Emotional Intelligence – setting you up for contact centre success

Reliable.  Efficient.  Self-motivated.  Detail-oriented. A team player and a problem solver with strong interpersonal skills.

It’s a list you’ll be familiar with – used to populate most job ads, the inclusions are widely accepted as sought-after employee attributes.

But there’s another attribute that’s fast solidifying its value and which underpins many traits on that list – emotional intelligence (EI).  Traditionally overlooked in the workplace, studies show EI is now one of the attributes most valued by prospective employers.

For employees in contact centre environments, this couldn’t be more true.

Studies show that 87 per cent of contact centre managers agree EI and EI-related skills are essential characteristics of long-term contact centre staff.  In these environments, listening to customers and responding appropriately is crucial to providing a premium service.  Yet Australian-based contact centres consistently report they struggle to find reliable staff with a strong work ethic and well-developed EI.

As a result, a quarter of all call centre managers report they are currently facing skill shortages, and almost two-thirds believe that a key mid to long-term challenge will be recruiting the right people with the right skills.

So just what does this in-demand attribute look like and how do you make sure it’s part of your skill-set?

There are three major elements to EI: perceiving, understanding and regulating emotions.  Individuals differ in how well they can recognise, understand and use emotional information, which in turn has a strong impact on the way that person thinks and acts in different situations.  Developing a person’s EI can change the way in which that person deals with emotional information, in turn fostering empathy, interpersonal skills, pressure tolerance and stress resistance – all essential characteristics for a contact centre employee.  In a contact centre environment, this translates to constructive client interactions and employee resilience.

To acquire the EI skills that you need to succeed as a contact centre employee, it’s all about training and patience.  Training helps employees identify the emotion of a caller (e.g. hostility), analyse the cause of that emotion and then act in a way that regulates that emotion.  Contact centres are increasingly investing in on-the-job training that sees staff troubleshoot these kinds of difficult scenarios, promoting the development of listening, patience and other EI-related skills to produce positive outcomes.

Such training also gives contact centre employees the chance to work on tone, which can be easily misinterpreted by clients as rude or disinterested if an employee lacks self-awareness.  However, at the same time, it’s equally important for an employee to be impartial, retain an appropriate level of detachment and objectivity, and implement strategies to maintain their own wellbeing in this demanding role.  It’s a tricky balance, but with the right EI training, you’re in the best possible position to strike it.

There’s some commentary that dismisses the value of EI in the workplace, with the assumption often being that employees with higher cognitive ability will automatically have a higher EI level by default.  This simply isn’t true – while cognitive ability certainly helps someone succeed in a role, studies show EI is often the difference between a ‘star’ employee and an average one, particularly in sales and customer-driven positions.  When it comes to dealing with people – the essence of a contact centre role – highly developed EI is an invaluable skill that can ensure your success.

Author – Carl Di Nuzzo – November 2016