Tag Archives: Training Call Center Agents

How Automated Analytics Can Elevate Agent Performance and Experience

By Brad Snedeker

As a business process outsourcer (BPO) or outsourcing contact center, your agents serve as the face of your clients’ businesses. Low performance and high agent turnover can have a negative impact on the overall business. This can manifest in reduced end-customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

Even in the best of times, high-quality agent training and assessment presents challenges. In 2020, with a sudden shift to agents working from home due to the pandemic, the emphasis on proper training, monitoring, and assessment has become even more critical. This applies not only to new agents joining your organization, but also to existing agents who may be taking on new roles, new clients, or new channels.

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes. Click To Tweet

Automating Data Science for Improved Interactions

One traditional way of teaching agents how to interact with customers has been to shadow a top-performing agent. But job shadowing has its limitations. It’s difficult to learn how to respond to different customer needs, the trainer agent might act differently when the trainee watching, and the trainee has limited time to learn and ask questions. Even so, shadowing can be helpful for agents to get a high-level feel for the tone and language they should emulate. But training shouldn’t end there.

Today, contact centers can leverage software automation to record and analyze agent interactions over the phone, email, chat, and social media. Centers can also use this information in near real-time to enable virtual or on-site management insights and training inspiration. This approach to training offers a richer experience and helps build agent confidence. It also makes training more efficient since you’re not asking other agents or managers to listen to and respond to every scenario or question.

Interaction monitoring, recording, and analytics together can reveal the why, not just the what, of agent performance, allowing managers to uncover trends and improve interactions for better long-term outcomes. It offers an opportunity to improve training for specific agents and enhance the customer experience for future interactions.

Uncovering Best and Not-So-Best Practices

Using massive quantities of data and automated analytics to uncover specific areas where agent behavior is impacting a customer interaction can shed light on experiences both positive and negative. This shows agents specific areas where they can improve, as well as find examples of behavior or language that other agents can emulate. A well-provisioned quality management system can even allow a contact center to share best practices with the click of a button, creating a library of successful examples.

For instance, one contact center manager discovered that an increasing number of retail customer calls escalated from first-contact agents to a supervisor. This diverted the supervisor’s attention away from other aspects of the business and hindered unrelated KPIs.

Voice-of-the-customer (and employee) analytics allowed the team to isolate relevant interactions based on this pattern of escalation and apply speech analysis. The analysis revealed the exact point in the conversations where the agents needed supervisor assistance. This level of insight gave the retailer the why for agents who struggled to manage challenging and emotional calls.

Using analytics, the managers identified the agents who grappled with this type of interaction. This allowed them to implement targeted training and assistance, creating a new best practice for all agents. 

Not only was this beneficial for the retail brand’s reputation with customers, it also helped agents improve their skill sets and learn how to de-escalate situations by modifying how agents interacted with customers. Reducing the stress of interactions had the additional benefit of creating happier, more successful agents who were less likely to turn over. 

When Change Dictates New Training

Through automated analytics, contact centers can also uncover training opportunities due to changes in their own processes.

For example, using speech analytics as part of its normal quality control efforts, one contact center identified a correlation between the use of phrases like “I don’t know” and calls placed on hold. Further, managers found a pattern in which calls placed on hold spiked when leaders deployed a new knowledge base. The company had inadvertently introduced its own problem. The analysis helped leaders quickly institute training in the areas where agents had knowledge gaps when new tasks were added, avoiding any long-term impact.

Unexpected situations can also trigger a need for extra training, but without analytics offering insight on changes and the new landscape of operations, leaders often don’t know where to start. 

According to a Calabrio study, 89 percent of contact centers had at least half their agents shift to a work-from-home model due to the pandemic. This compares to only 36 percent of contact centers with half their agents working remotely pre-pandemic.

Contact centers using analytics can stay close to their teams and quickly identify impacts on interactions and behaviors for new remote agents, as well as track how agents are functioning during this time of crisis. For example, KPIs might have indicated longer-than-usual call-resolution times. However, live interaction monitoring and analytics showed that agents were dealing with more customers who were scared, sad, or confused. 

This caused agents to modify their behaviors and spend additional time reassuring callers and working through fewer calls. New training, then, placed the emphasis on easy displays of empathy and ways to navigate complex interactions rather than on speed and low handle times.

Creating a Culture of CX Excellence

In addition to identifying weaknesses, centers can tap analytics to create a continuous culture of improvement. One area where this is especially important is with the customer experience (CX). Customer expectations will become more demanding in the future. In fact, 69 percent of contact center managers expect customers to have an increased need for emotional empathy in customer service interactions post-pandemic. Analytics can be a tool to support agents as customer needs evolve.

For example, sentiment analysis can help contact centers analyze customer and agent tone, as well as track how satisfied customers are based on their voice or text interactions. Radial, a BPO serving leading retail brands, used sentiment analysis to identify strategies to improve its end customers’ experience.

Using speech and text analytics, Radial identified instances of powerless-to-help language and phrases like “not allowed,” “unfortunately,” and “I wish we could” in customer interactions. Leaders correlated those to negative-sentiment scores. The results allowed Radial to create training and strategies to empower agents with the right tools, resources, and language to improve interactions and reduce negative-sentiment scores.

