Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Who Makes the Best Call Center Agent: An Introvert or an Extrovert?

January 29, 2013

Most call center organizations struggle when it comes to hiring agents. This is no surprise: call center representative turnover is high, and most companies spend a fortune due to this turnover in constant recruiting, hiring and training. In fact, hiring often represents the number one expense in many contact centers, so any reduction in turnover is very welcome.

But how do you do it? Keep the agents you have happy with perks such as flexible working hours, schedule swapping, earning rewards and working from home. That’s one way companies have found success in agent retention. Another is hiring the right kind of call center agents to begin with.

Your goal is dual: not only do you want to hire and retain the people most likely to stay, you also want to hire the kind of agents who will turn customer contact opportunities into sales.

While it sounds easy, many call centers simply aren’t sure what they should be looking for in new agents. What works best? People with strong empathy? People with multiple skills such as languages? People with long track records who treat call center work as a career and not the way to fill a gap with a paycheck?

While all of these things are important, it may be more about personality type than anything else when it comes to successful call center agents (if you define success by those who increase sales). While it’s generally accepted conventional wisdom that the best leaders and performers are sales-oriented people, what’s less clear is what type of people make the best salespeople.

A recent study by Adam Grant, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, set out to determine what types of personalities make the best salespeople. While most would imagine that extreme extroverts have the sharpest ability to sell, previous research hasn’t backed this up. In fact, according to Grant’s study, it’s “ambiverts” who make the best salespeople.

Ambiverts, a social science term that dates back nearly 100 years, are people who are neither extremely introverted nor extremely extroverted, the Washington Post is reporting today. People in the study whose personalities were identified (via personality tests) as ambiverts performed better in sales than either extroverts or introverts. These are people who know how to assert themselves but are not pushy, which can turn off sales prospects.

“Extroverts can talk too much and listen too little,” wrote Daniel H. Pink for the Post. “They can overwhelm others with the force of their personalities. Sometimes they care too deeply about being liked and not enough about getting tough things done.”

While no one expects you to issue personality tests to your prospective call center agents, this research could lend a little intelligence to your hiring process. The applicant who sits back in his chair and utters monosyllables during the interview? Perhaps you want to give him a pass. The applicant who takes charge of the entire conversation and tells you things you didn’t ask about? Perhaps you want to give her a pass, too. The ideal agent, it turns out, may be somewhere in the middle.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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