Tag Archives: Training Call Center Agents

Keeping Your Cool When the Caller Gets Hot

By Lydia Ramsey

Have you ever had a bad day in business? One where nothing seemed to go right and everywhere you turned you encountered angry or upset people? If this has never happened to you, stop reading now, but if it has, read on.

At one point or another, you have encountered people who were less than happy with you or your call center. It may have been because of a problem with the service, you may have said or done something to aggravate a coworker, or your company may have done something that disturbed a client.

Whatever the problem, it is always a challenge to deal effectively with upset people. Diffusing anger and handling difficult issues require special skills and practiced behaviors. It’s hard to be calm and courteous when others are out of control. So what can you do to keep your cool and resolve the issue when the customer or coworker is being hostile? Try following these five steps to sooth the situation.

Step one is to listen. Really listen to what the other person is saying. Too often, we don’t hear all that is being said because we are busy trying to come up with our own response. If you don’t fully understand why the other person is upset, you can’t possibly help with the solution. Sometimes people just need to vent – to get whatever is bothering them off their chest.

You may be well on your way to a resolution if you are a good listener who does not interrupt, letting other people finish what they have to say. Often, people calm down when they realize that you value them enough to hear them out. They may also hear themselves and recognize that they are overreacting or acting inappropriately.

Let your body language reflect your attention as well, even if you are talking on the phone. Use eye contact, lean in toward the other person, and use appropriate facial expressions that show your interest. If you do a good enough job with step one, you may not need to take the next four.

Step two is to apologize. It doesn’t matter whether the problem was actually your fault or not. Perhaps the caller received the wrong product and you had nothing to do with filling the order. As the representative of your client, you have as much responsibility as the person who made the mistake. Tell the caller that you are sorry.

Your willingness to be accountable will have a positive effect. All this person may need to hear is an apology, along with receiving the right product or service, to be satisfied. Make your apology with complete sincerity. If your tone of voice doesn’t match your words, you are wasting your breath.

Step three is to sympathize. Let people know that you can identify with their feelings and that you understand why they are upset. A simple and sincere statement validates the caller’s emotions and says that you are not going to be argumentative. Once again, match your tone to your words.

Step four is to accept responsibility for the situation. Be accountable. Let the caller know that you intend to do whatever it takes to make things right to get them the product they ordered or the service they expected. You can’t change what has already happened, but you will come up with a solution to the problem or you will find someone who can.

Step five is to prepare to take action. Decide how you can remedy the situation. Tell the caller exactly what you will do and when. But be sure not to make promises that are outside of your control to keep or that the client has not authorized you to make.

If it is an option, offer to replace the incorrect product as quickly as possible. If the issue was poor service, deliver better service – immediately. Offer something extra or unexpected. Whenever you can provide a bonus of some sort or waive fees, the tiger before you is transformed into a pussycat.

Use the acronym “ASAP” for calming angry people. Each letter stands for part of the process. Once you have heard the person out (step one), Apologize, Sympathize, Accept responsibility, and Prepare to take action (ASAP).

When you treat people with kindness, courtesy, and respect, they will appreciate you, your client, and your call center. When they need service again, they will call back. An appreciative caller may recommend your call center to others by sharing the story of their dilemma that was resolved by your excellent customer service.

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert with over 30 years of experience helping companies and individuals achieve success by adopting professional manners. She is the author of the acclaimed book “Manners that Sell- Adding the Polish that Builds Profits.” As a speaker and trainer, Lydia works with businesses, universities, and community organizations to help polish their communication skills.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2005]

Effective Questioning Skills

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

How important is it to ask good questions? It’s very important. It’s important you use questioning skills to help you completely understand the caller’s situation. Otherwise, you could be responding to what you guess the caller means, which may or may not be correct. Questioning goes beyond listening.

Effective questioning is a real compliment to your skills. It shows that you have the ability to understand the caller’s real needs. It shows that you are looking for meaning that’s deeper than the spoken message. Effective questioning is a powerful, learned skill. It says to the caller, “I’m interested in determining your needs.”

Questioning can be put into two divisions: Open-Ended Questions and Closed-Ended Questions.

Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions are questions without a fixed limit. They encourage continued conversation, and help you get more information. Plus, they often provide opportunities to gain insight into the other person’s feelings. Open-ended questions draw out more information. If you want the caller to open up, use open-ended questions that start with who, what, where, why, when, and how. A few examples are:

“What are some of the things you look for in a hotel?”

“How do you feel government could be more responsive to your needs?”

“What are your concerns about this new program?”

Closed-Ended Questions: Closed-ended questions have a fixed limit. They’re often answered with a yes or no, or with a simple statement of fact. Closed-ended questions are used to direct the conversation. They usually get specific information or confirm facts. Here are some examples.

“Do you have health insurance?”

“Do you want the new brochure?”

“Would you be interested in that?”

We use the open-ended questions to get more information and the closed-ended questions to focus in on one area.

Additionally, there are several other type of questioning techniques. A few are:

Probing Questions: Sometimes you ask an open-ended question to get more information and you only get part of what you need. Now it’s time for a probing question. A probing question is another open-ended question, but it’s a follow-up. It’s narrower. It asks about one area. Here’s an example:

“What topic areas are you interested in?” This question would be better than reading off 50 topics to the caller. It’s a probing question.

A few other examples are:

“Are you able to tell me more about the form you received?”

“What did you like best about Paris?”

Probing questions are valuable in getting to the heart of the matter.

The Echo Question: Here’s a good technique for getting more information. You can use this like a probing question. The idea is to use the last part of a phrase the caller said. Slightly raise the tone of your voice at the end of the phrase to convert it to a question. Then pause and use silence – like this:

“…The bill you received?”

An echo question repeats part of the phrase that the caller used, using voice inflection to convert it to a question. Some people call it mirroring or reflecting. Others call it parroting. We call it echoing. Whatever you call it, it’s a valuable technique to use.

Leading Questions: Many things can be good or bad. Take fire for example. Fire warms our home, cooks our food, and does many other useful things. Uncontrolled, it can burn down our houses.

The reason we use that example is because leading questions can also be good or bad. Leading questions, if used improperly, can be manipulative because you’re leading the person to give the answer you want. When they are used properly, you’re helping that person. Some examples of proper leading questions are:

“You understand what I’m saying, don’t you?”

“You’ll want to know about our same day delivery service, right?”

“You’ll want to go ahead with this, won’t you?”

Leading questions often end with suggestive nudges toward the desired answer. Some ending phrases would be, “Don’t you?”, “Shouldn’t you?”, “Won’t you?”, “Haven’t you?”, and “Right?”

So where are leading questions useful? Well, they’re useful in helping someone who’s undecided make the right decision, a decision that will benefit them. You use a leading question ethically when you help someone do the right thing. Some folks call this technique the “tie down” technique because you’re actually trying to tie down the caller’s needs.

The bottom line is to practice using a variety of questioning techniques. It will help you help your callers more effectively. After all, you want to provide the very best customer service, don’t you?

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training.

[From Connection Magazine November 2004]

My eLearning Memoirs

By Kathryn Jackson, Ph.D.

Much has been written about eLearning including the benefits, the approach, and the obstacles. But not much has been written about the eLearning experience through the eyes of the user. I hope you’ll be fascinated by this fictional look at a how an agent, maybe one in your organization, would relate to the eLearning experience.

First Day After New Hire Training: Dear Max: I made it through new hire training and I’m working on my own in Information Services, the Red Team, second station from the right facing the breakroom. Larry, my supervisor, asked me to keep notes for the next two weeks so that management could see how well the experience prepared me for the job. I thought I would keep a daily log, and to make it more fun, I decided I’d write my observations to you – MaxMentor, my online mentor and friend.

I arrived today with fear and trepidation. I’M ON MY OWN! And yes, I know with all my training that I am screaming when I type in all caps. That first call was a doozey. Not only did it involve a complicated problem but also the caller was a little perturbed. Good thing we went over how to deal with angry callers in new-hire training. I still feel I could do better. Perhaps “Defusing Anger” will be one of my training sessions with you, Max! We’ll see.

Day Two: Max, Some veteran employees don’t like this new training. They aren’t used to the technology, so they find it intimidating. I tell them that eLearning is new to all of us and I’ve only been at it for a short time. “So see,” I say, “you are only a couple of weeks away from feeling as comfortable as I do!”