Simply by understanding the correlation between specific language and sentiment, Radial increased its net first-contact resolution by 3 percent, increased net customer satisfaction (CSAT) by 2.1 percent, and improved net agent demeanor by .56 percent. 

Not Just for the Customer

In the past, analytics-based insights had the stigma of being micro-managerial or critical toward agents. However, modern analytics use is meant to be pro-agent, offering support when needed and credit when deserved. By leveraging workforce engagement management tools together—including recording, quality management, workforce management, analytics, and reporting—contact centers now have the technologies they need to understand the details behind the good and the not-so-good customer-agent interactions. With this knowledge now easily accessible, applying training to make each interaction a positive one has the potential to improve every aspect of contact center work.

With more than fifteen years in the industry, Brad Snedeker has extensive knowledge of the contact center space. As Calabrio’s director of innovation, he ensures that customers have access to the best training available. He works directly with users to develop new and innovative techniques to implement workforce optimization best practices.

Why You’re Not Getting the Most from Your Training Dollars

By Kate Zabriskie

Each year, organizations waste thousands of dollars on training that doesn’t deliver what the people who bought it thought it would. Consequently, remorseful purchasers determine that either training has no value to their employees, training facilitators don’t know what they’re doing, program designers are out of touch with reality, or all three.

If only the root causes of training failures were as simple! Even with willing learners, great content, and strong facilitation, you can still encounter problems that will keep you from realizing strong returns on your training investment. If your training isn’t delivering what you think it should, you may be suffering from one of three major problems that plague all organizations.

1. Training Isn’t Part of a Larger Learning Ecosystem

Just because people participate in a workshop doesn’t mean they’ll change their work behavior. In fact, even if they demonstrate an ability and willingness to apply what they’re learning in class, all may be lost once they exit the classroom.

For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions. Click To Tweet

Why does this happen? Good workshops usually fail to deliver because they’re treated as a training solution instead of a component of one. In other words, a workshop isn’t the answer. Rather, it should be part of a larger apparatus or ecosystem.

Solution: Start small. Creating a strong learning ecosystem is an ongoing and often complex endeavor. It takes time to build a holistic structure that supports continuous development. Ask yourself: 

  • Prior to training, do managers explain to people why they will be attending a course and what the expected application will be?
  • Will someone with authority (other than the facilitator) launch the session by explaining how the workshop ties into the bigger picture?
  • Are there check-in opportunities after training to ensure participants are implementing new behaviors?

If you answer no to any of these questions, do what you need to do to shift those answers to yes.

Next, think about the incentives you can put in place to encourage behavior change, the barriers you need to remove to encourage success, and the corrective action you’ll take if what’s happening in the classroom isn’t replicated on the job.

Once you start thinking holistically and view courses and workshops as a component of learning versus learning in its entirety, you will have taken the first step in getting the most out of your training dollars.

2. Continuous Learning Isn’t Part of the Culture or a Priority

You have great content, and you have a skilled facilitator, but half the people scheduled to attend don’t make it a priority.

When training occupies a position of “nice to have” versus “need to have,” getting the most from it becomes problematic. This most often happens when people are in survival mode instead of on a growth trajectory. In other words, they scramble to get through their work instead of thinking mindfully about the work they’re completing and how they’re completing it.

In practical terms, if people are always putting out fires and don’t regularly ask “What have we learned?” and “How can we improve?”, why should they care about learning new skills?

Solution: Start by asking the right questions. Shifting from a reactive culture to one that is deliberate about its activities takes months or even years. However, it’s not difficult to make big strides over time when you begin by asking the right questions throughout the organization.

Start the improvement conversation at multiple levels and at various times. Frequently ask after training: 

“What have we learned?”

“What do we need to do better next time?”

“What do we wish we’d known earlier?” 

In the rare instances when something goes perfectly, remember that there are still questions to ask: “How can we replicate what we just did?”; “Why did that work well?”; and “Is there any reason this approach won’t work again in the future?”

When questioning becomes the norm, the solutions offered via training should have stronger importance and value. For example, if turnover is an issue, a learning organization wants to know why and may ask several questions: 

“Are we hiring the wrong people?”

“Are we expecting too much?”

“Is there something better for the same money somewhere else?”

“Do our managers not manage well?”

“Do we need to provide people with better tools?”

Then, when learning and improvement are a priority, you’ll hear such things as, “Today is a training day for me. I’ll be unavailable until 4:00. If you have an emergency, please see my supervisor, Melissa. The workshop I’m attending is of top importance and part of my effort to reduce turnover.”

Who can argue with that? The logic sounds right and ties into big-picture improvement goals.

To get larger returns from training, use questioning to drive improvement. The answers will help people connect the dots and understand why training is a priority and not just something they do because their schedule tells them to show up in a classroom.

3. Few Annual Development Plans Exist

The world doesn’t stagnate, and your employees shouldn’t either. If they’re doing their work the same way they were five years ago, and nobody is encouraging or demanding change, why should they care about training or think you care about them?

