Tag Archives: Training Call Center Agents

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]