The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Call Centers

Faith Ocampo Published on April 3, 2017 Last updated on December 30, 2023

Although the idea of emotional intelligence is relatively new, it has already been embraced by organizations across industries—including call centers.

emotional intelligence depiction call center agent holding chest

Call centers stand at the forefront of customer service interactions. Day in and day out, agents handle a wide array of customer inquiries, issues, and emotions. While the focus is often on efficiency and problem-solving, there’s another critical aspect at play: emotional intelligence.

Today, we’ll explore the vital role that emotional intelligence plays in call centers, its impact on customer service, agent well-being, and how it contributes to enhanced customer satisfaction.

The term emotional intelligence was first mentioned in a 1964 paper by Michael Beldoch. However, it was only in 1990 when it was explored in-depth by two psychology professors: Peter Salovey (Yale University) and John D. Mayer (University of New Hampshire). The term’s coinage has since been largely credited to the two professors.

It was only in 1995, however, that the concept started to become popular. Daniel Goleman—author, psychologist, and science journalist—mentioned it in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Once the concept was brought out into the open, however, everybody quickly began embracing it. Many began to recognize how it can be useful in corporate settings (e.g., in business leadership, organizational culture, and employee engagement) and personal relationships.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

But before we go to the significant impact of emotional intelligence in call centers, it’s essential to understand the components of emotional intelligence that are most relevant in this environment.

In a Harvard Business review article, Mayer defined it this way:

From a scientific (rather than a popular) standpoint, emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it.

Goleman breaks down the five elements of emotional intelligence, as follows:

emotional intelligence on call center agent showing different faces photos
  • Self-Awareness — the ability to understand one’s strength and weaknesses and how these affect one’s social interactions
  • Self-Regulation — the ability to manage one’s emotions, respond appropriately to situations, and express one’s emotions with control
  • Motivation — the capacity to develop self-motivation, instead of relying on external factors such as money, recognition, or job titles as a source of motivation
  • Empathy — the ability to understand and be compassionate about others’ situations
  • People Skills — the ability to connect with and build trust and rapport with others

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters in Call Centers

Contact centers can only become successful if agents possess the skills and traits necessary to build lasting customer relationships. Creating a positive customer emotional connection should not be left to chance. Every business needs to understand their customers’ emotional intelligence and experiences when trying to resolve a problem or an inquiry. Modern-day buyers want a better customer experience and understanding their emotions is one of the keys to doing so.

To build a truly customer-centric organization, therefore, your employees must be highly emotionally intelligent. Here are the five advantages of cultivating this trait among your staff.

  1. Improve Team Dynamics and Collaboration

    emotional intelligence depiction smiling call center agent with multilingual customer service team

    Emotional intelligence doesn’t just apply to individual interactions with customers; it extends to team dynamics. Agents who understand and support each other create a more cohesive and collaborative work environment. This, in turn, positively affects the overall service quality.

  2. Make Better Hiring Decisions

    emotional intelligence depiction call center executives shaking hands with customer service team

    When hiring customer service reps, managers must be on the lookout not just for technical expertise but also for traits that indicate high emotional intelligence. Some of these are independence, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and the ability to get along well with others.

  3. Improve Leadership

    emotional intelligence shown by call center team leader to customer service agents

    Just as it’s crucial that you hire emotionally intelligent employees, leaders must also subscribe to emotionally intelligent leadership practices. That way, they’ll be more sensitive to the needs of their workers, which is the first step in boosting employee engagement.

  4. Enhance Customer Interactions

    emotional intelligence displayed by customer care rep in call center

    Customers don’t just seek answers; they seek understanding. When agents demonstrate emotional intelligence, they connect with customers on a personal level. This connection can turn an ordinary interaction into a positive and memorable experience, ultimately leading to improved customer satisfaction.

  5. Reduce Stress and Burnout Among Agents

    call center agents with high emotional intelligence depiction teammates in contact center

    The high-pressure environment of call centers can lead to stress and agent burnout. emotional intelligence equips agents with tools to manage stress effectively, reducing the risk of emotional exhaustion. Happy, less-stressed agents are more likely to provide exceptional service and maintain their well-being.

  6. Enhance Your Organizational Culture

    emotional intelligence from customer support team pizza party call center

    Companies can nurture their people’s emotional intelligence by immersing them in personality development and communication trainings. Leaders must also be trained on how to manage their employees effectively. By doing so, customer service firms can create a collaborative and more productive internal culture.

Training and Developing Emotional Intelligence in Call Center Agents

emotional intelligence in call centers depiction contact center team in training

The good news is that emotional intelligence can be cultivated and developed. Call centers can implement training programs designed to enhance emotional intelligence skills among their agents. Here are some techniques that can be particularly effective:

  • Emotional Awareness Training

    Emotional awareness training is what builds agents’ emotional intelligence. It involves equipping agents with the skills to recognize and understand not only their own emotions but also those of the customers they interact with.

    This training enables agents to perceive and interpret emotional cues, helping them tailor their responses appropriately. Enhancing emotional intelligence in this manner empowers call center agents to better address customer concerns and create more satisfying interactions, ultimately contributing to improved customer satisfaction.

  • Active Listening Workshops


    Active listening workshops play an important role in customer service. These workshops teach agents how to go beyond mere hearing, fostering a deeper understanding of the customer’s emotions, needs, and concerns.

