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Phone vs. Live Chat Support: The 7 Skills Chat Agents Need and How to Assess Them

Consumer interactions have increasingly moved to online channels. So, it’s no wonder live chat support is one of the fastest-growing business segments for contact centers and business outsourcing providers worldwide. With increasing digitalization across all sectors, this growth is only predicted to pick up and even outgrow phone and email support. 

Live chat can enable your support team to provide a quick, friendly, and convenient experience that suits today’s on-demand customers. That said, to make the most out of this medium, you’ll need top-notch live chat agents who possess the right skills and attitude to address the demands of the role.

For customers, live chat feels quick and easy. But from a recruitment standpoint, there are challenges in navigating the shift from more conventional customer support forms. It may seem simple to move top-performing agents from phone or email to live chat. However, this type of customer support requires an added layer of unique skills that phone agents might not have.

What’s in?

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Isn’t It All Just Customer Service?

Painting all customer service tasks with the same brush is a rookie error. You’re less likely to evaluate candidates for the different skills required of phone and chat agents. Consequently, you risk making poor hiring decisions based on mismatched abilities.

A job’s core skill set is usually assessed by an IO psychologist who researches the competencies, abilities, and dispositions necessary to excel in a specific job role. 

If you don’t have someone like that on your staff, simply keep in mind these three best practices for creating selection criteria for your customer service vacancies:

  1. Identify critical tasks – Critical tasks are the skills candidates need and should feature in the job description. They should accurately reflect the regular activities the candidate will undertake (should they get the job).
  2. Understand what sets apart high performers – Know what criteria elevates an employee. What makes them stand out from lower performers? When hiring, you can use these attributes to identify high-quality candidates that mirror the traits of your best-performing agents.’
  3. Consider readiness vs. potential – Where ‘readiness’ is concerned, consider what qualities a candidate needs to perform their job well from day one – specific personality traits? Detailed knowledge?Certifications. On the other hand, ‘potential’ measures how quickly someone could, over time, thrive in their role. And as such, qualities like cognitive ability, personality, and learning agility, should all be considered. For entry-level positions like live chat support agents, it’s often more important to consider ‘potential,’ providing you can offer the necessary training. 

The roles of live chat and phone agents might seem similar enough. However, these different customer service tasks require a different skill set. Of course, all customer service agents, regardless of medium, need to boast a similar disposition – polite and empathetic, good at following procedures, and always friendly. 

Hire better live chat agents, at scale.

Dive into the rise of live chat, the skills of top-performing agents, and how to best assess them to reduce attrition and guarantee top-notch customer service. 

On top of that, here’s a list of the core customer service skills all agents should possess:

  • Knowledge of policy and procedure
  • Care about your customer’s privacy
  • Use positive and straightforward language
  • Build relationships with the customer
  • Ask for feedback
  • Keep response times low where possible
  • Be able to solve problems
  • Possess closing ability (the power to end a conversation with satisfaction)

With all that said, how does live chat support differ from providing customer service over the phone? 

Most obviously, live chat works via written communication. As such, agents need to clearly and concisely convey information via the written word. In contrast, phone agents must excel at verbal communication. Another key difference is that phone agents will only speak to one customer at a time. Live chat agents, on the other hand, may often multi-task and handle several conversations at once. 

Here are a few other skills high-quality live chat agents possess:

  • Exceptional reading comprehension
  • Excellent grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • An understandable and straightforward communication style
  • Sentiment and fast problem analysis

7 Critical Skills All Live Chat Agents Should Master

Having covered the basics, we’re now delving deeper into the skills live chat agents need to master. With that said, here are the soft skills high-quality candidates need to possess:

1. Prioritizing

Customers expect accurate and timely responses. Because of this, agents must be able to extract the most relevant information from any request, especially if they’re handling multiple at the same time! They have to cut right to the core of the matter. Agents with strong summarizing capabilities can highlight and address critical aspects of a customer’s message quickly. A great chat agent will also prioritize claims that arise simultaneously and compete for their attention. 

2. Memorizing and Recall

We’ve talked about how live chat agents need to assist multiple customers at a time. Because of this, they have to recall the necessary details of each chat as they toggle between them. The ability to quickly remember a recent message allows the agent to adapt promptly and respond appropriately as the discussion progresses. Without this skill, they’ll get stuck reading the same conversation repeatedly, wasting valuable response time.

Agents with strong memorization skills won’t only be facilitating customer requests more efficiently. They’ll also follow protocols better and know what to do next in various circumstances!

3. Multitasking

As we’ve already alluded to, multitasking is a must-have skill for any live chat support agent, as they’ll have to address several requests at a time. This involves extracting critical information from each chat, investigating the relevant files, navigating different software, and following the right protocols. All the while delivering well-formulated responses!

Chat agents with strong multi-tasking capabilities will achieve higher satisfaction rates with customers. Plus, they’ll be more productive as they’ll execute larger volumes of requests quicker!

4. Emotional Intelligence and Control

Like all customer-facing positions, live chat support agents interact with a range of personalities and dispositions. Questions will vary from small requests to complex and delicate situations. Without hearing someone’s voice, it can be challenging to identify how they feel. This is why emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for live chat agents. 

