Call Center Skills: Find the Best Workforce and Tech

call center skills

While setting up your own call center may seem like an overwhelming task, all you need are a few key ingredients: some knowledge, a solid sales process, a good team and the right technology. This article will walk you through the process of setting up a call center for your business. 

Managing a call center is very much like running a sales team: you have to set realistic yet ambitious sales goals, keep an eye on reps’ performance and stay accountable to your organization’s leadership. 

But there is one big difference: working in a call center is a high-stress job, and reps tend to quit... often.

Case in point: a report done by CSO Insights puts the annual attrition rate for salespeople at 16%. Depending on your source, call center turnover rates are between 30% and 45%. According to Forrester, however, some contact centers have an annual turnover rate of 100%!

Call center attrition is, on some levels, a fact of life. You won’t be able to prevent it, but you can manage it by managing your team well. 

In this guide to telesales we cover: 

  • Setting up your call center
  • How to find and hire a team of sales call specialists
  • How to create your cold calling script
  • How to set sales goals and measure progress

Planning your call center 

When you’re setting up a call center, you can’t just throw a bunch of reps in a room with some telephones. The first thing you’ll want to do is come up with a plan.

In fact, you’re going to want to do a lot of planning. You’ll need to figure out how many reps you’ll need, what tools they’ll be using to do their jobs and where your call center will be located. Set aside a lot of time for the planning phase because you’re going to have to answer a lot of questions before your reps can dial out for the first time. 

For example: 

  • Will you use a remote team, or will you have a physical space? 
  • How many reps will you need? 
  • What goals will your team be expected to meet? 
  • Which KPIs are most important to your organization?
  • Which CRM will you use to measure those KPIs? 
  • Which virtual calling software will your team use? 

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll need to develop a plan for finding and developing the best talent to staff your center. Try to build a retention plan in advance to keep your employees onboard for the long haul. This will mean plenty of ongoing training and development for reps, and hopefully some upward mobility within the team. 

You’ll also want to create a structured reporting process, so you’re able to turn the data generated by your CRM and phone system into insights that will help you grow and improve your telesales. 

Once all your plans are in place, it’s time to move ahead and find your crack team of telesales pros!

call center hiring

Finding your team

Just as there are various ways to set up a sales team, there are a number of ways to set up a call center team. You can have everyone making the same kinds of calls and working through their own sales funnels—this team structure is referred to as the ‘island’ because, well, every rep is an island—or you can go with the ‘assembly line’ team structure, assigning everyone a different role that caters to one of the stages in your sales process. 

We recommend an assembly line method because having each agent own one step in the sales funnel helps spread out the load of the team and boost productivity. After all, if everyone is working together, everyone is pulling towards the team’s sales targets, rather than their own. 

Here are the roles you may want to hire for: 

  • Sales Development Representative. These are your team’s cold callers. They reach out to new prospects.  
  • Account Executive. Account Executives are the agents who listen to prospects, find their pain points and demonstrate how your product can help with those pain points. Account Executives are also responsible for qualifying and disqualifying leads.
  • Onboarding Specialist. Once the deal is closed, the Onboarding Specialist moves in, getting new clients set up and answering any early questions. 
  • Customer Success Manager. The Customer Success Manager makes sure that the customer is happy in the long term. It’s also their job to upsell and cross-sell. 

Once you decide on your structure, it’s time to fill the roles. 

Where do you find your team of crack sales callers? The trick is not to look for telesales pros. Instead, you want to find and train the sort of employees who will be successful in a call center. 

What are the call center representative skills you should you look for when you’re building your team? Keep an eye out for the following soft skills while you’re interviewing: 

  • Teachability
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Optimism
  • Communication skills

Because people buy for emotional reasons, you’re going to want people capable of forming emotional connections with prospects. Your hires should like talking to people. They should be able to listen to the needs of your customers, hear their frustrations and respond with empathy. They should also be able to handle rejection. Sales is a numbers game, so they’ll need to be able to power through every ‘no’ until they get a ‘yes.’

Interviewing your call center candidates

Your interview process for new candidates will differ based on your company culture and how established your contact center is. If you’re just setting up the call center, you might not have the staff for a team interview, for example, but your interview process should include the following elements:

  • An informal chat with the candidate to help you evaluate their soft skills and see if they’ll fit in with your company culture. 
  • A formal interview with you and potentially other members of the team.
  • A mock sales call, in which your new hire’s ability to handle a tricky call is tested. 

Call center representative skills

But exactly what call center skills are you looking for in an agent?

Well, it’s a role that requires great versatility. They need to:

  • Have a great memory but be able to react to situations on the fly
  • Be a great listener but also a persuasive and confident talker
  • Be able to work alone but also support their team
  • Have focus and passion, but also be resilient

If you need a more detailed guide to finding and hiring the best team for your call center, we have a blog post all about that here: The call center hiring guide: required skills, training and duties.

call center training

Onboarding and training your team

Despite the benefits of telesales, it’s hard to find a young person who likes making calls in their personal lives. One study reveals that 81% of millennials feel that they have to summon up the courage to make a call, even if it’s just to family or friends.