This is fun, Max. I take lessons that are highly specific to my needs, very interactive, and delivered right to my desktop. I can learn whenever I want to. I’m thankful to work for a company willing to provide eLearning so that I can be there for the caller. I’m more comfortable and they are too.

I realize this training environment benefits the caller. Since I practice a new skill before applying it during a real contact, the caller doesn’t have bear with me while I struggle through. That’s a big benefit!

Today, I used the “show me” approach. I forgot exactly what to do and you gave me step-by-step instruction — just-in-time training. I’m learning the best way to do something without having to bother a co-worker. No longer am I concerned that a co-worker is teaching me some work-around method rather than the most efficient way.

Day Three: Max, In a meeting, I learned that the members of the July new hire class, the first group to receive this type of training, seem much more satisfied at work. Its members already have a lower attrition rate than previous groups and lower handling times right out of training. They continue to handle calls faster even after three months on the job and they achieved performance levels faster than other employees did. Boy, am I glad I signed on when I did! Our October group looks better than they do.

I love the “learn by doing.” I can practice, play, be entertained, and learn all at the same time. You are amazing, Max.

Day Four: Max, Wow, because of you, my error rate has decreased and my anxiety level is almost non-existent. I really like the fact that knowledge is so visible and accessible, even though there is so much to learn, it is manageable.

I like how we are able to respond to changes so quickly. My coworkers said that people used to have to read tons of memos and try to remember all these changes. Now, we get the information and changes as we encounter the need to use them.

I remember so much more with eLearning. It is much easier to understand what I am supposed to do. Learning in these right sized chunks is really the way to go.

Day Five: Max, Yesterday, I posted my first question on the community forum. As I was going through the module on how to defuse anger, I had a question about what other agents encountered in this arena so I asked, “Are there any typical situations in which you are pretty sure that the caller will be angry?” When I checked today for answers, I got an earful and each answer helped me prepare for handling those specific call situations. What a great idea – that community forum!

I really look forward to our time together. The learning breaks help me stay refreshed for my next caller interaction.

On my way home yesterday, I was thinking how nice it is to know that all of us are learning a consistent message and a consistent way to do things. I remember in past jobs how different trainers or different supervisors would tell you to do the same things but in various ways. No confusion exists around here thanks to you, Max.

I’ve noticed a real difference in how I relate to my fellow employees. I don’t have to worry when they don’t get it. Before, I thought that I had to intervene. Now I know that the simulations, assessments, and tests will accurately reflect my coworkers’ struggles. I know these tests have accurately reflected mine!

I am also glad that I don’t have to wait for training. In my last job, I had to wait until enough people needed a class before I could be trained. Now, as soon as I (or anyone else) know I need training, I get it!

Day Six: Max, Each module explains the importance of what I am about to learn and how it contributes to the organization’s strategy. That’s a real motivator to me.

Managers from all levels of the organization tell me how they have contributed to the training and how much they support it. I’m sure this is a big part of the success of this eLearning program.

The management team is fanatical about measuring the results of the training and continually improving it. Wow! What a great team.

Day Seven: Max, Today I relied on my own initiative to request a training module rather than wait for someone to assess me. The onsite coordinator was enthusiastic and gave me great advice about which specific class would be best for me.

And Max, I appreciate how accommodating you are. I can skip ahead or repeat a section whenever I want. You don’t force me to go through a lesson a certain way. Thank you. I learn much better this way.

I don’t know how you do it, Max, but I feel special. The comments that I get after I take an assessment seems like you have spent hours making sure it is personalized just for me!

Day Eight: Max, I feel so good when I see how much I have learned. Those pre- and post- tests are a great idea!

You don’t stop with just the knowledge in the lesson.  You also provide extra material that I can see if I am interested. I’ve gone to several of the websites you linked me to and have actually checked out a book from our department library that you suggested. Great suggestion. I am enjoying the reading.

Today our “defusing anger” learning team met. We had all printed out the worksheets from the lessons and were pleasantly surprised at the game that our trainer had prepared for us to help us continue our learning. Does this multi-faceted approach to learning have no end?

