So, it’s time for you to assemble your live chat dream team. You want your live chat customer service experience to be top notch, so it’s no wonder you want the best and the brightest for the job.
But how do you know who is going to be a good match for your team? How can you tell who will treat your customers with kindness and compassion—who will work diligently to provide them with the solutions and the support that they are reaching out for?
This chapter will take you through a series of good customer service skills that you should look for when hiring live chat agents, and will give you some tips on how to spot these skills in your candidates.
“Wait… hang on… my order number is here somewhere. Uhhh… I’m looking for it, just a minute…” – Anonymous Customer
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in or what walk of life you come from: dealing with people (be it a customer, a colleague, or a boss), often requires patience. Customer service can require a lot of it.
Sometimes customers ramble on and take a while to get to the point. Other times they disappear for a few minutes while your agents are chatting with them, or are slow to type out a response. There may be other times when a customer doesn’t understand a part of the solution that your agent is offering them, and will require a step-by-step explanation before they are ready to move on.
Regardless of what exactly your customers are doing or complaining about, it is important that your live chat agents know how to be patient with your customers.
To make sure that your candidate fits the part, try asking them one of the following questions:
- “How did you react the last time you dealt with a customer who didn’t understand a solution that you proposed. Did you get frustrated, or did you try calmly explaining the problem in a different way?”
- “Would you describe yourself as patient, and what do you do in situations where your patience is being tested?”
Alternately, try asking them one or two everyday situational questions that will let you know whether that person is patient or not. Here are some ideas for you to play with:
- “If your food is taking a little long at a restaurant, what do you do? Do you: (A) Get up and leave (B) Complain to the manager about the situation, or (C) Shrug it off and wait for the food?”
- “How do you respond when you are stuck in a bad traffic jam? Do you (A) Curse at the other drivers and the traffic, (B) Anxiously check the rearview mirror, or (C) Turn on the music and make the best of it?”
Signs of patience include someone who is willing to wait, who doesn’t rush things, who stays calm and re-explains the problem in a different way, and who answers “C” in the latter examples.
2. Avid Listener
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” – Stephen R. Covey
– The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Some customers have a lot to say, others need to have additional details coaxed out of them. Regardless of how a customer communicates, your live chat agent needs to be a masterful listener.
If an agent can’t listen correctly to a customer’s problem, chances are they might misread or skip over key information and come up with a less-than-ideal or even unsatisfactory solution. Alternately, they might force a customer to repeat themselves (if they are talking to the customer over audio chat or over the phone), which runs the risk of irritating the customer.
Ultimately, customers want to feel like their issue matters. An agent who is an avid listener will know how to use good listening skills to make the customer feel heard, and get started on the right track towards resolution.
As you perform your interview, watch out for good listening skills in your candidate. You want to hire a live chat agent who does some or all of the following:
- Maintains eye contact
- Uses visible signs of listening including nods
- Uses verbal signs of listening, including the use of words such as, “right,” “uh-huh,” and “I understand.”
- Doesn’t interrupt
- Someone who asks questions to ensure understanding.
While these listening skills are most useful in video and/or audio chat, they show that your candidate is willing and able to listen. You can further examine this skill during live chat training by listening to your agent interacting with a customer. Ask yourself: Do they remain silent and only respond to interject their perspective, or do they use words, sounds and phrases to indicate that they’re listening and understanding?
3. Ability to Empathize
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It allows a person to feel another’s pain, frustration, happiness, or sadness, and brings a true understanding of how the other person is feeling.
For a live chat agent to truly want to help a customer, they must be able to empathize with how the customer is feeling, and relate deeply to their issue. This will enable them to care enough about the customer to go the full mile for them, and to provide them with the most satisfying solution possible.
Share a story with your candidate about a negative customer service experience that your company had, where a customer suffered as a result of a company mistake. Ask your candidate how they would have felt/done in the customer’s situation, and what solution they would have hoped for if they were that customer.
4. Communication Skills
Communication over live chat is different from communication over the phone. Live chat customer service agents must be able to communicate well in writing with their customers. This involves being very clear to avoid repeat contact, and making sure that the customer understands what has been communicated.
This also means communicating with the customer in a way that they will best be able to understand. Agents shouldn’t use any uncommon abbreviations or jargon, unexplained technical terms, etc. that your customers might not be familiar with. For video and audio chat, agents should also be ready to use tone and body language to communicate effectively.
Communication skills will serve your live chat agent not only in the chat window, but also when tagging chats, writing follow-up notes, and in communicating effectively with managers or fellow agents should a problem arise.
Listen to how your candidate is communicating with you during this interview process. Are they expressing their ideas clearly? Are they over or under-elaborating when they shouldn’t be? Are they giving you specific or vague answers? Are they asking thoughtful questions when they don’t know something?
5. Willingness to Learn
Starting a new job requires that you implement new knowledge and apply new skills. To succeed in their position, live chat agents need to be willing to learn and use new applicable information.
