Maximize Contact Center Performance By Improving Agent Training
Hiring, training and managing call center agents is an ongoing effort that requires significant resources. The commitment of time and money to any training program for call center agents is not something that companies should undertake lightly. Yet often managers struggle to explain their process for these activities—to their company’s detriment. To avoid wasting precious resources, learning how to appropriately train call center agents is crucial.
The Cost of a New Hire
Have you ever done the math on the true cost of a new hire? While it varies from position to position, cost is far more than simply the agreed upon salary. In fact, some estimates put the cost at between 2 and 3 times the annual salary—a costly endeavor for any company. These costs underscore the importance of not only making the right choice during the hiring process but also putting in place the right training and support resources to help ensure new employee success.
For call centers, this means an ongoing investment in a training program for call center agents, including agenda items such as training on phone-based interactions, call center software and data management as well as general employee onboarding. Failure to put such a program in place may mean higher attrition rates, greater employee turnover and more wasted resources—an enormous cost to any employer. Remember that a new hire that doesn’t work out doesn’t just cost what you invested in hiring and training—it also reduces manpower to support business functions, which directly reduces your overall productivity.
Ensuring Call Center Agent Success
Proper training programs aren’t a “set it and forget it” project. Support and training are an ongoing process, even for tenured call center agents. There will also be a need to refresh training, reiterate best practices, introduce new procedures and share knowledge with newer employees. Keep long-term success and a plan for regular training sessions in mind when you first start to draft your training program.
While your training program will have nuances unique to your particular needs, there are many basic elements that you should include in your onboarding and training program:
Company Culture Overview
This may seem obvious but you would be surprised how many companies bring a new employee into the company without spending even 5 minutes helping acclimate the new employee to the company culture. Yet by most estimates, fitting into company culture is actually one of the most important aspects of a successful employee. Start your training program by explaining general company culture—and include tidbits like where to keep your lunch, where the crew goes to socialize after work and anything else that might help the new hire fit in quickly.
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Call Center Software Training Modules
One of the cardinal sins of training call center agents how to use new call center software programs is creating a “just watch me” environment. First, it is boring. Spending your first day or week on a job staring over a stranger’s shoulder trying to “watch” how they use a software program is enough to put even the most driven new hires to sleep. However, not only is it boring—it isn’t particularly helpful either. Most people generally have an easier time learning by doing—actively engaging with something new rather than passively watching someone else do it.
Instead of creating a “just watch me” environment, create training modules and a practice scenario to get your new call center agents directly into the program. Create a manual with real life scenarios and corresponding activities into the software, which will allow them to use it as they would with a real customer—but give you an opportunity to review progress without the risk of losing actual customers. You can have examples, recordings and even create customer personas to help your new hires work on dummy files and get into the software on the very first day.
Support Systems for Call Center Agents
One of the biggest reasons new hires fail is a lack of support from peers and managers. The risk increases if you have introverted employees or virtual agents—as they are even less likely to reach out for help when needed. Cutting off the opportunity for your call center agents to keep quiet about potential issues or obstacles as early as possible is the key to your new agents’ success.
Consider creating a buddy system, where you team up a tenured employee with a new agent to provide a direct line of support (hint: pick one that likes training and supporting others as well as talking to new people—an introverted tenured employee may not be very helpful). The buddy system will be your first line of defense against agents shying away from admitting problems or asking for assistance. But don’t stop here.
If you routinely hire more than one call center agent at a time, consider creating “classes” of new agents. Think of it like college—you can have a “Class of 2014” agent group—and hold special training meetings with just the select agents and a trainer. This will prevent new call center agents from feeling intimidated or inadequate around seasoned agents and help facilitate a more open dialogue with training procedures. And don’t forget to highlight individual or class accomplishments organization-wide—support is motivated by positive associations.
Review Your Training Program Regularly
Not everything is going to work right away—and some things may never work. As you develop your training program, make sure to measure effectiveness, solicit feedback and edit your training materials as necessary. Be flexible and open to hearing that some things you thought would be perfect training materials aren’t—and ready to hear that some surprising ideas work really well. At the end of the day, your goal is to reduce new hire turnover and improve the quality of your call center agents—whatever works is the most important thing!