Even if your new hires like talking to people, you’ll need to provide them with a clear process so they can excel at sales calls. This means training, coaching and cold calling scripts. It also means using technology that lets you know how callers are performing and what can be changed to improve performance.

So how do you train your team to be cold calling pros? The first step is an onboarding plan, which will help your new hires to understand your organization, your sales process and the hires’ own responsibilities—the activities they must complete on a daily basis. 

Once your new hires are onboarded, you can begin training them to make calls. Your training program should be focused on both your sales process and your sales script. (We’ll go into more detail on the script itself a little later.) 

What are the components of a solid training program? 

  • Learning the sales script: New hires need to learn the sales script until they know it backward and forward. As part of your training program, you can encourage them to rehearse the script by themselves and with their peers. 
  • Provide many kinds of learning tools: Your training program should cater to a wide range of learning styles. Offer self-paced training, online learning, videos, in-person training and hands-on learning. Make sure you set weekly, doable goals for your hires. 
  • Product training: If your reps are selling a product or service, they must know it thoroughly. Make sure to give them as much information as possible. 
  • Working together: New hires should be encouraged to work together, rehearsing the script in front of one another and role-playing so they can learn how to handle questions, objections and other common scenarios, like upsells. New hires should also be teamed up with current employees so they have a mentor to help show them the ropes. 
  • Call shadowing: It’s one thing to rehearse a sales script, it’s another to see it in action. Make sure the new hires are listening in on calls made by your best performers so they can hear a pro dealing with a range of sales scenarios. (You can use Aircall’s call recording feature to do this.) 
  • Technology training: You’ve given your reps the tools they need to be successful, but that won’t matter if they don’t know how to use them! While your tool shouldn’t require extensive training, you will need to walk your hires through your phone system and CRM and be prepared to answer any questions. 

Need more detailed information on training your reps? You can find our guide here: Call Center Training: Get the Most out of your Sales Team.

Setting up a sales call process

As well as having a sales process prepared, it’s also important to have a process for your team before they even start dialing and reciting your script. 

A sales call process might look something like this: 

  • Research the prospect. It’s called “cold calling,” but that doesn’t mean your reps should go in cold. They should know who they’re calling and why. In fact, their script will depend on the research they do on their prospects. 
  • Plan the questions. Yes, your reps have a script, but they should also plan questions based on the information they learned during the research phase. Questions are a way to get the prospect talking, which is important when you’re trying to uncover pain points.
  • Establish the goal of the call. A rep should know what they want to achieve with a call. Is the call about discovery? Scheduling a demonstration? Getting a hold of a decision maker? Knowing your goal is the first step in achieving it.
  • Be an active listener. Active listening is the practice of listening to a speaker while providing feedback. Essentially, you’re telling the speaker you hear them. This is a very important skill for reps because it allows them to bond with the prospect. 

Building your cold-calling script

Your script is one of the most important tools in a call center’s arsenal. “Script” can be a misleading term, however, because a cold calling script is a living document rather than a script that tells reps exactly what to say on every single call. (If that approach worked, telesales could be done by robots.)

Instead, a cold calling script is a template that tells your reps how each call should be formatted. As with cold emails, your reps will fill in the specific details based on the research they’ve done on each prospect, and write up their own specific questions for each prospect based on their research. 

A cold calling script often includes the following elements: 

  • An introduction: Your reps should always introduce themselves and be up-front about why they’re calling.
  • An icebreaker: This can be a question to get the prospect talking or a tidbit about something you have in common—anything to start a good conversation. 
  • The big question: Explain why you’re calling and ask if the prospect is interested, but not necessarily in a way that would generate a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer—you want to get them talking about their pain points.
  • Qualifying questions: Figure out what the customer’s specific pain points are so you know what to present.
  • Overcoming objections: You may have a part of the script devoted to overcoming a common objection.

You probably won’t just have one script. You may have one for talking with the gatekeepers who answer the phone, one for being sent to voicemail, or, if your call center team is organized based on the Assembly Line model, you might have a script for every stage of your sales pipeline. 

Need some ideas for cold-calling scripts? Take a look at Pipedrive’s 25 customizable cold calling scripts, prepared by telesales experts. 

Managing morale

Because burnout is so high for call center agents, you’ll want to make sure you’re constantly monitoring your team, keeping an eye on morale as well as their progress toward sales targets. 

  • Set the right goals: Your sales targets should challenge your team but not burn them out.
  • Rely on your sales (and sales call) process: Every team needs a solid process they can rely on. Even your newest reps should feel confident about hitting their targets because they know exactly what to do in order to increase sales. 
  • Place your team’s focus on sales activities, not sales goals: Targets can be a distraction for reps. Your sales process should lay out a series of activities that are proven to move prospects through the sales pipeline. Your CRM should be set up to allow your reps (and you) keep track of which activities they’ve completed. Pipedrive, for example, is an activity-based sales CRM, showing reps their to-do lists and where action is needed. 
  • Check in with your reps often: According to Gallup, employees who receive frequent feedback from managers are three times more likely to be engaged than employees who don’t. Take the time to talk to your reps, review their progress and discuss their challenges. This will help alert you when morale is dropping.
  • Use the right tools: Having a CRM and calling tool that are easy to use will go a long way toward helping you manage your team. Pipedrive and Aircall are both built specifically to help reps do their jobs as easily as possible. 

