By Patrick Botz
Few occupations require as much patience and resilience as that of the call center agent. It’s essential for agents to bounce back from constant rejection and cope with a barrage of complaints from frustrated callers. Even the most experienced and controlled agents have their limits. It’s a tough business, and stress is a real issue that has a compound affect on quality and performance. Unhappy, stressed-out agents don’t perform well. While regular pep talks and casual Fridays may provide some relief, many contact centers are recognizing the need to address some of the major stress factors head-on. Good training can make a big difference to agent morale, and eLearning solutions are being implemented with impressive results. Real-time training and performance management technologies provide call center professionals with powerful tools designed specifically to support agents and equip them with the knowledge and skills to stay in control, manage their customer interactions, and minimize stress.
Creating Good Will in the Call Center: A 2007 ICMI survey indicated that nearly 50 percent of call centers don’t measure agent satisfaction. This is a rather alarming when you consider the consequences. Agents account for roughly two-thirds of a call center’s operating costs. Agent turnover is expensive, costing anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, and takes its toll on morale, service quality, and productivity, ultimately creating more stress for the employees that remain. Call centers that don’t care about agent satisfaction and loyalty are going to suffer the consequences, continually fighting a battle with cost containment and caller satisfaction. Technologies that proactively enable ongoing, real-time communication and empower agents with the information essential to do their job well are needed.
Agent Empowerment: The Ultimate Stress-Buster: Agents are always going to have to deal with difficult callers and irate clients; it is a stressful part of the job that can’t be eliminated. However, when agents are properly trained to deal with them, there are many circumstances when particular caller disputes or dissatisfaction issues can be quickly contained, managed, and resolved. Without this training, agents can be thrown when faced with unexpected surges of difficult calls.
The problem is that classroom training is time-consuming and not particularly cost-efficient. It requires careful scheduling and usually leads to multiple agents being pulled away from their stations on a regular and ongoing basis. In addition, most of the damage is already done by the time the problem has been recognized and all of the agents have been trained to respond to it. This is where real-time eLearning and performance management solutions can be effectively implemented.
Let’s say, for example, that a client’s competitor launched an aggressive direct mail campaign that could potentially result in a devastating degree of customer defection. Customers begin calling en masse to cancel policies or services. The agents dealing with these calls have no recourse other than to comply with the callers’ wishes; their standard script and objection handling skills can’t effectively counter the competitor’s offer. A fully integrated real-time performance management solution will quickly alert management to the high volume of cancellations. The problem can then be investigated and a solution devised. In this case, it may be possible to counter the competitor’s offer and neutralize the threat. A message would then be sent to the desktop of every agent involved, alerting them to the situation and providing concise, systematic instructions on how to manage the specific customer cancellation calls. Not only are the agents prepared and empowered to keep callers on board who may otherwise have taken their business elsewhere, but a highly stressful and costly situation has been averted.
Advanced eLearning Solutions: What to Look For: There are various training software solutions available; look for packages that offer real-time eLearning capabilities and messaging functions, including the ability to send targeted training content to agents. The material can be customized based on agent skills and distributed when it is most relevant, thereby improving each agent’s opportunity for success.
Course content can be organized and intelligently distributed to agents and managers, either individually or as a group, and there should be an option to provide training manually in a classroom or deliver it automatically to custom Web pages or agent desktop dashboards based on business rules such as performance results or schedules. In addition to content creation and testing, users can include third party content.
In order to maximize the success of each agent, it is vital to implement a solution that allows you to deliver relevant, custom content to agents in time for new campaigns. This includes flash training, quizzes, eLearning courses, educational tips, examples of best practices calls, compliance bulletins, and pre-shift announcements. Skills-based agent training ensures progressive agent development, from basic to advanced skills. It is also important to be able to deliver courses based on rules or classroom assignments. A rules-based distribution system can manage the delivery of training content to agents, groups of agents, and managers across multiple sites.
Lastly, by integrating eLearning with workforce management you can facilitate the delivery of training based on work and shift schedules to maximize productive agent uptime. Rules can be defined to trigger the delivery of training materials based on performance metrics thresholds.
Track Your Agents’ Progress: Although you can’t underestimate the importance of providing good, ongoing training, it is just as important to keep track of your agents’ progress and the effectiveness of your training materials and processes. A training solution should offer tools to assess learning results, enabling quizzes to be embedded or linked to course material. A tracking function allows managers and trainers to measure whether training was viewed and understood, associating KPIs (key performance indicators) with courses to track the impact of specific training content on agent performance.
Built-in assessment tools enable you to easily measure and track the results of training and its impact on group or individual performance. Training progress may also be associated with specific KPIs. User-created quizzes can measure the full extent of agents’ comprehension and the retention of training content. Detailed reporting capabilities allow tracking of training usage and test scores.
Happier Agents Equal a More Productive, Profitable Call Center: Many things can help make the lives of call center agents less stressful. From ergonomic office furniture, daily affirmations, and frequent breaks to fair evaluations, many factors come into play when striving to achieve a healthy balance. To aid in this balance, there are significant benefits to be gained from implementing the best possible training solutions. With better-trained, well-informed agents you’ll see better results and improved customer service quality.
Patrick Botz serves as global director of marketing for VPI, a provider of interactions recording and workforce optimization solutions for contact centers. As a CRM practitioner, he focuses on the mission-critical aspects of capturing customer intelligence and optimizing workforce performance in real time. Contact Patrick at PBotz@VPI-corp.com.
[From Connection Magazine – April 2008]