Day Nine: Max, Last Monday when I started a new module, I discovered some rather remarkable features. Larry calls this “blended learning.” Well, did I take advantage of these! In this module, I am able to consult with a real, live online mentor (no offense to you, Max) while I am taking the training. I can send email to the content expert directly from any point in the module. I can go out on our Intranet and see FAQs (See Max, how suave I have become? I even know that FAQs stands for “frequently asked questions”). A message board in this module allows me to post what I have learned. One of the other agents told me that he posted something that he had learned about a topic during a caller interaction and the trainers actually took his lesson and added it to the next version of the module. How cool is that?

Max, you know what a perfectionist I am. It is so reassuring to me that I can make mistakes and experiment in this learning environment without being fearful that it is going to count against me. I can even show my ignorance and not be afraid (quite a wonderful difference from my previous experience!).

Day Ten: Max, Since Larry asked me to give him my opinion about the on-going training, I have been interested in what this eLearning and blended learning is all about. Max, I remember taking a course in college with a friend of mine. After one of the classes, we discussed what we had learned and it was amazing. We had learned completely different things – from the same lecture. We looked at our textbooks to see what each of us had underlined and that was different. We took turns saying what we thought would be on the next exam and that was different. We were 180 degrees from each other. I learned that each person learns differently – in his own way, and at his own pace. Much of what we learn is filtered through our life experiences – what we already know. I want you to know Max, that I am impressed that you can tailor a lesson just for my learning requirements. I am not quite sure how you do it (yet) but I know I am glad you do.

Today as I was going through the time management module, I was thinking about one of the professors I had in college. I was bored in his class and I realized that he was forced to accommodate the average skills and interests of the entire class. His approach was fine for some – but was too fast for some and definitely too slow for the rest of us. I learned that the larger the group, the smaller the percentage of students who are (as Goldilocks put it) “just right” for the method of instruction. That’s why I think much of this training works for me – the group size is small – most of the time I am a group of one!

Here’s my “today” list of what I think is good about this training:

  1. I get feedback about what I must know in order to achieve success in this job.
  2. I get confirmation about what I already know and what I have yet to learn.
  3. I am constantly given encouragement about how well I am doing through the learning process.
  4. I know when the learning process is over and the application process must begin.
  5. I immediately know how well I did in the training and because I am a competitive person, I also like to see how I did in relation to my peers!

That’s the journal. We expect agents to genuinely feel all these benefits. Of course, a real-life journal would include frustrations and glitches. Things happen. The author may even have given Max numerous suggestions for improvement.  Still, we are excited about the promise of eLearning and we look forward to working with agents such as this fictional one to make eLearning an indispensable part of a comprehensive training package.

Kathryn Jackson, Ph.D. is President of Response Design Corporation, which works with organizations to assess relationships, including those among employees, clients, stakeholders, and the community. You can reach Dr. Jackson at 609-398-3230, 800-366-4732, or KJackson@ResponseDesign.com.

[From Connection Magazine October 2004]

Training and ROI

By Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D.

Statistics consistently reinforce that the biggest challenge in today’s contact center environment is agent training. Turnover continues to be high; new hire costs are on the rise – $6500 per agent! At the same time, losing clients because of poor service negatively affects your bottom line. What can you do? How do you justify the training expenditure?

Research has been making a case for how spending in human performance areas such as training translates into bottom-line growth. Accenture’s study, “Running Training Like a Business,” on the impact of training on ROI has some interesting results.

First, in the area of recruitment, training opportunities were among the top three criteria people considered when deciding where they want to work (the others are the opportunity for advancement and a good benefits package).

In the area of productivity, as a result of training, employees were:

  • 17% more productive
  • 20% higher performance levels relative to their peer group
  • Stayed with the company 14% longer

In the area of retention, employees who had access to the training were:

  • More than two times more likely to expect to be with the company in two years
  • More than six times more likely to think the company is a ‘great place to work’
  • More likely to think they are fairly compensated

Dollar figures associated with Accenture’s statistics for one fiscal year report the annual per person net benefit of $25,324. They multiplied this number by the company’s 50,000 employees yielding a companywide benefit of training of $1.26 million. By dividing the benefit by the cost of one year of training ($358 million), researchers concluded that the ROI (at Accenture) is 353%.

Negative Customer Service Experiences

How many of you know and track what percentage of your calls are bad experiences? Hopefully, you do know the numbers and they’re in the low single digits.