They will need to glean emotional cues from a customer and adapt their written responses to accommodate their disposition. Besides reading emotions from text alone, agents will also have to regulate their own emotions to remain polite, professional, and helpful at all times. Not only is emotional intelligence key to excellent customer service, but it also helps prevent agents from getting too overwhelmed and disheartened under challenging interactions.

5. Software Navigation

For phone agents, tech aptitude varies in importance depending on the company they work for. Conversely, live chat support agents always need to navigate chat software alongside other tools. Only with sufficient software skills will they provide consumers a seamless customer service experience. 

As such, applicants for live chat roles should always be willing to learn new computer software and feel confident about adopting new tools. 

6. Adaptability

A live chat agent’s adaptability goes hand in hand with their ability to summarize conversations. They need to be able to adapt to every conversation they enter…and quickly. 

This also means taking over conversations from a chatbot or colleague and pivoting between discussions with customers with entirely different requests, personalities, or issues.

All the while, the live chat support agent has to make each customer feel like they’re their number one priority. Only agents able to adapt will provide efficient resolutions while maintaining a high standard of customer service quality. 

7. Learning Agility

Finally, learning agility is a crucial skill for almost any job – and live chat agents are no exception. It’s imperative in contact centers where many positions are entry-level. You don’t (necessarily) need to rule out candidates without prior experience if they can easily be trained to meet the role’s requirements.

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our white paper on contact center volume hiring in 2021. Learn about:

The 2021 Guide to Contact Center Volume Hiring

How Should You Assess These Skills?

So, now, we’ve discussed the essential skills chat support agents should possess – great. But how can you, the recruiter, recognize these skills and make the right hiring decisions?

The answer: Get prospective candidates to tackle simulations of the kinds of tasks they’ll undertake on the job. Nowadays, there are many tools available to assess candidates this way, both by skills and holistically. 

Here’s how you can measure essential skills:

  • Typing tests: Here, you can assess whether the candidate can quickly and clearly communicate in writing, using good grammar and punctuation.
  • Multitasking tests: You can measure your short-term memory and the ability to switch between tasks quickly.
  • Situational judgment tests: You can present the candidate with different, real-life scenarios to see how they would behave in critical situations. Situational judgment tests are a great way to identify top performers.
  • Virtual job tryouts (live chat support simulation): These are great for candidates and recruiters alike. While you, as the recruiter, gain valuable insights into the candidate’s abilities, candidates get the chance to experience the job to see if it matches their expectations. This goes a long way to filtering out candidates that don’t enjoy the work and would have left soon after hiring them. Needless to say, this works wonders for boosting your staff retention and satisfaction rates. 

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our new whitepaper on the digital transformation of contact center recruitment processes. Learn about:

  • The biggest challenges in contact center recruitment today and how to overcome them.
  • The 4 pillars of Digital Transformation
  • Sitel’s journey towards a digitally transformed recruitment procest

Select The Right Candidates at Scale Using Virtual Job Tryouts

Although it’s essential to evaluate candidates for the skills outlined above, setting hundred of tests will bog your recruiters down with work and potentially scare away candidates. This is why virtual job tryouts are often the best way to assess several skills at once.

 In this case, a live chat support simulation is perfect for putting your candidates in an environment that mimics the role. This should present candidates with simultaneous, written support requests to address in real-time. As the queries pop up, the system measures their timeliness and the quality of their response. A robust simulation can incorporate all the soft skills we’ve listed – to recap, you can observe their:

  • Typing skills and chat language
  • Their ability to navigate software 
  • How well they respond and react to different types of requests 

All this can be done in just a few minutes instead of arduously testing for each skill over multiple hours. These simulations can also easily be paired with a learning agility test or personality test to get additional insights into your candidates.

Experience our best-in-class Live Chat Assessment first-hand!

Perfect for remote hiring, our live chat assessment makes it easier than ever to hire live chat agents. Candidates experience the job, while you get actionable data to drive hiring decisions.

Selecting The Right Tool for Assessing Live Chat Support Skills

There’s a tool on the market for every assessment type, including evaluating the qualities a chat agent needs to possess. But not all will be right for your needs. 

Of course, accuracy should always be a primary concern. But the best assessment software also considers the candidate and recruiter experience too. Patching together, individual assessments often presents an unpleasant experience for candidates and makes it difficult for recruiters to manage the information they receive. 

So, when you select a tool, look for:

  • Opportunities to provide a realistic job preview
  • Scientific validation
  • Workflow automation
  • A positive candidate experience
  • Ease of use for recruiters

A tool that does all these things will introduce candidates to the job’s reality and provide accurate, easy to interpret results. 

Now It’s Your Turn!

If you want to hire top talent for any role, you must first understand the job’s tasks. It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking live chat and phone support agents require the same skillset. Knowing the subtle differences between their respective roles better enables you to formulate an accurate job description, assess critical skills, and adjust your interview questions. 

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our white paper on contact center volume hiring in 2021. Learn about:

The 2021 Guide to Contact Center Volume Hiring


Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things digital marketing, HR, and B2B. In addition to Harver, you can also find her published on Reader's Digest, E-commerce Platforms, and Judicious Inc. Check out her website https://blogwithrosie.com/ for more information.
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