Rachel has just finished
your agent orientation program and is ready to hit the phones. She's
passed the product knowledge test with flying colors and seems to have
better than average communications skills. She's actively using the new
soft-skills she learned in the final phase of orientation and you're
sure she's going to be one of your stars.
But you have this nagging feeling that you've forgotten to teach her
something. And you ask yourself, "Is there anything else Rachel should
know before she begins her "tour of duty?" Is there any other training
she needs that will make her more effective in handling customer
contacts, as well as be a more satisfied call center employee?
The answer is "yes".
There's one more piece. The missing link here is to equip Rachel with
knowledge about the unique call center environment and how it operates.
Contact Center School
Let's face it – she's had to learn a lot in the last few weeks. And part
of that training should have been an operational overview so Rachel can
better understand the context in which she plays such an important role.
So what exactly do new employees need to learn about the call center? We
asked agents and supervisors alike what the missing pieces were and
below is their "Top 5" list. How many of these areas are you covering in
your own training program?
The Profession And The Industry
How many of your staff understand the world of call centers? It's
important for them to understand the vital role your own call center
plays in the organization, as well as the bigger picture of call centers
everywhere. Rachel should understand that this is more than "just
answering the phones", but a mission-critical part of businesses
everywhere – a bona fide profession, not just an in-between stop on the
way to a "real" job.
Include information about industry demographics (types and sizes of
centers, as well as the numbers of folks that work in the profession).
And make them aware of the career opportunities and professional
development options available to them in this industry. This type of
awareness will help your retention efforts in the long run, as well as
increase job satisfaction in the short term.
Do your staff understand what you're measuring every day in terms of the
call center's overall performance as well as individual performance?
It's useful for them to understand what the call center's performance
goals are in terms of service and efficiency (and perhaps revenue) in
support of the company's overall objectives. Perhaps the center gathers
marketing data and focuses on customer input for future product and
service offerings. Rachel should understand how these call center
operational goals then translate down into measures of her own
Include training on performance measures, with particular emphasis on
all the items an agent will be measured on and why. Every person should
understand how his/her performance will be evaluated and understand what
they can do to affect those numbers and scores.
Do your staff understand why management is so obsessed with everyone
being in their seat and adhering to their work schedule? It's critical
for them to understand the basics of the workforce management process
and the impact on service and cost of getting the "just right" number of
people in place to handle the calls. Rachel should understand the effect
on service she has if she's not available when scheduled and what that
also means in terms of how busy her co-workers will be.
Include training on how the forecasting and scheduling process works in
your center. Every person should understand how workforce schedules are
created, and the impact that just one person can make on service and
Call Center Technology
Do your staff understand how the calls they're taking right now arrived
at their desktop and what the customer has experienced to the point at
which live 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 what technologies enable them to handle calls more
effectively once they arrive. Rachel should understand what her customer
has experienced in terms of IVR self-service or sitting in the 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 terms of
handling each call (such as CTI or contact management systems).
Include training on how a contact gets from the customer to the desktop,
and what the communications process is like for customers. Every person
should understand what technologies are available to them in handling
the call more efficiently, as well as have a basic understanding of the
other technologies at work "behind the scenes" in the call center in
terms of workforce management system, quality monitoring, workflow
management, and more.
Do your staff understand the value of each and every customer call?
While we're not suggesting they whip out a calculator on every call, it
is important for front-line staff to understand the concept of lifetime
customer value so the proper emphasis on service is placed. Rachel
should understand that while one single call might not seem that
important, when the average value is multiplied over a "lifetime" of
calls, every interaction can be significant in customer retention.
Include training on lifetime customer value and the critical role that
each agent plays in customer retention and the bottom line. And if you
have a CRM strategy and CRM technologies in place, it's important to
help the front line staff understand how that strategy affects them in
handling contacts. Will they follow different scripts for a "high value"
customer, or will performance measures change as more focus is placed on
the quality of the call handling process versus 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 in equipping them with the knowledge to
better understand the context in which their role is performed. Without
this background, staff like Rachel may never perform up to their
Supervisors Need Training Too
In all too many situations, specific call center training ends at the
front-line staff level. In survey's we've done over the past couple of
years, The Call Center School has found that over 80% of supervisors in
call centers today were moved into that position from being a front-line
agent. And while most new supervisors receive training on general
supervisory skills, only about 20% of these supervisors receive any more
advanced call center operational training.
Below is a checklist of the various knowledge and skills needed by
supervisors in today's call center, in addition to general supervisory
and leadership skills. How do your supervisors measure up?
Can they describe the different types or organizational options and team
ACD Routing and Reports:
Do they understand ACD setting and how they're used? What reports are
available and how to get them?
Recruiting, Screening, Hiring:
Can they outline job descriptions and hiring criteria? Interview and
Do they know how the forecast is created? What factors influence it and
how staffing is affected by various tradeoffs?
Training and Assessment:
Can they effectively assess new and existing staff skills, Identify
gaps, and recommend needed training?
Do they know how forecasts get translated into staff numbers and how
to calculate cost and service tradeoffs?
Do they understand all the factors that lead to staff turnover and
how they can contribute to improved retention?
Are they aware of how schedules get 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 what call center measure need to be in place
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 contract 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 (IRV,
WFM, QM, CTI) to manage staff effectively?
Do they understand how to identify what motivates staff and how
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?
Do they understand the basic elements of effective workplace design
and how to make changes for improved productivity?
Do they understand the various staffing options that may be utilized
such as outsourcing, telecommuting, or contracting?
About Penny Reynolds:
Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a
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.
About The Call Center School:
The Call Center School provides call center education services including
an e-learning curriculum for frontline agents, a 7-track, 50-topic web
seminar program entitled The Masters Series in Call Center Management
delivered via the Internet, classroom courses available as public
seminars or private on-site programs, and call center management books.