In a recent study, participants were asked, “Based on any negative experience, would you stop using this company and go to the competition?” The results were:

Ages Would Stop Using the Company in the Future
18 – 25 100%
26 – 35 97
36 – 45 53
46-55 50
56-65 33
Over 65 63

Source: 2003 Purdue University/BenchmarkPortal.com

As you can see, there is a strong correlation between participant’s age and his or her tendency to stop using the company after a bad experience. Notice that younger participants were less tolerant, more likely to go to the competition, and those over 65 are more demanding that those in middle age.

Therefore, it’s very important to take great care of your clients’ younger callers to maintain loyalty – the clients’ loyalty to you and the callers’ loyalty to your clients. Callers over age 36 have more of an ’emotional bank account’ with the company they’re dealing with. They probably had some good experiences and are more willing to ‘forgive’ a bad one.

If you know your percentage of bad experiences, put a dollar amount on that call and then total it out for the year. I think you’ll be very surprised at the amount of lost revenue for your client. Now if you have a 1% improvement, because of a training initiative for example, the amount of recovered revenue for your clients is very encouraging. This will improve client retention and reduce client churn.

Caller Satisfaction Driver Number One: We all know first call resolution is the number one driver for caller satisfaction, with best practices reported at 86%. However, if your center is at 86%, this means that 14% of callers are contacting you more than once to resolve an issue. This not only frustrates your agents and the callers, but your clients as well. Repeat calls are costly not only to operations and to the bottom line, but they negatively influence customer satisfaction and ultimately, caller and client loyalty.

How do you define first call resolution? How do you calculate it? Research shows that there is no common measuring method. However, what gets measured gets managed, and what gets managed gets done better.

In a recent study by the Ascent Group, more than 90% of companies measuring first call resolution reported improvement in their performance. Another study by callcentres.com reported a dramatic fall in call volume — identifying that a minimum of 20% of all calls were repeat calls from callers needing an answer or help they didn’t get. Further, they found that the absence of first call resolution was found to account for a minimum of 30% of a call center’s operational costs.

The bottom line is to invest in your agents. Give them the training, the tools, and the authority to get their job done right the first time. After all, call center agents are the interface to your clients’ callers. One of the foremost methods to boost customer satisfaction and improve first call resolution is to consistently and continuously train your agents in world-class customer service skills.

Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., is President of Human Technologies Global, Inc.

[From Connection Magazine Jul/Aug 2004]

Simon Says: A Smile Is Contagious

By Elaine Senecal / Illustration by Chris Lewis

Simon Says - Jan 2004What do you hear in the voices of your agents? You hear their attitude, health, confidence, and even their education!

Walk around your call center. Do you hear what the caller hears? Do you hear smiles in your agents’ voices?

The next time you make a phone call where you have to listen to someone give you instructions, listen for how they might be feeling today. How does this affect you and the direction of the call? Better yet, call your own staff.  As soon as they finish greeting you, you will know how their day is going. Do you hear a healthy, happy person? Having a head cold can cause breathing difficulties and can be heard as a sigh of annoyance. Fatigue can cause yawning which can be heard as boredom or disinterest.

There is something to be said for that person we all know who can’t talk without their hands flying about – enthusiastic and caring! The voice alone has no control, facial expressions and hand gestures send the signals. A fun exercise to use in training is to write a one liner that everyone can read out loud. Pass it around, take turns reading it while frowning, smiling, sitting on your hands, raise your eyebrows, stand up, or walk around.

Another, even more important task for managers is to take a few minutes, make the rounds and listen to your agents. Remember to smile – it’s contagious!

[From Connection MagazineJan/Feb 2004]

Is Your Training Covering the Essentials?

By Penny Reynolds

Rachel has just finished your company’s agent orientation program and she’s ready to hit the phones. She has passed the product knowledge test with flying colors and seems to have better-than-average communications skills. She is actively using the new soft skills she learned in the final phase of orientation and you are sure she is going to be one of your stars. But you have a nagging feeling that you have forgotten to teach her something. You might ask, “Is there anything else Rachel should know before she begins her tour of duty?” Is there any other training she needs to become more effective in handling customer inquiries and to be a more satisfied call center employee?

The answer is yes. There is one more piece. The missing link is to teach Rachel about the unique call center environment and how it operates. Face it – she has had to learn a lot in the last few weeks. And part of that training for all call center employees should be an operational overview so they can better understand why they play such an important role at your company.