For starters, they need to familiarize themselves with the product so that they will be able to pass on the correct information to customers. They will also have to learn company policy, the computer systems, and how to operate the live chat program among other things. Even learning about the industry/competitors can be important to what they’ll be discussing with customers.
Part of the willingness to learn and adapt involves being able to read manuals, guidelines, and ask superiors whenever they are unsure, instead of giving a customer wrong or uncertain information. It also involves being able to receive feedback, and not taking any constructive criticism from supervisors personally.
Ask your candidate what they know about your company and the industry. A candidate who is willing to learn in order to succeed will have done their homework, and will be able to give you a response.
6. Team Player
If a new team member asks a fellow live chat agent a question or for help, they should do what they can to lend a helping hand. This is important because contact between agents fosters learning moments, which ultimately play a big role in the onboarding process, and are vital to keeping up the quality level of your live chat team as a whole.
When everyone is in, working to lower a queue, your agent should be a team player and help achieve that goal.
To get an idea about whether or not your candidate is a team player, ask them: “If you see a team member struggling, what do you do?” Alternatively, ask them to tell a story about a time when they helped solve a problem or accomplish something as part of a team.
To enforce this team player mindset, make sure that in the agent training and onboarding process, your new agent is paired up with an agent who can show them the ropes of working the system. This will establish an environment where the norm is for agents to help one another and will help encourage your new agent to help another in the future.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” –William Shakespeare
Everyone can be a Negative Nancy every now and again, but it is important that your live chat agent have an overall positive attitude. Negative customer service agents and negative customers can feed off of one another’s bad energy, and result in an overall upsetting interaction. Negativity can create a horrible working culture for everyone else in the office, too.
Positivity allows agents to see many possibilities for resolution. It can also help agents cheer up customers who are upset, and/or help them see the bright side of a situation. Positivity will keep an agent going after having dealt with a difficult or upset customer. It is a necessary tool for creating a happy, healthy environment in which agents can flourish.
Ask your prospective agent what their experience was like at their former job. This will give you an idea of what they took away from it—the positive or the negative—and what they are bringing into your office.
8. Ability to Multitask
Unlike with typical call center support, live chat agents are expected to be able to handle multiple customers’ problems at once. This is because live chat is not as demanding of attention as a phone conversation (which is part of why customers prefer it), so agents can juggle several chats at a time.
In order to succeed, your live chat agents must be effective multi-taskers. This means not ignoring or forgetting to respond to one chat because you’re busy with another. It might also mean working on answering customer emails, or other assignments while also actively participating in a chat.
Ask your candidate for an example of a time they were able to successfully carry out multiple tasks at once. What were they doing, and how did they do?
9. Good Typing Skills
Live chat agents must have a good grasp of basic typing skills. This means being able to type quickly, and practice good spelling and grammar. It also means having a good grasp on computer shortcuts (such as copy and paste) and other functions that will save them time in the long run. An agent without these skills might be a good customer service agent, but live chat may not be for them.
Have your candidate take a test to measure their speed. A good benchmark to aim for is 50 or more words per minute.
10. Manages Time Wisely
One of the most commonly evaluated metrics is an agent’s average handle time (AHT). Live chat agents should measure up and be able to use good time management practices to achieve the average handle time benchmark that is set by your company.
That doesn’t necessarily mean rushing to complete a chat; it means knowing where to spend your time and how to spend it wisely. For example, your agent should know to escalate a customer issue to a supervisor after spending half an hour trying to help them without success.
Time management skills include setting clear goals, prioritizing, organizing, and avoiding procrastination. Ask your candidate to rate on a scale from 1-5 how well they can accomplish each of these skills, and how they plan on improving them.
11. Organizational Skills
Organizational skills are important to most employers, and live chat customer service is no exception. Agents should be able to keep track of things like customers who need to be followed up with, updates to policy, custom canned messages, shipping times, active discounts, and more.
Whether your agent is keeping track of these on a sticky note or in a document, they should know where to access this information when they need it so that they don’t keep customers waiting.
Show your new live chat agents an example of an exemplary cubical, to give them ideas of how to organize their information. Recommend that they record and place useful information within eyesight, and that at the end of the day they clear their desk to help keep an organized work environment.
There are three types of behavioral styles: passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior. Customers can adopt any one of these styles, and so can agents.
In order to effectively with customers, an agent should be assertive. If you aren’t sure what that means, imagine assertiveness as the healthy middle ground between passive and aggressive behaviors. Assertiveness means being able to maintain control of a conversation that is being hijacked by an aggressive customer, while also being able to help guide a conversation with a passive customer (who doesn’t know how to express what they want) towards resolution.
The right live chat agent won’t be a pushover (passive), but they also won’t be a bully towards your customers (aggressive). They’ll adopt the middle ground, and result in the most satisfying conversational outcome.
Assertive people have self-confidence, respect others, validate others, and work towards compromise. Ask your live chat candidate how they react when a customer is getting aggressive with them, versus how they react when a customer passively lets them steer the conversation.
