Leveraging AI to Assess Soft Skills of Call Center Agents

Call centers that employ agents with great customer service skills like problem solving, rapport-building or probing will create a better customer experience than those without these soft skills.

94% of contact centers say they know how important recognizing agent soft skills is to create a good customer experience, and yet only 41% measure those skills. The top reason call centers are not measuring soft skills is because they don’t know how to do so systematically, reliably and objectively. AI can help call centers up their customer service game by identifying candidates with the right soft skills; here’s how.

The Potential of AI Assessments in Contact Centres

The global call center AI market size was valued at 1.5 billion USD in 2022. Why? Because AI has the power to make call centers more efficient and to save money at scale. As AI technologies take an ever-larger role in call centers, the role of human intelligence becomes more targeted. In fact, AI can help us identify and develop critical human talent. Consider all the opportunities AI presents to HR professionals in a call center:

“AI can process large volumes of HR data to uncover trends, correlations, and insights to guide strategic decisions related to workforce planning, resource allocation, and talent development. AI-powered chatbots can answer routine HR-related questions like benefits information, leave policies, and payroll inquiries.”

 There are so many ways that call centers can leverage AI to their advantage, and many already are! As many as 75% of HR inquiries are initiated through conversational AI platforms.

Using AI to Assess Agents’ Soft Skills

Like so many other parts of the hiring process, AI can help call centers with talent acquisition, including assessing the soft skills of new candidates in an unbiased way, both systematically and reliably. Soft skills in a hiring context are “the communication techniques that define how candidates relate to other people like customers or teammates.” Today hiring teams have various non-AI methods of evaluating these skills using behavioral or personality tests, or interviews. These methods are ubiquitous, have significant flaws and are impossible to scale, even though they are often deeply ingrained in processes. AI has a much easier time of measuring soft skills systematically and in large volumes. One author explains:

“AI has proven its exceptional pattern recognition capabilities through various applications. For instance, AI systems have proven to be capable of predicting the survival rates of heart disease patients with greater accuracy than human clinicians. So, it is not too far-fetched to think that, given enough data, AI can track non-obvious patterns in data to assess how long an individual is likely to ‘survive’ at an organization.”

Today there are a number of tools available to help call centers measure the soft skills of their potential candidates early on in the hiring process. For example, video recognition tools exist that can help call centers read traits like openness, extraversion or agreeableness during an interview. In another example, this Fortune 50 is now achieving a 99% accuracy rate on good hires since they started using AI technology to assess soft skills during the interview process.

Using Technology To Get The Job Done

Measuring soft skills in candidates can be complex. For example, a call center would need to consider:

  • How to get applicants to produce soft skills in a way that can be objectively evaluated in an assessment
  • How to correlate the soft skills candidates possess with the testing framework of a particular job
  • How to do all of the above on a daily basis, in a high-volume, low-cost way

Of course, using technology is the best way to navigate challenges like objectivity, reliability and scalability.

Humans will never be able to isolate their prejudices entirely from a hiring process – they have their own soft skills as evaluators, as well as individual preferences or tolerances towards certain accents, grammatical mistakes and speaking styles. Whereas a machine performing the same assessment would be “blind” to these so called preferences, again evaluating soft skills more objectively than a human ever could.

Going beyond what’s on paper, and what an evaluator sees, AI can help call centers find hidden talent in today’s tough hiring market. For example, a candidate may not possess the right hard skills for a job, but they may instead have the right combination of soft skills. Relying on CVs and traditional hiring approaches only would mean that a potentially amazing applicant could be overlooked, whereas using AI to assess their soft skills would more likely have led to an offer.

Not All Soft Skills Are Created Equally

When it comes to frontline workers, not all soft skills are the same. For example, after looking at 700 applicant assessments this study proved that salespeople had the soft skills to do customer service easily, but the opposite was not true.

With as many as 195 different soft skills to choose from, hiring teams need to know which skills are needed for the particular roles they’re hiring for. If the call center just scans for all soft skills all the time, they’re bound to get checkered hiring results still. That’s because not every soft skill is essential for every job in a call center. Some may be critical compared to others, and employers need to know which skills their position requires in order to be able to screen for these skills effectively.

 Call centers that know which soft skills are needed for a job can also use AI to help enhance employee skills within that position. For example, a contact center may find a near-hire and use AI to replicate a customer interaction so employees can practice and learn to make better decisions on the job.

Hire for Soft Skills and Get Better CSATs

By using AI to measure soft skills in candidates during the hiring process, call centers can save money, time, and make better hiring decisions that ultimately yield better customer experiences. Identifying which soft skills are needed and increasing the amount of agents that possess these skills will increase CSAT scores. In fact, 51% of call centers believe that using an automated tool to measure soft skills will help them improve key metrics like CSATs. However, doing so is easier said than done. Call centers need time to find the right technology to implement these types of measurement systems at scale. Moreover, they can’t just measure soft skills broadly, they need to measure the right combination of soft skills for each position they’re hiring for. That said, the reward for finding the right technology to measure the right combination of soft skills is worth it – think reduced attrition, better CSATs and improved call center performance overall!

About the Author

Patricia Macleod is the President and Co-founder of HiringBranch. She brings with her a vision for changing how we hire and train frontline employees. Patricia is a lifetime entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the global contact center industry. Her top soft skill is “making things happen,” and when she’s not doing that, she likes to unplug outdoors in Canada’s wild mountains and rivers.