So, what exactly do new employees need to learn about the call center? We asked agents and supervisors alike what the missing pieces are and below is their Top 5 list. How many of these areas are you covering in your company’s training program?

1. The Profession and the Industry: How many of your staff understand the world of call centers? It is important for them to understand the vital role your company’s call center plays in the organization, as well as the bigger picture of the call center industry. Rachel should understand that the job involves much more than just answering phones – it’s a mission-critical part of businesses everywhere, a bona fide profession, not just an in-between stop on the way to a “real” job.

This training should include information about industry demographics (types and sizes of call centers, and how many people work in the profession). And it should make them aware of the career opportunities and professional development options available to them. This type of awareness will improve your retention efforts in the long run, and increase job satisfaction in the short term.

2. Performance Measurement: Does your staff understand your company’s process for measuring and improving the performance of the call center overall along with that of individual employees? It is useful for them to understand the call center’s performance goals in terms of service and efficiency (and perhaps revenue) in support of the company’s overall business objectives. Perhaps the call center gathers marketing data and processes customer input, using this information to improve future products and services. Rachel should understand these call center operational goals and then translate them into measures of her own performance.

Include training on performance measures, with a particular emphasis on all the items an agent will be measured on and why. Every employee should understand how his or her performance will be evaluated, and should understand what can be done to improve those scores.

3. Workforce Management: Do your staff members understand why management is so obsessed with everyone being in their seat and adhering to work schedules? It is critical for them to understand the basics of the workforce management process and the impact on service and cost of getting just the right number of people in place to handle the calls. Rachel should understand the impact her absence would have on service delivery. She should also understand what her absence would do to her co-workers’ workloads.

Include training on how the forecasting and scheduling process works in your call center. Every employee should understand how workforce schedules are created, and the impact that just one person’s absence can make on service and cost.

4. Call Center Technology: Does your staff understand how the calls they take arrive at their desktop and what the customer has experienced up to the point at which conversation begins? It’s helpful for them to understand the overall concept of how a call or contact arrives at their workstation, as well as which technologies enable them to handle calls more effectively once they arrive. Rachel should understand what her customer has experienced in terms of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) self-service or sitting in the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) queue before she picked up the call. She should also fully understand the capabilities of all the technology at her disposal in terms of handling each call (such as CTI – Computer Telephony Integration – or contact management systems).

5. Customer Relationships: Does your staff understand the value of each customer call? We are not suggesting they whip out a calculator on every call; however, it is important for front-line staff to understand the concept of lifetime customer value so the proper emphasis is placed on service. Rachel should understand that while one call might not seem that important, when the average value is multiplied over a lifetime of calls, each interaction could be significant in terms of customer retention.

And if you have a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy and CRM technologies in place, it is important to help the front-line staff understand how that strategy should guide them in handling customer inquiries. Will they follow different scripts for high-value customers? Will performance measures change as more focus is placed on the quality of the call-handling process than on traditional efficiency measures such as speed of answer and average handle time?

Including these five components in your front-line staff’s orientation program will go a long way towards helping them better understand the context in which their role is performed. Without this background, staff like Rachel may never perform up to their potential.

Supervisors Need Training, Too: In all too many situations, specific call center training ends at the front-line staff level. In surveys we have conducted over the past several years, The Call Center School has found that more than 80 percent of supervisors in call centers were promoted from front-line agent positions. And while most new supervisors receive training on general supervisory skills, only about 20 percent receive any more advanced call center operational training.

Below is a checklist of key skills needed by today’s call center supervisors. How do your supervisors measure up?

