Training: Get Back to Basics

It is easy for call centers to become obsessed with managing toward the future of customer contact. We are often so caught up in technology, we forget that it is the agents that ultimately influence a customer's experience. Accordingly, as call centers evolve and incorporate new technology, it is important not to lose sight of fundamental training techniques.

Service bureaus must balance technology with the agents' abilities. Training is becoming increasingly important as the demands of live text chat, e-mail and voice support increase. Our success as an outsource provider hinges on simple training strategies. Here are some of the successful basic training tips:

Develop a profile of characteristics required for agents to manage your specific types of customer contact. Use tests to measure their skills and identify their weaknesses.

Create training objectives and a lesson plan. A clearly defined lesson plan will improve the agent's ability to identify and understand training objectives and expectations. Remember to separate training into “need-to-know” and “nice-to-know.” Nice-to-know should never be included in initial training. Focus on very specific topics and keep it as simple and clear as you can.

Get agents involved. Have agents assist in designing the training curriculum. Solicit feedback from agents after each training session about what areas went well and areas that need improvement. Creating a sense of ownership in the process will improve morale, loyalty and retention.

Designate coaches. Use team leaders or coaches who are directly accountable for the agent's training. Create an environment that encourages a partnership between the coach and the representative. Ask coaches to evaluate the effectiveness of the training and curriculum, and teach your coaches the value of their position because they will directly impact the agent's loyalty, productivity, performance and attitude.

Use visuals. Expose agents to your company's products and services, use them and even offer them to agents for free if possible. Use collateral items and videos during the session.

Make training fun. Develop games, incentives and motivational techniques to create a positive attitude and fun atmosphere.

Include quality assurance. Don't forget to include quality assurance in the training process. It is vital for each quality assurance representative to receive the same education as the representatives they will be monitoring.

If you use self-paced, computerized training as your primary resource to educate, be careful. Remember, agent morale is key to your success. Be humanistic in your approach. Assign coaches to monitor and participate in their progress.

Have agents learn from each other and shadow each other. Incorporate mentoring and a buddy system within the teams. Pair up agents with varied skills and allow them to teach each other.

Create an environment where agents immediately apply what they have learned. Provide immediate coaching and feedback to representatives during this phase.

Assess on multiple levels. Have agents self-assess their contacts. Encourage an environment that allows agents to evaluate themselves in team meetings. Allow the team to participate by offering a critique of the assessment.

Use agents' individual assessments of their own performance. First, train the agents on what they feel they need; then train on what you feel they need — you will find retention improves. Measure retention through quizzes, role-playing, monitoring and test call programs.

Motivate, value and invest. With low unemployment rates and high turnover, it is becoming more important for companies to retain their staff. Consider continuing education programs and employee recognition programs. Survey your employees to identify other programs that can be implemented. Most importantly, show that your company cares.

Educate, educate, educate. Training should never stop. At minimum, there should be some level of training every week. Remember, your agents are directly responsible for contact with your customers. Keep them informed and educated.

Educate agents about your business. Teach agents about the cost of acquiring and keeping a customer. You will find an immediate impact on your bottom line. Educate front-line staff about key performance indicators, how to measure and evaluate them and their impact. Empower your agents and request a monthly self-assessment of these key performance indicators.

Implementing these basic tips will create a healthy call center environment. It would be more fundamental to educate your entire organization about the importance of the call center: Is it a cost center or a profit opportunity? Command respect for your call center throughout your company because it is the call center that is the voice of your customer. Remember, happy agents equal happy customers and higher profits.

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