    Agents are trained to actively listen, validate the customer’s feelings, and respond with empathy. This approach not only enhances the quality of interactions but also demonstrates the call center’s commitment to delivering a personalized and empathetic customer service experience, ultimately resulting in heightened customer satisfaction.

  • Stress Management Sessions


    The demanding nature of call center work often exposes agents to high-stress situations. Stress management sessions are a crucial component of developing emotional intelligence in a call center context.

    These sessions equip agents with techniques to effectively manage stress and remain composed under pressure. Cultivating emotional resilience helps agents navigate challenging calls with grace, leading to more positive customer interactions and increased customer satisfaction.

  • Conflict Resolution Training


    Emotional intelligence extends to the ability to handle conflicts and manage difficult situations adeptly. In the call center, where disputes may arise during interactions, conflict resolution training is invaluable.

    Agents are trained to de-escalate tensions, empathize with frustrated customers, and guide interactions towards a constructive resolution. This aspect of emotional intelligence not only diffuses potentially volatile situations but also demonstrates a commitment to providing top-tier customer service.

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

emotional intelligence in call center CX team leader guiding rep assisting customer call

The importance of emotional intelligence extends to call center management. Leaders who possess emotional intelligence can create a more emotionally intelligent work culture. Here are ways leaders can contribute:

  • Emotional Intelligence in Call Center Management:
    Leaders should demonstrate emotional intelligence in their interactions with agents, setting the tone for the entire team. They should also provide ongoing support for agent development in this area.
  • Leading by Example:
    Practicing emotional intelligence in their leadership, managers encourage agents to do the same with customers. Leading by example fosters a culture of empathy and understanding.
  • Encouraging Emotional Intelligence in Team:
    Managers can actively promote emotional intelligence within teams. Encouraging agents to share experiences, techniques, and challenges can help build a more emotionally intelligent workplace.

Handling Challenging Customer Interactions

emotional intelligence in call centers disappointed dissatisfied customer looking at smartphone phone

Even with emotional intelligence, challenging customer interactions can arise. However, emotionally intelligent agents are better equipped to manage such situations effectively. Strategies for handling difficult customers include:

  • Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Customers

    Dealing with challenging customers is a part of the daily routine for call center agents. Developing strong emotional intelligence and practical skills is crucial in ensuring positive customer service and customer satisfaction. Here are some effective tips:

    • Remain Calm and Composed:
      Agents should practice emotional control, ensuring they don’t escalate the situation further.
    • Acknowledge the Issue:
      Agents should let customers know that their concerns are taken seriously, creating a more positive customer service experience.
    • emotional intelligence depiction contact center agent rep difficult call
    • Set Clear Boundaries:
      Setting realistic expectations can help manage customer frustrations and guide them toward feasible solutions.
    • Stay Solution-Oriented:
      Agents should work collaboratively with the customer to identify the best course of action, making the customer feel heard and valued.
    • Use Positive Language:
      Positive and reassuring language can help diffuse tension and steer the interaction toward a resolution.
    • Escalate When Necessary:
      If the situation cannot be resolved at the agent’s level, it’s essential to escalate the issue to a supervisor or higher authority.
  • Practicing Emotional Control


    Agents are often at the forefront of dealing with customer frustrations, complaints, and sometimes even anger. It’s in these challenging moments that emotional intelligence plays a role in maintaining the quality of customer service and ensuring customer satisfaction.

    emotional intelligence in call centers CX rep smiling listening to customer caller

    Remaining composed when confronted with customer emotions is a key aspect of emotional intelligence. It’s not about suppressing one’s feelings but understanding them and effectively managing them. Here’s why practicing emotional control is essential:

    • De-escalation:
      When customers are upset or frustrated, their emotions can quickly escalate a situation. However, by practicing emotional control, agents project a calming and reassuring presence, which can often defuse tense interactions.
    • Effective Problem-Solving:
      Agents who can control their own emotions are better equipped to focus on the customer’s issue, understand it clearly, and work towards a solution.
    • Maintaining Professionalism:
      Agents are expected to represent their company with dignity and respect, regardless of the circumstances. Emotional control helps agents respond to customers in a professional manner.
    • Preventing Burnout:
      Emotional control is not only about dealing with customers but also about safeguarding the well-being of agents. Handling emotionally charged interactions on a daily basis can be draining.
  • emotional intelligence in call centers depiction smiling excited satisfied customer speaking to CX rep
  • Building Positive Customer Relationships

    Emotional intelligence enables agents to build trust and rapport with customers, even in challenging interactions. This can lead to stronger, more positive customer relationships.

    To build positive customer relationships through emotional intelligence, agents can undergo training that focuses on active listening, empathy, and relationship-building techniques. They learn to recognize and manage their emotions and those of customers effectively.

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce can also help nourish your employees’ emotional intelligence. With different backgrounds and personalities, they can think outside the box and approach different situations with the right attitude.

It’s crucial for businesses to create a customer-centric culture. Connecting with an outsourcing firm that knows how to emotionally communicate with customers can be essential for your company.

Open Access BPO with its more than 30 spoken languages is sure to bring you closer with your customers. Message us today so we can start devising an outsourcing strategy and program just for your business!

 

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Faith is a digital media enthusiast aiming to become an active part of the tech world by sharing her insights. She likes to blog about everything digimarketing, technology, and social media.
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