People Management

Operations Management

Organizational Structure/Teams:Can they describe the different types or organizational options and team structures? ACD Routing and Reports:Do they understand ACD settings and how they are used? What reports are available and how to access them?
Recruiting, Screening, Hiring:Can they outline job descriptions and hiring criteria? Can they interview and screen effectively? Call Forecasting:Do they know how the forecast is created, as well as what factors influence it and how staffing is affected by various factors?
Training and Assessment:Can they effectively assess new and existing staff skills, identify gaps, and recommend needed training? Staffing Calculations:Do they know how forecasts get translated into staff numbers and how to calculate cost and service tradeoffs?
Staff Retention:Do they understand all the factors that lead to staff turnover and how they can contribute to improved retention? Scheduling Solutions:Are they aware of how schedules are created and what types of short-term and long-term solutions are available?
Setting Performance Standards:Can they create/update qualitative standards that are measurable and objective that track critical performance? Call Center Performance Measures:Do they understand which call center measures need to be in place to support corporate objectives?
Measuring and Diagnosing Performance:Do they know how to objectively measure performance and how to diagnose problems to create improvement plans? Call Delivery and Networking:Do they understand how a contact travels and where things can go wrong in the network and how to react?
Coaching, Monitoring, and Counseling:Do they understand the difference and can they apply proven principles of coaching and counseling for call center issues? Call Center Technologies:Do they understand how to use all the center’s technologies (IVR, WFM, QM, CTI) to manage staff effectively?
Motivation Techniques:Do they understand how to identify what motivates staff and how to implement motivation programs in the center? Call Center Math:Do they understand the numbers and how to apply them in managing service levels and staff performance?
Workplace Design:Do they understand the basic elements of effective workplace design and how to make changes for improved productivity? Staffing Alternatives:Do they understand the various staffing options that may be utilized such as outsourcing, telecommuting, or contracting?

Return on Investment: Benjamin Franklin perhaps said it best: “An investment in knowledge pays the biggest returns.” Whether it’s filling in some gaps in your agent training and orientation program or implementing an expanded supervisory/management training curriculum, you’ll find that the investment will pay for itself many times over in terms of increased call center operational efficiency, improved service, and decreased staff turnover.

Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee based consulting and education company. The company provides a wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals, including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, and self-paced e-learning programs at the manager, supervisor, and front-line staff level. For more information, see www.thecallcenterschool.com or call 615-812-8400.

[From Connection MagazineNovember 2003]

English to Spanish Primer

By Carmen Maldonado

An alternative to language interpretation or bilingual outsourcing for simple and basic communications is to handle it in-house. Carmen Maldonado of A-1 Answering Service
in Las Vegas, Nevada has entered a mini English to Spanish dictionary into a directory in their Amtelco Infinity system. The directory is indexed by the English word or phrase, with the Spanish equivalent spelled out phonetically. All the agents need to do is simply read the phonetic spellings to be well understood.  Maldonado indicates that the listing is useful in assisting agents with limited Spanish abilities, as well as staff who know no Spanish.

English                                                          Spanish

Air conditioning                                              Ay-Rea-Cone-Dee-Sha-Na-Doe

An hour                                                          Oo-Na Or-Ra

Apartment number please                            Sue Apart-Ta-Mentay Numbero Pour Fa-Vore

Bathroom                                                      Ser-Vee-See-Oh   or   Bon-Yo

Daughter                                                      Ee-Ha

Do you speak English?                                Habla Oo-Sted Ing-Gles

Eight                                                             Oh-Cho

Everyday                                                      To-Dos Los Dias

Father                                                          Pa-Dray

Five                                                              Sinko

Four                                                             Quatro

Friday                                                          Vee-Air-Ness

Goodbye                                                     Odd-Ee-Ose

He’s/She’s not in                                        No Es-Ton

Hello                                                           Bueno

How can I help you?                                  En Kay Lay Pway-Doe You-Dar

How old are you?                                      Quan-Toes On-Nose Tee-Nay Oos-Ted

I don’t know                                               No Say

I don’t understand                                     No En-Tee-En-Doe

Is this an emergency?                              Es-ToeEs Oona E-Mer-Hen-See-Ya?

Is your unit working at this time?              Su Unidad Esta Trabahondo En Este Tiempo

Monday                                                     Loon-Is

Mother                                                      Ma-Dray

Nine                                                          New-Ev-Ay

No                                                             No

Office is closed                                        La Off-Is-Seena Sir-Otto

One                                                          Oo-No

Open                                                        Ah-Bee-Air-Toe

Please                                                      Pour Fa-Vore

Please repeat it                                        Re-Pee-Tay-Low Pour Fa-Vore

Please speak more slowly                       Habla Oos-Ted Mas Des-Pa-See-O

Repeat it please                                       Re-Pee-Tay-Low Pour Fa-Vore

