How to...train and manage multichannel agents
Recognize that quality control in email situations is a completely different animal.
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Today's consumer, who may seek service and answers from any company touch point at any time, requires a new breed of service specialist. Efficiently and effectively unifying the customer experience across all contact channels means populating contact centers with agents who are fluent in many modes of customer interaction. Not all agents are ideal for a demanding multichannel role, but these five steps will help contact center managers find the right agents, and give them the tools they need to make each phone call, email, and chat session a top-notch experience. Recruit with care The same care should go into selecting a roster of multichannel agents as making an initial hire. Don't simply put agents high on the seniority list or ones with self-professed email or chat skills in a multichannel environment with no vetting. "You have to rerecruit your own personnel--define a job description, the skills required, and interview and test these people as if they were new candidates," says Maggie Klenke, founding partner with The Call Center School. "Be careful not to assume that a good phone agent makes a good email agent." Look for troubleshooters Seek skilled, intuitive troubleshooters for a multichannel team. Not only are electronic service channels new to many agents, but they are new to most customers as well, and customers may not express themselves as clearly in a chat or email communication as they would over the phone. Multichannel agents must not only master the tools associated with each type of customer contact, but also be exceptional at ferreting out the right questions to answer without becoming frustrated with the medium. "We spend a lot of time on linear troubleshooting. There's a general process you can take the customer through to get to the right answer" regardless of channel, says Amy Buttery, director of training quality and instructional design for customer service provider Convergys. Explain that print is forever Ensure multichannel agents understand that while they represent the company's face to the customer in any channel, the written word carries extra weight. "Training people to handle electronic response--email or Web chat--must focus on written communication skills," Klenke says. "It's critical to recognize that quality control in email situations is a completely different animal...[customers] can print them out and wave them around in court." Don't overload multichannel agents Avoid the temptation to throw all manner of customer contacts at your multichannel agents at once. Many in the industry say that switching contact channels minute by minute is too confusing for most agents to handle and still maintain a high level of effectiveness. Instead, look to rotate your agents through different queues in blocks, ranging from hourly to weekly depending on your contact volume forecasts. Enforce consistent service Different channels demand different response times, but the core goal of providing a mutually beneficial service experience to customers must remain the same, regardless of the channel of contact. Providing incentives to gloss over customer concerns in a particular channel will only serve to encourage multichannel agents to disregard inquiries, weakening your customer loyalty and disenfranchising customers. Train agents to give an order, complaint, or concern equal weighting, whether delivered via phone, fax, or email. Consistency will also return time-savings in the training process, because the service standards training will be dictated by the customer, not by the contact channel. That way, special multichannel training can focus on the technical aspects of each channel, rather than establishing separate service metrics for each mode of communication.
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