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Managing (and measuring) your sales team’s success

What do you want your call center to achieve and how are you planning to measure success? Good call center management relies on a few very important metrics to focus on. 

Don’t try to measure everything—burnout is real for managers, too—just choose the KPIs that you think will tell you the most about your team’s success. If it turns out that you need to measure different KPIs in the future, no worries, you can change direction then. 

However, there are a few metrics you may want to consider measuring. 

  • Average talk time: How much time every day do your reps spend on the phone? While target talk time varies from business to business, reps who work an eight-hour day should usually spend a minimum of four hours on the phone
  • Number of calls: The target number of calls each rep should make in a day
  • Percentage of engaged leads: This refers to quality talk time when some kind of sales engagement took place, such as moving the lead to the next stage of the buying cycle
  • Conversion rate: The percentage of deals a rep is closing 
sales calling pipedrive aircall

Giving your reps the right tools for the job

The best way to improve your call center’s performance is to track, analyze and enhance your team’s performance. This means you’re constantly collecting data from your CRM and phone systems, and using that information to streamline your sales process, training and scripts. 

But to collect data you first need to make sure you have tools that will generate data. Are your reps, for example, entering information into the CRM with every call? What about your phone system? If you don’t have historical data that helps you understand your team’s past performance, you’ll be flying blind when it comes to their future success. 

That’s where Pipedrive comes in. Pipedrive is a CRM designed for sales reps by sales reps. Because it’s designed to help salespeople do their job the more they utilize its features, they’re more likely to enter their data, which will give you a wealth of information to help you analyze their performance. Pipedrive’s customizable analytics dashboard will let you track the metrics that are important to your sales organization, information that will allow you to tweak your sales process and your training so that you can improve your results. 

Your call center will also benefit from a cloud-based phone system that will let you track calls, record conversations and analyze patterns, so you can better understand the reasons your reps are winning and losing on calls. 

What features should you look for? 

  • Call recording
  • Live performance monitoring during a call
  • Real-time assistance
  • Individual and team performance monitoring
  • Missed calls, dropped calls and waiting time tracking 
  • Customer satisfaction through analysis of user habits
  • An analytics dashboard logging customer interactions

Aircall is a cloud-based phone system designed to help streamline sales calls for reps that integrates seamlessly with Pipedrive. Reps can access all their contacts, even when they’re not at their desk, and call data is automatically stored and linked to contacts in their pipeline.

Want an example of features that will help you optimize call workflows and enhance your team’s productivity? 

  • Your reps can make phone calls directly from Pipedrive using Aircall’s functions, so they don’t have to move from one program to the next. 
  • Calls can be launched with a single click
  • All calls and voicemails are automatically logged as activities in Pipedrive.
  • Calls are automatically synced to the appropriate contact and associated deal in Pipedrive
  • Aircall’s pop-up delivers key contact information to sales reps before they answer an inbound call.
  • Calls can be recorded to confirm details, monitor performance and provide training for sales reps

The wealth of call data this software provides enables you to assess call quality and identify patterns. Use the analytics dashboards for a simple, visual overview of your data, eliminating the guesswork when it comes to finding out where the rough patches in your sales pipeline are. 

You’ll know exactly where to focus your energy to improve sales.

Need more information about how to use Pipedrive and Aircall to boost sales? Check out our call center management tools guide: Master your Sales Call Management Using Pipedrive and Aircall.

Reasons to start a call center  (Search optimized subhead)

In an age of texts, email campaigns and social selling, it’s easy to overlook phone calls as a sales tool. Google “sales calling” and you’re likely to get a page of results telling you that cold calls are dead. While sales calls are certainly changing, those articles only tell part of the story.

While some customers may usually enter a sales funnel through inbound marketing, via social media or from an email, when it comes to closing deals, sales calls are the most effective weapons in a rep’s sales arsenal. 

Case in point: the call center industry is expanding. In 2018, 301 call centers were grown or expanded globally, creating 145,847 jobs worldwide. 

Why? Because sales is all about human contact.

Good salespeople listen to a prospect’s concerns, take time to answer questions, and then have the information needed to overcome objections. That’s hard to do over email or social media, but phone calls allow salespeople to hear the emotion in a prospect’s voice, to hear the things that might be left unsaid in an email or tweet. By connecting in a one-to-one call, salespeople have real, meaningful conversations where they can better identify pain points and tailor a product or service offering that a customer is more likely to want.

Customers buy for emotional reasons. By starting your own call center, you’re building an entire team devoted to making human contact with your prospective buyers.

To learn more about how you can build a contact center from scratch and increase your revenue with Pipedrive and Aircall, download our ebook. It will help you plan every aspect of your call center, from finding the right space to identifying your key KPIs.

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