Solution: Regardless of level, every employee should have a development plan and some learning and growth goals that connect to the big picture and enhance their skills.

“I want to improve XYZ skill to drive ABC result, and 123 is how I plan to grow” is a quick and easy format to follow when setting development goals. Three to five goals is a suitable number for most people.

Better still, if you can tie those goals to performance reviews, you’ll be amazed at the interest people develop in improvement, training, and implementing new skills. As with the other two solutions, start small. For example, if your company doesn’t have any development plans, choose one department to pilot them.

Act Now

Whether you suffer from one, two, or all three of these problems, act now. When thoughtful goals and development plans exist throughout an organization, people are conditioned to ask the right questions. With a drive toward improvement and a strong learning ecosystem that supports learning, it’s almost impossible not to realize a stronger return on your training dollars.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.

Overcoming Call Reluctance, Part Two

By Kathy Sisk

In part one we discussed the first weakness of call reluctance: agent fears. Now we’ll discuss prospect’s fears.

Most outbound agents don’t receive training to help them handle their prospect’s fears. In many instances, agents are not even aware of these fears. They fall into three categories:

  1. The Approach: What does this salesperson want from me?
  2. Pre-Purchase Insecurity: What if I later regret my decision?
  3. Post-Purchase Remorse: What have I done?

To address this, agents need training to improve their approach. This enables the agent to be more sensitive to and address the prospect’s fears. 

Before training agents on scripting, you must first sell the benefits of using a script. Click To Tweet

Most agents are uncomfortable using a canned presentation, and so are prospects. However, scripts are necessary, especially when working with multiple projects, training a newly hired agent, or to remain in control during the presentation. Scripts also provide more consistency in the performance levels of the campaign. 

The Benefits of Using a Script (Call Guide)

Before training agents on scripting, you must first sell the benefits of using a script. I do this using my “road map” story:

“A script is like a road map. If you were to travel to an unfamiliar city, would you go without a map? Of course not. If you did, it would take longer to arrive at your destination. So it is with your presentation. You start from a beginning point and a destination you want to reach. Not having a script, a format to follow, or a call guide lets your prospect take you on a detour where you do not want to go. If you do not have a map (a call guide), it will be difficult to get back on track. Not using a script gives your prospect greater control of the outcome. Ultimately you are not able to meet the objective of the call.”

The truth is, after thirty minutes of experiencing negative activity with the prospect gaining control, agents lose interest and their self-esteem spirals downward. Eventually this can affect other agents in the call center too.

Next time we will discuss scripts and how to best use them when making outbound calls and overcoming call reluctance.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center setup, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally.

How to Make Good Training Great in a High-Turnover Industry

By Stephanie Jones

If you’ve made a management career for yourself in a high-turnover industry, you’ve probably found yourself frustrated about training. After all, training new employees is expensive and time-consuming. And if they’re just planning to quit soon, why even bother?

It’s important to note that high-quality employee training is essential, no matter what your turnover rate looks like. The problem is wasting great training materials on employees who are often gone before their one-year anniversary.

Our call center is based in a town with several colleges, so we know a few things about high turnover. Here are some of the ways we make our employee courses great and disseminate as much information as possible with efficiency.

Think Beyond Your Main Objectives

How does the topic apply to your employees in the real world? What about your customers? Take time to consider all angles of the story you’re trying to tell.

Consider what happens when someone doesn’t get it right. If you only see training from your perspective—which is the perspective of someone who already knows the answers—then you might miss what happens when someone doesn’t get it. Look at the language you’re using to present the material and the questions you ask.

When you consider the whole picture while creating a course, you become ultra-efficient. You cover more material faster. You spend less time adding content or editing quizzes.Taking dense or dull information and turning it into something anyone can easily read (without dread) should always be the goal. Click To Tweet

Share Relevant Information Where Employees Will Actually Read It

Things can change quickly. Expecting trainees to always check into a learning management system (LMS) to see what’s going on isn’t practical. You must meet them where they communicate.

We make use of the collaboration hub, such as Slack, to share important updates, communicate with employees about their courses, and impart information about current training initiatives. It’s a quick and easy touchstone for our training team.

Whether it’s sharing a video about how much tone can change a conversation to a scripting change to fielding feedback on our courses, our training team can deliver information instantly. No more sending emails and hoping trainees will see and read them.

Write Your Training for Human Beings

It once was common practice for learning and development and HR departments to create ultra-polished and highly technical courses and manuals. Many large organizations still do despite the changes in modern communication.

Your employees don’t have the attention span or energy to take on a thick book of dense material. And if they do, how much are they learning from it?

Certain industries will always have a need for technical training materials, but not all of us work for engineering companies. It’s time to write from a place of empathy and understanding. It’s time to write with voice and character.

As an instructional designer, one of my biggest goals was to rework our training materials so they were easy and enjoyable to read. I wanted our courses to have a blog-post feeling to them. This meant shorter paragraphs, visual aids, and interactive elements. I use bulleted lists, subheadings to draw out main points, and gifs and emojis to illustrate and break up the content.