Alternately, ask your candidate:
- “On a scale from 1-10, how likely are you to avoid dealing with situations involving confrontation?” (10 being passive, 1 being aggressive)
- “On a scale of 1-10, how true is it that instead of arguing, you tend to accept responsibility for other people’s mistakes?” (10 being passive, 1 being aggressive)
- “Have you ever used anger or intimidation to get your way?” (Answering ‘yes’ would indicate aggression)
When customers are typing in live chat you can’t see them or hear them, which means that sometimes it can be hard to tell what they are feeling. A live chat agent should be intuitive, and able to interpret your customers tone and emotions.
This is easier over audio or video chat, where facial and verbal cues give your customers emotions away; but it is also important to do over written chat. An intuitive live chat agent will know how to proceed carefully in instances where a customer is upset. They will know what sorts of customers they can use humor with, and will be able to read the signs that a passive customer is not happy with a solution.
An intuitive agent will be able to achieve a better resolution of a customer’s issues, and an overall better experience for the customer.
Examine the chat log of new agents. Are they correctly intuiting what your customers are feeling? Or are they missing opportunities for connection and satisfaction?
14. Keeps Calm Under Pressure
When the stakes are high for a customer, a chat window can turn into a high-pressure and even hostile environment. A live chat agent needs to know how to “Keep calm and carry on,” even when they are being yelled at (or typed at in all caps) by a customer.
By handling escalated, tense situations with calmness and fortitude, a live chat agent will have what it takes to achieve de-escalation and make it big in the business.
Ask your candidate to tell you about a time that they found themselves in a high- pressure situation, and how they went about handling it. Did they find themselves getting worked up and drawn into the drama of the situation? Or did they keep a calm, neutral presence?
15. Problem Solving Skills
Live chat exists to connect customers quickly and easily to solutions. To help customers reach the most ideal, satisfying solutions, agents need to possess problem solving skills.
This is especially important because agents will not always have the resources or the means to get customers exactly what they want. By using problem solving skills, agents will be able to turn a limiting situation into a realm of opportunities.
Make sure that new agents are very informed about your company’s rules and procedures—a good base of knowledge in this area is the first step to being able to identify the boundaries where problem solving can occur.
The best problem solvers always possess creativity. That’s because creativity helps people see solutions that you otherwise may never have thought of.
Creative agents might also be able to connect with customers in unique ways, or by using humor. Also, leave it to a creative agent to invent a process that gets things done in less time, and maximizes efficiency.
To test a candidate’s creativity, don’t be afraid to have fun and use creative questioning! Try asking them to think of as many uses as possible for an everyday object, such as a spoon, or a table. You can also give the candidate 3 random words, and ask them to make a quick story using these words.
In live chat and in customer service in general, first contact resolution (FCR) is everything.
This is because every time a customer makes repeat contact with your business over an issue that wasn’t properly solved the first time, their satisfaction and likelihood of becoming a repeat customer drops significantly. Repeat contact also results in clogged queues, a higher wait time, and a heavier workload for your agents.
Make sure that your candidate is a determined individual, who won’t abandon a customer until their issue is solved on the first try.
Ask your candidate the following questions:
- “If you were a customer with a pressing issue, how determined would you want your agent to be when solving it?”
- “What would you do if you couldn’t see an obvious solution to a customer’s problem?”.
Whether your live chat agents are working remotely or are in-office, you need agents who are reliable.
Agents should be able to clock in on time—when they are expected to—and not leave their co- workers buckling under the pressure of a heavy queue. They should also be relied on to stick to established rules and procedures, such as wrap-up, etc.
Test a prospective agent’s reliability by how they showed up to the interview. Did they show up on time? Or were they 15 minutes late? If in doubt, this is a great question to ask your candidate’s references.
19. Good Work Ethic
Some days, during the off-season, being a live chat agent might be a breeze. Other days, during the busy season, the queue may never seem to go down.
It is important that a live chat agent be a self-starter with a good work ethic. They shouldn’t need to be reminded that “we have chats holding” to get off of “busy” mode and tackle those chats.
Dig into your candidate’s work and school history. How old were they when they had their first job? What were their grades like in college? You can also ask them questions about their personal goals. Are they ambitious? What are they doing right now to achieve those goals?
20. Ability to Negotiate
Your customers won’t always get the perfect solution that they were hoping for. This is where an agent’s ability to negotiate can prove valuable.
By negotiating with a customer, your agent can find a solution that works for both your customer and your company. This can be a vital part of problem-solving, and can also prove beneficial in sales, such as if your company uses proactive live chat.
To find out if your prospective agent is a good negotiator, ask them the following questions:
- “Are you comfortable with ambiguity?”
- “Are you willing and equipped to handle disagreement and confrontation?”
- “What will you do if you don’t get this job?”
Good negotiators are also often patient, persistent, and hard working—so be on the lookout for these characteristics.