When it comes to delivering a superior customer experience, superior agent training is key. Without it, companies suffer from disempowered or disengaged agents, an inflated number of call escalations, distracted supervisors—and the resulting unhappy customers.
As a call center manager, getting and keeping your agents up to speed should always be top of mind. According to the International Customer Management Institute, call centers reported a 33 percent employee turnover rate in 2017.1 This high rate of attrition drives a correspondingly high rate of new hires to backfill those empty positions, all of whom must be properly onboarded and trained.
Once new agents are onboarded, however, that doesn’t mean that the need for training goes away. Not only do you have to be constantly looking for ways to help agents improve their performance, you also need to keep them up to date on new products and procedures within the organization.
We recently queried call center managers to find out exactly what it was about agent training that haunted them in their dreams. Here’s what they said.
For organizations spread out across different time zones, countries or even continents, uniform training can be hard to come by. Says John Weippert, technical operations manager for Cummins, Inc., “My agents are 24×7 and are all remote, so we have to coordinate several training sessions to accommodate all of the different shifts and times of the day. It makes it hard to deliver a consistent message to everyone and impossible to do so simultaneously.”
Some call centers, on the other hand, prefer to train all agents simultaneously, regardless of time zone differences. This adds an additional layer of stress because it means trusting their training to a virtual meeting or video conferencing technology, expecting it to deliver a high-quality presentation as in-person training would, and ensuring all attendees know how to properly utilize the technology. These hurdles can be challenging to overcome.
It seems the only constant in today’s large corporations is continual change. With competitive and economic pressures compelling them to—for instance—merge with or acquire other companies, downsize, or roll out new products, training materials can quickly and easily become rendered useless.
Concerted, ongoing efforts should be made to update materials and keep them relevant regardless of the changes swirling around them.
As a call center manager, this can be a tough situation to get through. When a high number of calls in your contact center are escalated to managers for handling, it likely means that there’s a need for training. After all, when agents can’t handle calls themselves or have a hard time maintaining control during challenging and emotional calls, the customer experience is put at risk.
When call center managers have to step in to help with customer issues, it essentially takes their focus away from other important contact center business, including finding the time to better train agents on how to de-escalate calls while maintaining high customer satisfaction.
When training a population like call center agents that’s prone to high turnover, systematic processes are critical. These processes need to be logical, consistent and automated as much as possible. Most, if not all, call center managers agree with this philosophy, yet many organizations still implement one-off processes that make it difficult for all agents to adhere to in an identical manner.
While one-off processes may be a quick-fix and make sense in the short term, call center efficiency takes a hit when processes lack consistency.
Often, different departments across the company maintain different call centers. In these scenarios, corporate is challenged to systematically train all agents to the same, high degree of quality while taking into account the slight variations each department may have regarding how they conduct business and what they evaluate.
Beth Bax, assistant director of quality assurance at Grand Canyon University, explains how they make it work. “We’re really good at keeping the lines of communication open with the various directors. We utilize our calibration meetings to ensure we’re always on the same track.”
By keeping the lines of communication open, call center managers can ensure that all agents are being trained with the same standards, no matter what department they report to.
Whether it’s deciding how to stagger shift breaks to ensure enough agents are online at any given time or what times of day are optimal for breaks based upon changing business needs, break times have always been a challenge for call center managers. But it’s even worse today. Now, organizations must evolve beyond what’s best for the business when it comes to break times, and take into account agent needs and preferences.
CDS Global’s Department Manager Ramona Moore explains, “We have some agents who need a static lunch break to pick up children or breastfeed.” If you want to retain those agents, it’s important to figure out ways to make unique schedules work. It does, however, add additional pressure on call center managers, who might have to adapt training around a unique schedule, or individually catch up an agent who missed a critical part.
Organizations that optimize schedules often alter—in near real-time—the times of shift breaks to better align with anticipated customer call volumes. Unless agents make it a habit to frequently check the up-to-date schedules available via online dashboards, they’re prone to unintentionally take breaks at the wrong time. This can be frustrating when you’ve spent a significant amount of time altering schedules to keep service levels high—and a sign that there might be deeper issues that you need to address with the agent.
With the high turnover and fast rate of change in many call centers, agent training is a constant focus for many managers. That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s easy to keep agents ready to provide the high level of service that customers today expect. The need for training will never go away, but when call center managers are diligent during onboarding, consistent with updating training materials and processes and strive to elevate agent engagement, agents will be prepared deliver the exceptional service your customers expect.
Find out more about training and engaging high-performing agents—read the white paper 5 WEM Strategies to Enhance Agent Engagement.
1 LeadsCon, “What are the Causes of Call Center Attrition?” April 16, 2018. https://www.leadscon.com/what-are-the-causes-of-call-center-attrition/