Call Center Best Practices Make the Difference

By Matt Harless

If your telephone agents are the glue that drives performance in the call center, how did they become that way? Sure, natural talent is always a factor, as is terrific candidate recruiting and excellent hiring. But, more than likely, the performance of your call center agents hinges on the training department–from new hire training when agents first learn about your products and services to ongoing training where skills are refined and accentuated. It’s your training department and your systems that will keep your telephone performance thirty or forty percent above minimum goals.

The training process is the beginning of a relationship between management and its agents. Management must understand the power of quality training. New agents base their first impressions of their jobs and decide whether they can succeed on the basis of expectations set within new hire training. Long-term agents predicate their continued success and future prospects primarily on the ongoing training provided. Training is the foundation for call center excellence.

Yet typically in call centers, a pattern emerges. First, new agents are smothered with supervisor attention during their first five or ten working days. Then they often have the misfortune of becoming all but forgotten. We could call this the “build them up and ship them out” mentality of managing. Supervisors provide the training, show the agent the ropes, and say, “Good luck–let me know if you need anything.”

How can call centers stay away from this training trap? How can they blend initial new hire training with ongoing training to support performance? Let’s look at three reasons why supervisors fail to provide continuous training for new agents. Then we’ll look at three ways your call center can do a better job of training both new agents and veteran agents who are in need of ongoing support.

Why Supervisors Fail to Provide Continuous Training for New Agents

1)   Training Touches Every Area Except the Core Areas: Although the intention is to train new hires and veterans in-depth, neither receives the support needed. Although the intention is to teach in all areas of training, the core areas are forgotten. So new agents get a taste, but they do not get the whole picture. In the call center, the core areas are very simple: telephone communications, product training, competitor training, computer training, and organizational training.

2)   New Agents Disappear: New agents are sensitive to “getting along” with their supervisors. Therefore, when they have issues and concerns, they will either keep it to themselves or find a peer to assist them. The supervisor is generally the last person a new agent will contact with any questions they might have. Therefore, new agents don’t get critical ongoing training.

3)   New Agents Do Not Know Where to Go to Ask for Help: Since new agents don’t know the ins and outs of the operation, they are more likely to suffer with a problem than to ask for assistance. This means that communication systems are not in place to help agents grow. There must be platforms where agents can ask questions and gain knowledge away from the day-to-day activities.

How Your Call Center Can Do a Better Job Training

1)   Teach Agents the Four Key Principles of the Call Center: Don’t assume your agents understand the relationship between telephone, product, caller, and company. These four segments bring success or failure to organizations. The telephone is the channel of communication between the company and the caller. The product is the area around which telephone conversation revolves. The caller is the central point – callers initiate calls and require assistance. The call center is the backbone that provides the agents with credibility. You know this. However, your agents may not; explain it to them.

2)   Ensure that Ongoing Training Is Implemented: A common perception is that training ends once the new hire training period is completed. This is where management loses their agents. By not receiving consistent and detailed residual training sessions, agents gain neither the skill sets nor the confidence to improve at any level other than the practical day-to-day work level. Management should institute classroom training followed by on-the-floor training, followed by ongoing residual classroom and on-the-floor training for each agent regardless of experience. It is important to recognize that training does not stop after the new hire leaves the classroom; that is when the actual training begins.

3)   Dedicate One Training Person to Lead the Process: Would you be stunned to learn that many call center departments don’t have one dedicated trainer that conducts or oversees training? Instead, they delegate training to a supervisor who has other duties, a manager who may not be prepared to conduct training and therefore delivers a poor class, or a part-time trainer who also serves as an agent or team leader. An organization that takes pride in its call center must ensure they have the budget for a training department.

The key mistake many call centers make is to treat training as the least important part of the organization. This is because management doesn’t see immediate revenue payoff from the training department. The irony is that training is predominately responsible for facilitating the success of agents. How agents view their company, their brand, their corporate goals, and the value they place on their callers defines the success or failure of a call center. Training must be a key priority for the call center to achieve success in the long run.

If your call center puts a premium on training, then you are in great shape. If your training department recognizes the blend between new agents and veterans who require ongoing support, then it is very likely you have thought out and implemented a well established training program. However, if your minimum goals are not being met and you are frustrated by the lack of initiative from your training, management, and agents, take a look at the training programs your team has in place. It may provide the answers you are looking for.

Matt Harless is vice president of sales for PhoneWare, located in San Diego, CA. PhoneWare is a service agency with expertise in outbound and inbound sales and customer care campaigns. Contact Matt at 800-243-8329 or mharless@phonewareinc.com.

[From Connection Magazine October 2007]

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