Call Center

5 Essential Skills Every Call Center Agent Should Have

Hire The Right Staff to Achieve Optimal Outcomes

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Call center success hinges on your agents. The right agents produce the best results. This starts with hiring. Here are five essential agent skills to screen for in the interview process.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

1. Clear Speech

The first essential agent skill is that they can speak clearly. This includes enunciation, diction, and accent free. This sets the foundation for successful communication between agent and caller to take place.

Yet I’m shocked at the number of call center agents I talk to who lack this basic characteristic.

Each time a caller asks an agent to repeat themselves lengthens the call. This represents lost time, added expense, and decreased efficiency.

Now multiply this by the number of calls an agent processes per day. If the need to repeat themselves adds 10 percent to the length of each call, this means they handle 10 percent fewer calls.

With practice, a person can improve their speech habits, but it requires commitment and diligence that few people have the patience to pursue. The better course is to hire for this trait and not struggle to train people how to speak effectively.

2. Accurate Typing

Typing stands as a second essential agent skill. Though typing speed is important, even more critical is typing accuracy. Fast has little value if it contains errors.

Typing inaccuracy results in database errors and miscommunication. If not corrected, database errors produced problems every time the file is accessed. This causes an extra expense to correct—assuming it’s fixed at all.

Whereas miscommunication results in the caller having wrong information. This causes them to call back—thereby doubling the amount of work—or results in them proceeding with misinformation.

Error-free typing should be the standard to achieve. Within reason, speed is secondary.

3. Attentive Listening

Successful agents must listen with care, for both the words said and the tone behind those words. This stands as the third essential agent skill.

Furthermore, agents must be able to achieve this amid the distraction of your call center operation. And if they work remotely, they must be able to do this successfully in their home environment, which may be less than ideal.

Deficiencies in an agent’s ability to listen to callers results in the caller needing to repeat themselves.

Just as with agents needing to repeat themselves adds time to each call, when callers need to repeat themselves, it likewise increases the length of calls and decreases effectiveness.

4. Positive Attitude

Few things damage a call center more than agents with a negative attitude. One person with a critical spirit is bad enough. But left unchecked, they’ll quickly infect their coworkers. And often they share their negativity with their callers too.

This damages your brand and thwarts effective communication.

For this reason, it’s critical to hire agents with a positive attitude. This is the fourth essential agent skill.

5. Teachable

The final essential agent skill is being teachable. This includes their initial training, as well as advanced instruction.

If they learn slowly, this increases their training time, along with the associated cost. It also delays when they can start being productive and contributing to reaching your call centers mission.

Even worse are employees who don’t want to learn or refuse to do so. This may be because they think they know better than their instructor.

Or it could result from having a negative attitude. Their ability to listen also connects with their ability to learn. Given this, we see how the third and fourth essential agent skills can affect the fifth one.


Call center success begins with your staff. Screen for and hire agents who can speak clearly, type accurately, listen attentively, exude positivity, and are teachable.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center industry.

Read his latest book, Call Center Connections.

Call Center Connections: Keys to Produce Successful Customer Service Outcomes, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.