Condensed your most important material into relatable language. Then you can disseminate the information, and have it applied fast. This is a priceless advantage in the call center industry.

Training doesn’t have to be dense or dull. Taking dense or dull information and turning it into something anyone can easily read (without dread) should always be the goal.

Use Tools That Make Course Design and Organization Easy

The ability to create effective training courses with expediency is key in an industry with a high turnover rate. We have a finite amount of time to teach our agents. That’s why it’s so important that we create courses in as little time as possible.

We use Rise by Articulate360 to author courses that are beautiful and easy to use; it doesn’t seem possible that we made them with a drag-and-drop tool. We organize and assign our courses with Litmos, a cloud-based learning management system.

Sometimes we need animated videos to drive a point home, and Powtoon makes video creation simple—no editing or design skills are necessary. What about visual aids? Instead of outsourcing design work, Canva helps us make graphics in a matter of minutes.

There are many cloud-based resources to help streamline the training process. Using a combination of the top tools will help you get your training materials to your trainees much faster.

Creating Great Employee Training Is Possible

Have you ever thought, I feel like I’m running on a hamster wheel? How do we expect anyone to learn anything when the turnover rate is so high?

If so, you’re not alone.

Building quality training in a high-turnover industry can feel like a struggle. Without modern tools and a willingness to expand your thinking on training, you’ll only move as fast as you do now. Instead, use these ideas and tools to produce great employee training materials for the high-turnover call center industry.

Stephanie Jones is the instructional designer for PATLive, a US-based call center, where she imbues her passion for great customer service into building better employee training. She has a background in journalism and has written many posts for the PATLive blog.

Keep Your Call Center from Suffering a Privacy Incident

By Sachin Kothari

Call center managers have plenty to worry about. Just recruiting and keeping staff, watching margins, and managing stakeholders (external or internal) can keep you busy.

In addition, you know privacy and data protection are rapidly becoming major issues for any organization gathering or using customer data. The last thing you need is a privacy incident to mar your organization’s reputation or lead to aggrieved customers.

You might even be pitching breach remediation work as part of your business plan. That pretty much becomes moot if you have an embarrassing breach yourself. Therefore it’s vital to know where a call center’s vulnerabilities are and how to prevent them. The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. Click To Tweet

Social Engineering: Terms like phishing, spear phishing, and whaling all refer to the practice of criminals misrepresenting themselves to employees—even high-level employees (the whales)—and convincing them to give away important information of their own accord. While movies and television might make hackers into scheming geniuses behind souped-up laptops, a simple phone call is almost all they need to get some unsuspecting employee to hand over a username and password or other compromising information.

Luckily the solution is relatively simple: Train, train, train. Employees must understand how important it is to stick to your policies about how information is handled and think critically about what it is they’re being asked to do for a customer. Most phishing techniques are apparent once you know what to look and listen for.

In truth, it’s likely some of the good training you’ve given your employees—designed to help them deliver great customer service—has created good intentions that can have bad results.

Consider the case of an important client calling a frontline call center employee and explaining that he wants to make some adjustments to his account. Suddenly, right in the middle of verifying his identity, this big fish says that he must take an important call and explains that his assistant will finish up.

Of course, this woman doesn’t know her boss’s credentials. That’s silly. He was just there on the phone, right? This shouldn’t be a problem. No one would fault that call center employee’s instinct to be helpful and make sure this assistant gets the important changes accomplished. This is an important client, and the assistant sounds nice and seems harried.

Of course, the call center employee has just found herself victim to a data breach.

Teach your employees about these scenarios and emphasize the importance of verifying identity according to your policy, without exception. Hackers are smart. Give them even the tiniest bit of personal information, and they can exploit it.

Who Can See What?: Even in today’s digital world, people need to write things down when working with customers. It’s a part of the call center job that will likely never go away. Make sure there’s a policy in place for destroying that piece of paper. How handy is your shredder?

Unless the shredder is in steady use, the janitorial staff could be selling client info to the highest bidder. Ideally your cleaning personnel has training and knows to destroy compromising information pronto, but custodial staff are often third-party vendors. Does your contract with them require training in information handling?

You should also make sure that your call center employees don’t have keys to every digital door. Invest in software that redacts information based on role and scenario. That way employees only see the information necessary for the call they’re handling.

Procedures for Escalation: Perhaps the most common issue is a lack of proper plans for what to do should something bad happen. What does your employee do if she gets a call from a customer saying someone has accessed their account? Does that employee know where to go for help?

The breach experts all say the same thing: Speed matters. The faster your security team knows that something is amiss, the faster they can act.

Just a single sign of improper access could mean a typhoon is coming. Maybe your security team recognizes a hot new piece of malware and knows how to quickly contain it. It’s vital that all employees, from frontline staff and shift managers right up to the chief information officer, know what the response plan is. 

Conclusion: Unfortunately, this is just the start. There are books that address this issue in detail. I hope you have auditing capabilities and smart procedures in place for screening potential employees to make sure they are who they say they are. If not, you should start by addressing this.

Regardless, the simple message is this: People make mistakes. They make more mistakes, however, when they don’t have any training to help them avoid making them.

