General Specialists or Special Generalists?


We each have special skills. Perhaps you are the reigning Scrabble champion in your family. Maybe you can reassemble any electrical device you’re given. Perhaps you are the “Office Genius” when it comes to historical project knowledge. Or maybe you can recite from memory the name of every man who signed the Declaration of Independence.

On top of those special skills, you likely have general skills. You know how to drive. You know how to operate a smartphone, laptop, tablet—any number of personal technology devices. You can cook at least one dish. And you can read and write.

Most brands hiring for their customer contact center want a combination of specialized and general skills. They want customer service specialists. And sales specialists. And “people” people. And people who are detail-oriented. That’s a lot of specialties to require…and some may call those people generalists, rather than specialists. Fortunately, many of those specialized skills are complementary.

Like people who specialize in both sales and service. The skill sets are different in some ways, but very similar in other ways. Agents with sales and service skills are knowledgeable about your product or service; they are good at reading people to determine the most effective sales pitch; they empathize with customers so they can tailor their approach to each customer’s needs; and they can tell when it’s appropriate to make the upsell pitch or just resolve the issue at hand. Those complementary skills probably mean they are more flexible in the type of customer interactions they can handle. And those sales-and-service generalists are specialists at monetizing customer interactions.

So how do you get these expert generalists on board? Your brand will likely need to revamp the hiring process. Think about the skills that are listed as “essential” and “preferred.” Think about the recruiting language that is used and whether it skews toward sales or toward service. You need to build a new agent profile, one that captures elements of sales and service, so that you can find those generalists best suited to be your brand ambassadors.

Once you’ve got the profile figured out and the generalists hired…what about training?

Training can be daunting no matter the job description and role. It may be a bit more challenging to design and deliver effective training after changing your agent profile—but it can be done. In addition to the product or service training to familiarize the agent with your offerings, you’ll want to include technology and process training to ensure smooth interaction with your systems and customers. Don’t forget to offer a refresher course on sales and customer service best practices so to immerse the new hires in your brand’s culture.

And how do you make that training interesting and keep those generalists engaged? Try games. Gamification of training is hot now, and there are so many ways to inject that level of fun into your training. Set up head-to-head competitions where agents role-play a call and whoever resolves it (fastest, most completely, most creatively) wins points. Tally those points to create a leaderboard, to keep people earning points and battling for agent supremacy.

It can also be helpful to establish an agent communication hub, whether it’s a dedicated website, chat application or discussion forum. Make it simple and fun for people to interact to share what works and support each other. It balances out some of the competitive aspects of the gamified training and goes a long way to maintaining a team feeling—especially if your agents are geographically dispersed.

I offer these suggestions because LiveOps has implemented most of them within our community of 20,000 independent work-at-home agents and found them successful. Finding and keeping solid contributors to your bottom line is difficult, no doubt. Do whatever you can to find those right people, train them quickly and effectively and get them interacting with customers. Having those generalists who are experts in monetizing customer interactions whenever possible will keep that bottom line healthy and prepare you and your team for growth and expansion. Read more in my recent article for ICMI.

Image courtesy of marin at


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