and outbound customer communications across a range of channels. Select one specific software, such as Talkdesk, LeadDesk, Bitrix24, VICIdial, Five9, Nice, or another, to further research. Take note of the features and benefits of the software as well as the price. You may also wish to look at some user reviews to see how people liked using the software.  Is there a demo or free trial?  Share this information with your professor or classmates.  Your professor may wish to take advantage of a free trial and have you practice using some contact center technology.
  3. Salesforce Service Cloud. Many companies use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to track interactions with customers so that contact center agents can view the issues customers may have had in the past. A very popular example of CRM software is Salesforce Service Cloud which is contact center software, built on a SaaS model, that empowers the company to manage customer service in the cloud. Salesforce provides customer relationship management service and also provides a complementary suite of enterprise applications focused on customer service, marketing automation, analytics, and application development. You can learn more about using Salesforce at the Trailhead free training website. Go ahead and sign up for free then take a quick 10-minute tutorial on using Salesforce Service Cloud.
  4. Hootsuite. Search the Internet to discover the most popular social media used by companies today to interact with customers. Many companies use software tools to manage their social media accounts in one place. Hootsuite is a popular social media management dashboard. Hootsuite also offers a free trial. Research Hootsuite and take note of the features and benefits of using such software. Share this information with your professor and classmates.
  5. Call Center Quiz. Take a quiz to see if you are a good candidate for a call center position.
  6. Common Phrases. Review some common phrases agents use when serving customers then roleplay with a partner various customer phone calls.  Some angry customer calls, some inquiries about products or services, and some billing questions or complaints.  If you are not sure how to answer the customer, do some research to find some example calls to learn how to provide the best service possible. The customer can provide you with feedback on how well you represented the company and how well you resolved their problem or provided exceptional customer care.

 

Self-Check Exercise – Dealing with Angry Customers

 

Additional Resources

  1. Best Contact Center Software
  2. Gartner Ranks Five9 Highest for Agile Contact Center and North America Use Cases
  3. Salesforce Trailhead – Learn new skills in Salesforce CRM software
  4. Top 15 Call Center Quality Assurance Best Practices
  5. 8 Most Important Qualities of a Call Center Agent
  6. Monster Call Center Agent Job Description Sample
  7. Social Media Customer Service

References

(Note: This reference list was produced using the auto-footnote and media citation features of Pressbooks; therefore, the in-text citations are not displayed in APA style).


  1. Nice. (2021). What is a customer service representative (CSR)? https://www.niceincontact.com/call-center-software-company/glossary/what-is-contact-center-customer-service-representative-csr
  2. Aquino, J. (2020, February 18). Contact center vs. call center: 6 key differences and why it matters. TTEC. https://www.ttec.com/blog/contact-center-vs-call-center-6-key-differences-and-why-it-matters
  3. Aquino, J. (2020, February 18). Contact center vs. call center: 6 key differences and why it matters. TTEC. https://www.ttec.com/blog/contact-center-vs-call-center-6-key-differences-and-why-it-matters
  4. Nextiva. (2020, November 23). Contact center vs call center: What's the difference? [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/HJtuLLY3gZk
  5. Glassdoor Team. (2019, May 2). Working in a call center: Here's what you need to know.  https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/working-in-a-call-center/
  6. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  7. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  8. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  9. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  10. Kwestyon. (2020, July 18). Mock call sample recording with call flow guide. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seQ5RRI6H4c
  11. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  12. McMahon, K. (2021, January 22). What does a contact center agent do? Intrado. https://www.intrado.com/en/blog/cloud-collaboration/what-does-contact-center-agent-do
  13. Kwestyon. (2020, August 31). How to survive your call center training. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FLgVBEHR14
  14. Saboo, N. (2019). Working in a call center: Everything you need to know. [Blog]. Hubspot. https://blog.hubspot.com/service/working-call-center
  15. Saboo, N. (2019). Working in a call center: Everything you need to know.  [Blog]. Hubspot.  https://blog.hubspot.com/service/working-call-center
  16. Userlike. (2020, March 3). How to deal with angry customers.  [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/8K19oXZyAAU

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