Privacy and data security should be standard at call centers, no matter where you’re operating. Otherwise you might find you’re not operating at all.

Sachin Kothari is CIPP/US and director of online privacy and compliance at AT&T.

Three Steps to Establishing Positive Training ROI

By David Mathews

Training is one of the last remaining areas in business whose value and ROI are taken on little more than faith. We all get it.

Training is important. People need to know how to do their job. Managers need to know how to effectively lead. Companies need to protect themselves legally through annual compliance courses.

Luckily, training resources are everywhere. Whether you have a robust in-house learning and development team, outsource all of it to third parties, or are somewhere in between, there are thousands of companies, consultants, books, and platforms to help you accomplish the never-ending task of knowledge transfer.

But one area where there is shockingly little discussion or resource allocation is in what some call learning effectiveness or training analytics: How effective is your training as it pertains to your bottom line? Measured effectively, employee and manager training can verifiably produce dividends that far exceed the initial training investment. The key word here is verifiably.

Consider the following three steps to discover and then improve your organization’s total return on training.Capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. Click To Tweet

1) Ask the Right Questions: Learning effectiveness is more than a survey that learners fill out after a class. And while there are good reasons to know how your employees feel about a given training, ROI isn’t one of them.

Hopefully they liked it, but so what? Did they do anything differently because of it, or did they simply have an enjoyable four hours off the phones?

It’s the same thing with knowledge tests. No one would argue that knowledge is irrelevant. It’s clearly important, but by itself it isn’t predictive of behavior change. We all know eating pizza isn’t good for us. We all know exercise is important to our overall health.

The overarching goal of any training is to increase the profitability of the company via some intermediate objective. These objectives are simply a means to an end. They could be things like increased first call resolution, higher close rates, reduced average talk time, higher morale, lower attrition, and so forth.

If you want to accurately quantify the fiscal success (or lack thereof) of a given training, start with asking whether and by how much the metric of the objectives moved. From there it’s just a matter of translating that into dollars.

2) Acquire Data: Now that you’ve defined the appropriate questions, it’s time to collect data. This can be as simple or as complex as the metrics you are measuring. If you have an analytics team in place, they likely can help you acquire the data you need. In many cases you probably won’t need anything more complex than a spreadsheet. The important thing is to collect the data.

It’s usually a good idea to capture data at a macro and micro level before and after the training. This will help you to effectively isolate other variables that could affect the metric, thus leading to a purer training impact analysis.

3) Analyze the Results and Create a Plan: Take the results at face value, but also dig deeper. Numbers on their own are great for a PowerPoint presentation, but the story they tell is where you will get the biggest impact. Maybe you find that post-training, first call resolution improved by 10 percent—but why? Was it isolated to a particular group or manager? If there were folks that didn’t complete the training, did they show a similar increase? Find the story.

Monetize it. This is where training analytics has a chance to really shine. If you were measuring the impact of a coaching class for managers and you find that final written warnings decreased by 20 percent as a result of more effective coaching skills, then that can be quantified. If you know that 50 percent of all final written warnings end up in employee separation, know the onboarding cost of a new rep, and know how many fewer final written warnings there were, you can easily assign a fiscal return on that training. Put that number against the overall cost of the training program and you’ll have an accurate training ROI.

But why stop there? People learn by association and through repetition. Now you have concrete evidence to justify a phase two of your coaching class. Act on this new plan, keep measuring, and you will keep achieving.

The Bottom Line: A small step for training is to say that training is a bottom-line issue. Any job posting for training director job titles is likely to include some verbiage about business results. This is a good start.

A giant leap for training is to measure things that really matter, tie them to your bottom line, and take that data to make your training program even better. It’s a positive feedback loop.

With verifiable positive training ROI, it’s much easier to budget for more.

David Mathews is president of Training Analytics and Consulting LLC. With over fifteen years in the learning and development field, he has helped pioneer robust training analytics operations at some of the most well-known companies in the world. David is a recognized expert at translating raw data into meaningful and actionable business insights that will increase the impact and ROI of any training organization. Contact David at david@trainingtac.com or 469-626-7980.

Kick the One-Size-Fits-All Approach to the Curb

By Chad Hendren

When it comes to customer service, a cookie-cutter approach won’t cut it. After all, a meaningful connection isn’t meaningful if it’s the same for everyone.

Depending on your industry, Harvard Business School reports that increasing a company’s customer retention rate by just 5 percent can increase profitability anywhere from 25 to 95 percent. Additionally, Walker Information predicts that by 2020, customer experience will overtake product and price as the key brand differentiator. This means that how you differentiate your brand depends on how you treat your customers.

Making customers wait on hold for lengthy periods of time, transferring them from agent to agent, and opening the conversation with a canned list of questions that may not relate to the reason they contacted you will leave customers frustrated and ready to hang up for good.

So how do you ensure that an experience is meaningful to each of your customers? Connect with context.

