By Donna Fluss
If a contact center manager could invest in only one initiative, what should it be? While I hope contact center managers have a budget that allows them to invest in enhancements to the operations, people, and systems needed to deliver a consistently outstanding customer experience, one item stands out: training. This is true for service organizations of all sizes – from the single person behind a counter to contact centers with thousands of agents.
Correct Answers Are What the Public Wants: Customers are willing to forgive many wrongs and mistakes made by a company, once they get to an outstanding agent who accurately and politely answers their questions. (The agent will get an earful of what previously went wrong, but even this is positive, as it will hopefully allow customers to get the negative out of their systems by venting to the agent instead of going viral on social media.)
While it’s essential for agents to be trained in the soft skills that enable them to successfully interact and communicate with the public, this is not always pleasant. Being nice is not enough. It’s more important for them to give correct answers and concise information. I’m not saying it’s okay for agents to be rude, nasty, or short with customers. What I am saying is that receiving accurate and helpful information and answers is a priority for callers.
Give Agents a Chance to Succeed: The public often blames agents for poor service and wrong information, but typically the company they work for is at fault. Sure, there are rogue or rude agents – these are people who should never have been hired to work in a service organization – but more often than not, agents are doing what they have been trained to do. If they are not properly informed about a company’s policies, procedures, and systems and are not taught how the organization wants them to communicate with their customers, they’ll ask a peer or just do whatever it takes to meet their productivity goals.
Since agents, like most employees, are goal-oriented, companies need to set the right goals and give agents the tools to succeed. In a contact center, this means prioritizing high-quality service and a great customer experience, which has to be clearly defined.
To achieve this objective, agents must be trained to deliver accurate answers and information and present it to each caller so it is easily understood. This is much harder than it sounds because every customer is unique and has different expectations. The best way to prepare agents is via experiential learning, where they can practice the skills they need to survive and thrive in a high-pressure environment.
High Quality Drives Productivity: Well-trained agents can rapidly diagnose (and if necessary diffuse) a challenging situation and then determine the most effective approach for interacting with the customer. This allows them to succeed at their primary job, which is delivering an outstanding customer experience. The better prepared agents are, the more effective they will be at resolving issues and answering questions.
While the primary goal of agent training is not improving productivity, it is a direct outcome of good training. There is a direct and proven correlation between effective training and reduced average handle time (AHT). Agents who are fully prepared and trained to answer questions and manage callers will get the job done more quickly than someone who struggles to find answers.
Training Is a Bottom-Line Issue: Too many companies skip training because they are in a rush to get agents on the phone. This is a counterproductive strategy, as having agents handle phone calls before they are trained is more likely to hurt a company than help. Effective training pays for itself by improving the customer experience, building agent satisfaction and engagement, enhancing productivity, and reducing operating costs.
So if your budget allows only one investment, go with training.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting LLC. For more than two decades, she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary, author, and speaker, Donna drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the service industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.