Saturday                                                   Sa-Ba-Doe

Seven                                                       See-Et-Tay

Shower                                                     Doo-Cha

Six                                                            Says

Someone will contact you                       All-Gain Lay Entrara En Contacto Cone

Son                                                          Ee-Ho

Speak more slowly please                      Ablay Mass Des Pass Ee-O Pour Fa-Vore

Sunday                                                    Domingo

Telephone number please                      Sue Noom-Bay-Rose Telephono Pour Fa-Vore

Ten                                                          Dee-Ez

Thank you very much                             Moo-Chas Gra-See-Yas

The line is busy                                      La Lee-Nya Esta Oh-Koo-Pa-Da

This doesn’t work                                   Es-To No Foon-See-Oh-Na

Three                                                      Trace

Thursday                                                Way-Vez

Tuesday                                                 Mar-Tess

Two                                                        Dose

Wednesday                                           Me-Air-Ko-Less

What is her name?                               Ko-Mo Se Yama Aye-Ya

What is his name?                               Ko-Mo Se Ya-Ma El

What is the name of the street?          Kwal Es El Nom-Bre De Ki-Yay

What is your address?                        Sue Dee-Wreck-See-Own Ess

What is your daytime
telephone number?                        Cual Es Su Mumero De Telefono Del Dia

What is your last name?                     Kay Ess Sue Apay-Yee-Doe

What is your name?                            Ko-Mo Say Ya-Ma?

What’s the matter?                              Kay Lay Mo-Les-Ta

Where are you staying?                      Don-De-Se Per-Ma-Nessay Oos-Ted

Where do you live?                             Don-De-Vee-VeOos-Ted

Yes                                                      See

Yes, a little                                           See, Oon Po-Kee-Toe

You’re welcome                                  De Na-Da


[From Connection MagazineJune 2003]

Online Learning: The Future of Training

By Marteann Bertrand

In conducting research for this article, I discovered that every single one of the last ten issues of Training Magazine had a least one article about “On-Line Learning”. Some issues had two or three articles on this topic. In the training profession in general, and even specifically in the training microcosm of the call center industry; the Internet and the opportunities provided by it, are hot stuff. So, what’s it all about? Mostly, it’s about time, and, it’s about quality.

In this tight labor economy we are now living in, time is at a premium. It has always been true that providing quality training in our industry is more time consuming than in almost any other industry. It takes anywhere from three weeks to three months to fully train a call center agent, utilizing our old training standby–the one-on-one approach. At today’s labor costs, that’s a lot of money invested in trainees that often don’t stick around long enough to even complete the process. So what is a business owner to do? I would suggest that answering service and call center owners look toward the tool that is rapidly becoming so important to service delivery, the Internet.

If you were to go on line and type in the key word “training” you would be utterly amazed at how many entries you will find. There is training available for almost any skill in almost any industry. There are some caveats; however, to keep in mind before purchasing some of the options available.

First, It’s important to look at the skills being taught, and make sure that they are consistent with your business philosophies. There are courses available on “basic telephone skills” that I have previewed and found to be totally unacceptable for a call center environment. Next, look at the delivery mechanism of the course itself–many of the courses that I have previewed are text only, and thus are more likely to put the trainee to sleep than teach them anything. Some of the courses are text plus music and/or sound affects, and some of that is nothing short of annoying–again, it’s difficult for your trainees to learn when bombarded with annoying audio. And, finally, take a look at the length of the course–longer does not mean better. In fact, recent research into educational products and retention rates suggest that shorter “bites” of information are more readily retained than long sessions of reading, even when the course is billed as “interactive.”

The research indicates that the increased retention rates on short information bites has to do with the “video game” generation of workers that America has produced. While there are many arguments on the negative side of our video game culture, an important, and provable side effect is that young people today have faster reaction times, and far quicker mental “processing” rates as a result of the various media they have been exposed to growing up.

This faster reaction and processing time is exactly the reason why interactive, multi-media training delivered via the Internet is more effective than many of our traditional training mechanisms. When you add this to the time and labor savings you realize by sending your trainees through a twenty minute on-line course, as opposed to sitting with a trainer for two hours, you can quickly begin to see the advantage on-line learning can give you. More on-line learning products go out on the Web almost weekly. I would encourage you to conduct your own research, I’m certain you will find it an extremely valuable expenditure of your own time.

[From Connection Magazine – May 2000]