Acknowledge the Customer’s Journey: Smart watches, smart homes, and essentially the Internet of everything has put brands at a customer’s convenience. What they haven’t done is stop phones from being the number one support channel. According to a 2017 customer service trends report by Forrester, 67 percent of people contacted companies by phone for customer support in the last twelve months. How do you ensure that an experience is meaningful to each of your customers? Click To Tweet

But ending up on the phone doesn’t negate the importance of the channels where customers started. With those channels in mind, think about the various pathways or touchpoints customers may have taken before placing a call. Did they go straight to the phone, log in to their account on a website, jump to social channels, or email the helpline? The effort customers take to reach a company should never go unnoticed.

Depending on the complexities of their journey, customers are likely to be scattered, rushed, and frustrated before they pick up the phone. Having a system in place that shows each customer’s route, where they have looked, and their history allows agents to acknowledge who the customer is and where they’ve already been. This shows a company cares about and understands how valuable the customer’s time is, which is a crucial component for making a positive first impression.

Personalize the Experience: When a customer connects with a company, context clarifies why. Without it, agents ask customers for additional information, put them on hold, or transfer them to another agent to repeat the cycle. If the customer wasn’t already frustrated when they first called, they will be after jumping through context-less hoops.

As customer service and retention rise to the top of company priorities, contact center staffing issues also take higher priority. Agent training should focus on improving overall communication through active listening skills, asking questions to unearth other relevant information, and using positive phrasing to help build positive relationships. To take it one step further, every customer should be routed to the most appropriate agent.

Context ensures that customers are given the service and attention they deserve on their first contact. Seek tools to reduce customer effort, automate warm transfers, and provide agents with informative screens that highlight the customer’s past and present journey, including recent channels they have navigated. This information not only arms agents with much-needed context, but it allows the contact center to provide the most relevant agent for the issue.

For example, a customer who looks at their bill online prior to picking up the phone is best matched with an agent well versed in billing. Additionally, that agent can acknowledge that the customer was checking their statement by asking if they have any questions about the bill. From the start, the agent addresses the issue before the customer even speaks.

Arming agents with this information empowers them to solve the customer’s issue quickly, eliminating repetitive, unrelated questions—thus decreasing the possibility of frustrated customers. Additionally, companies primed for future success are the ones that continue to create personalization out of context. Imagine all the opportunities to present customers with a product, idea, or service when they are most attentive and the solution is relevant to their immediate concerns.

Connect with Meaning: When customers connect with a company, a meaningful and personalized experience helps their interaction go off without a hitch. When done successfully, any frustration the customer initially had can—and most likely will—melt away. In fact, CEB reported that 65 percent of a customer’s perceived level of effort is driven by how the customer service representative made them feel during the service interaction. What the customer actually needed to do accounts for only 35 percent of their perceived effort.

What does this all mean? When customers come in with negative emotions and leave feeling more positive, they remember.

Chad Hendren is vice president and general manager of customer experience solutions for Virtual Hold Technology, providers of VHT Navigator, which addresses cross-channel customer experiences by connecting key moments as customers move across channels.

Three Aspects of Agent Training

By Janet Livingston

Call center agents, your public-facing staff, are key to your call center’s effectiveness and fuel the success of the overall organization. Successful agent development starts on an agent’s first day of employment and continues every day after that. This begins with initial training, continues with ongoing instruction, and moves into possible promotion and a realistic career path. You must consider all three.

1) Agent Success Starts with Great Training

Training begins on day one of employment. Here are some tips to foster successful agent training.

Pick the Right Medium: There is a time and place for online training, but self-directed instruction will not work in all situations. Some training calls for a classroom setting, where agents can learn from one another as they seek clarification, share insights, and respond to questions. Other times, such as during coaching or call evaluation, effective instruction necessitates one-on-one interaction. This is not to discount self-paced online training, but rather to view it as a secondary resource.

Use Multiple Methods: While some will learn via verbal instruction and visuals, others need printed material or multimedia interaction. To effectively address all learning preferences, employ a variety of teaching tools, such as lecture, PowerPoint summaries, handouts, and interactive multimedia. Allow time for practical application.

Employ Role-Playing: Regardless of how agents learn, practicing that element of work helps establish their competence. Instead of using real callers, a safer solution is role-playing in a classroom environment. While some relish these opportunities, not all will. Yet all agents can learn through role-playing and internalize key proficiencies before applying them to actual callers.

Don’t Assume: When instructing agents, don’t take anything for granted. For example, a hashtag is only a pound sign to some people. Saying “URL” may be clear to some and confuse others, who will instead understand “web address.” Explain everything in detail.

Teach Soft Skills: The focus of agent training is how to use programs, navigate resources, and the most efficient button sequence. Yet callers are more concerned with the agents’ customer service abilities—their soft skills. Teach agents how to truly hear what callers say, convey empathy, and defuse emotions.

Provide Practice Time: Great instruction means nothing without the opportunity to apply it. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” Build practice time, including role-playing, into all group training. People forget what they hear or see, but what they do stays with them, especially when they repeat it. Athletes call this muscle memory. The same principle applies to mastering agent skills.

2) Agent Success Builds on Ongoing Training

Call center agents should never complete their education. If agents claim to have finished training, either they’re deluding themselves or their call center is letting them down. Agent training isn’t a once-and-done task; it’s ongoing.

