Times have changed. Gone are the call center days of long rows of desks with agents wearing headsets and politely answering one call after the other. Today, agents can be working from a home office, pivoting between phone calls, live chat windows and social media messages, and trying to remain as efficient as possible through it all.

One of the things that hasn’t has changed though is the heart of the contact center – which is and always will be – communication. Effective communication is achieved when you have the right team in place. This team, however, can be a challenge to build, especially when you use the same description to hire every agents.

Today’s contact center demands a different kind of agent –a T-shaped professional. T-shaped professionals bring a depth of skills and expertise in one particular area (the base of the “T”), which is complemented by a breadth of skills (the top of the “T”). This combination will provide you with a team that is more balanced and better able to serve both your customers and other functional departments, with built-in redundancies for when the unexpected occurs.

What T-shape base skills should I look for?

Communication skills should be your primary focus, but there are many facets of communication skills to look for, including the follows:

 Experience. This isn’t limited to contact center experience, but experience with communication in general. Consider people with previous communication-based occupations.

 Empathetic. Empathy is essential to collaborating well with other employees and departments, but more importantly, with the customer. There are easily searchable resources online that can help you screen for empathy.

Helpful. Look for someone with a true desire to help others. Consider applicants with volunteer experience, as it says a lot about them as public servant.

 Calm. Staying cool under pressure—or at least appearing to be—is essential. Remaining calms means being able to handle the curveballs the job, and life, will throw at them.

 Personable. You want a “people person” who is both extrovert and self-aware.

Though they may not seem like it, those base qualities are essential communication skills you’ll want for any customer-facing employee. And while they are crucial skills, they’re still insufficient on their own…

What about the top of the T-shape skills?

The top of the “T” skills are equally important, because they are the ones that offer the ability to collaborate and share knowledge. They are the personalized skills and basis of the unique personalities of the people working in your contact center. Some of the “top T” skills you should look for include:

Digital proficiency. Agents must be multifaceted and able to interact with customers by phone, email, live chat, SMS and social.

 Sales experience. Sales experience teaches some of the communication skills in the base of the “T” and fosters resilience.

 Face-to-Face Customer Service. Consider people who have worked in retail or the restaurant business – they are more likely to understand how to maintain their cool while helping challenging customers.

 Industry knowledge/experience. Agents with a background in your particular industry can provide a necessary variety and can help the rest of team from sounding too scripted.

 Product knowledge/experience. Sales effectiveness dramatically increases when the employees use the products they sell and are passionate about them.

 Cross-functional acumen. The ability to interact productively with other people and departments is critical to success because agents may need to call on the marketing department, sales, product development or others to answer questions or resolve issues.

Why are T-shape skilled professionals best for the contact center?

You may be asked about your decision to hire T-shape professionals. But it’s an easy case to make because it’s not just the contact center that needs them. Having adaptable cross-functional teams that have excellent interpersonal communication skills through a variety of channels, is essential. And not just with interacting with your customers – but with each other as well.

The concept of T-shaped professionals is not a new one, but it is newer to the contact center. These professionals offer the potential to improve the contact center experience and enhance effectiveness at all levels. Implementing a T-shape model can bring an extensive amount of benefits to your business. And customer service really does depend on the team you have in place. Remember, there is no “I” in team, but there is a “T”!

Read my ICMI article for more tips on building the most effective contact center team.