I once struck up a casual conversation with a colleague, the Director of Customer Support and asked him if Soft Skills were part of the training curriculum for the outsourced call center. To my surprise, he quickly quipped back with “well, they are a call center after all, don’t you think that it is part of their make up?” Nevertheless, my question peaked his curiosity because after the conversation, he proceeded with listening in some of the calls, a standard procedure in Quality Assurance (QA). Much to his astonishment, as he recounted to me later, some of the representatives picked up the phone with a simple “Hello?” instead of the standard “Thank you for calling Company Name, my name is so and so, how can I help you today?” We took a few minutes to compose ourselves from laughing at the discovery. I say it often, in this business, it’s beneficial to have a great sense of humor.
This anecdote led me to think more deeply about soft skills. First, I looked up the literal definition of the term. The Collins English Dictionary defines it as the "desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude." It then donned on me that soft skills are a cultural matter, not just in the cultural sense of ethnic traditions but in the broad meaning James Spradley described as “the learned, shared knowledge that people use to generate behavior and interpret experience.” This begged the question, can soft skills be learned? Absolutely!
In France where I grew up for example, business associates would merely answer the phone with announcing the “name of the company” and then “hello”. It’s a familiar greeting for me. In the United States, we go into great length to introduce the company, the person and follow up with “how may I assist you today?” Many outsourced call centers employ representatives from all over the world to support customers in many languages. As a result, a consistent soft skills training should be part of the training curriculum for all support representatives. This will provide the company the opportunity to offer explanations and context for the soft skills requirements so that all can exude the brand’s customer-oriented identity in the same, consistent manner, on a global scale. Soft skills are interpreted differently by different people and the expectations of them being innate to call centers is not necessarily accurate.