Advanced Skills Training: Initial agent training covers basic competencies. Until agents can master fundamental abilities in a real-world setting, it makes no sense to provide additional instruction. However, once agents have the essentials down, they should receive advanced training, such as customer service skills, soft skills, and dealing with unusual caller situations.

Call Evaluation: All call centers record caller conversations. In most operations a quality assurance advisor listens to a sampling of calls to rate them and provide agent feedback. It’s important to address actions needing attention, but feedback should also focus on the positive aspects of the call to reinforce the agent’s great work. To maximize effectiveness the feedback should happen as close to the call as possible.

Corrective Action: In an ideal situation mistakes will never occur. Yet they do. Even the most seasoned and accomplished agents sometimes mess up. While ignoring errors is tempting, doing so is never constructive and only serves to increase the chances of a repeat. Instead meet with the agent as soon as possible to point out the error and offer corrective alternatives. Do this in private without letting other agents know what is occurring. Avoid taking corrective action during the agent’s breaks or after they clock out. Make it quick—say what you need to say and move on.

New Instruction: Call centers aren’t static places. There are software updates, new apps, advanced integrations, and replacement computer technology. In addition new accounts start service and existing clients change processes. Don’t let agents discover these changes in the midst of handling live calls. Provide needed training to fully prepare agents in advance.

3) Agent Success Hinges on Career Development

Agent Onboarding: The primary focus of agent orientation is the initial training. As mentioned, this starts with how to use the computers and associated software, apps, resources, and websites. It addresses basic customer service skills and instructs them how to effectively talk with callers. When agents finish their initial training, their learning is not complete; it has merely begun. Positive initial training helps agents start well and prepares them for a possible call center career. Never assume agent training is finished. Ongoing training moves agents into their future. Click To Tweet

Continuing Education: Once agents complete their initial training, they shift to ongoing instruction, which should occur to some extent every day they work. As mentioned this can take the form of advance skills training, call evaluation, corrective action, and new instruction on the latest equipment, software, and client processes. Some instruction needs repeating. Occasionally agents need remedial lessons. The point is to never assume agent training is finished. Successful ongoing training moves agents into their future.

Promotional Preparation: Some agents desire to advance in the call center. While this isn’t practical for every agent, it bears noting that most non-agent call center positions are staffed by former agents.

However, just because an employee is a great agent, he or she will not automatically function with distinction in another position. Specialized training is required first. Moving a successful agent into another position prematurely will merely turn a great agent into an ineffective employee. Preparation is key for success. Also coach agents to have patience while waiting for openings.

Career Path: Beyond the call center, other positions in the organization beckon. These may be in sales and marketing, accounting, or technical areas. While few agents arrive possessing the skills to assume these positions, their educational pursuits may point them in that direction. Hiring a freshman accounting major may provide an agent for several years and an accounting department staffer after graduation. Look for these opportunities and groom agents for advancement whenever possible.

Call center agents need training, ongoing feedback, and regular encouragement to develop into valued employees, be it as agents, in the call center, or as part of the greater organization. Agents are the key to successful call centers, and ongoing training is the key to effective agents. Start training today and never stop.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider and consultancy that provides custom training solutions for all levels of call center and telephone answering service staff. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706 to learn more about arranging specific training for your organization.

Professional Telephone Skills

By Kathy Sisk

When you make or receive a call, your telephone skills reflect you and your company. It’s important to project professionalism in handling calls because it affects the image of your company, product or service, and you. The key is to put customers first. Make them feel good by practicing professional telephone skills: be courteous, helpful, and genuine.

Use Your Voice to Make a Difference: Start by taking a breath; you’d be surprised at how better you sound when you’re relaxed and not out of breath. Sounding in a rush gives a negative impression. Consider these scenarios:

  • Answering or making a call: State your full name in a friendly tone, and avoid using wordy expressions. By simply stating your first and last name, you save time. The success of each call depends on the tone of your voice; make sure you always sound welcoming and willing to help.
  • Answering someone else’s telephone: State the person’s name before you identify yourself. For example, “Hello, Mr. Jim Smith’s office, this is Janice Gold.” And never use your title such as, “Mr. Smith’s office, Ms. Gold.”
  • Answering a departmental phone: Always identify yourself after stating the department, “Hello. Bookkeeping, this is Janice Gold.”

Answer Quickly: Taking too long to answer projects a negative impression. Callers will wonder if anyone is there, which gives your conversation a difficult start.

Find Out Who’s Calling: A critical telephone skill for inbound calls is to ask the caller’s name; then use it to build rapport. Also, confirm the spelling; ask if you’re not sure.

Transfer Calls Professionally: If you can’t help the caller, let him or her know you will connect them to the right department. Customers get frustrated when their call is transferred, so stay with them until they’re connected to the right department. You may also take the caller’s name and number so the appropriate person may return the call. Taking these extra steps shows respect to callers.

Take Messages: A complete message should include:

  • the caller’s name
  • the company
  • the date and time of call
  • preferred callback number and extension
  • the best time to return the call, and
  • all other relevant information.

Kathy Sisk Enterprises Inc. has forty years of experience providing call center set up, reengineering, assessments, training, script development, and project management services to centers globally. 

Make Training a Priority This Year

By Janet Livingston

I suggest that you designate 2017 as the year of training. Train your agents, supervisors, managers, and support staff. Train them so they can do their jobs better and wow your clients and their callers. Train them to remove frustration over the unknown and provide a sense of increased confidence. Train them to make your call center better and your operation more successful.

It seems that “everyone talks about training, but no one does anything about it.” For this year, let’s stop yearning for more training and hoping for better training. Instead let’s move forward and make it happen. Here are nine areas to consider for better call center training:

1) Employee Development: Begin with basic agent training to get them started and then move to ongoing training to propel them to success. They need instruction in equipment, software, apps, and technical skills, along with soft skills such as customer service, dealing with conflict, and defusing emotional situations.

Present training in multiple formats: use classroom teaching, one-on-one coaching, and self-paced computer instruction. For group training, mix lectures with discussion; provide handouts; use PowerPoint slides; tap multimedia tools; and allow for plenty of time to role-play and practice. Ongoing instruction and advanced teaching should follow these same ideals.

2) Leadership Training: Most call center positions are filled by former agents, yet without adequate training, a great agent will seldom become a great leader. Look at a career path for agents. What positions can they move into within the call center? What training will they need to do so effectively? Outside of your call center operation, what other positions can they move into within your organization? Consider sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, technical, and mid-level management. Each of these requires training. Failing to provide this needed education will cause your best people to leave to join companies that will provide a career path and the support to realize it.

3) HIPAA Compliance: HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, applies directly to healthcare call centers and has ramifications for all call centers. Is your operation doing all that is required to protect the personal health information of callers and maintain compliance? Don’t leave this to chance; the risks to both your finances and reputation are just too great.

Even if your call center does not serve the healthcare vertical, many of the practical implementations of HIPAA regulations have worked their way into other industries – such as finance and banking – and are emerging as best practices across all industries. Don’t be left behind. Learn and implement HIPAA-inspired processes in your call center this year. It starts with training.

4) Supervisor Instruction: Supervisor training is nonexistent in most call centers. It often amounts to little more than saying, “Go sit by that person.” While job shadowing has its place, it should be an ancillary support tool, not a primary education strategy. Smaller operations can conduct supervisor training one-on-one. Larger operations warrant classroom instruction. This should mirror all the paradigms of agent training, but with different content.

Supervisors need training on how to manage people, adjust schedules, understand agent stats, conduct coaching sessions, resolve conflict, and so forth. Achieve this through a mix of established instruction and practical application as situations arise.

5) Human Resource Education: While human resources take on many aspects relevant to hiring staff and overseeing their employment, a key element is interviewing skills. Do your interviewers know which questions they should ask applicants? More importantly, do they know which questions they must avoid? A quick path to a discrimination lawsuit is asking an illegal question during an employment interview.

Beyond interviewing, human resource staff is also involved in leading disciplinary meetings, developing employee action plans, writing job descriptions, and conducting performance appraisals, which can include both gathering the information and meeting with agents. They need training in all these areas if they are to succeed.

6) Call Center Outsourcing Considerations: If you’re an outsource call center, agent training is much more involved than for a corporate call center. Outsource agents require extra initial training and additional ongoing instruction. The training department plays a huge role in this. Training is much more complex because agents must switch between numerous call types for various clients, back-to-back. In this regard, the idea of training the trainer becomes paramount.

7) Customer Service Teaching: Advanced customer service training is nonexistent at most call centers. Though most agents want to do a good job, most call centers don’t provide the requisite instruction for them to do so. As a result people often receive promotions into key customer service roles without the instruction needed to do a good job. Relevant training is the solution.

8) Agent Onboarding: Welcoming new agents is too often a hit-or-miss proposition. Yet an employee’s first impression of the call center sets the tone for the rest of that agent’s experience. Don’t leave this to chance. Beyond that, the most critical role of a training department is to help each new hire confirm that he or she has made the right decision in joining the company. The third element of the onboarding process is the initial agent training. Again, we’re talking about training for the training department.

9) Quality Assurance Coaching: Every call center claims quality is their number one goal, but do they actually back up this platitude with actionable processes? Quality assurance involves recording calls, listening to calls, and evaluating calls. The focus shouldn’t be on the number of QA reports but on the actionable content of the evaluations.

A key issue in QA is consistency. Will two quality assurance specialists rate a call the same way? Without thoughtful training, a wide variation of opinions can result over the quality of any particular call. Yes, quality assurance staff needs training, too – not only initial instruction on the process, but also ongoing reviews to insure consistent application.

Every call center needs to meet these nine training needs, but few operations appropriately address them all. Pick your call center’s biggest training deficiency and tackle it first. Then move to the next one until you cover all nine. Make this year the year you move your training dreams from hope to reality.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider and consultancy that provides custom training solutions for all levels of call center and telephone answering service staff. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706 to learn more about arranging specific training for your organization.