According to Frost and Sullivan, 60 percent of repeat calls in the typical call center result from a lack of clear process or training. Repeat callers are typically unhappy callers, which can affect customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores as well as cost the organization time and money.
Contact center managers want their new hires to be confident and competent. The best call center training programs use a variety of approaches to bring new employees up to speed as quickly as possible so they can provide first-contact resolutions for customers.
Below are five important steps for achieving world-class contact center training. Together, they allow contact center managers to develop teams of new employees that are built to serve customers quickly and efficiently.
1. Connect quality measures to training objectives. The first time a new hire sits down to train is one of the best times to explicitly state a company's standards and expectations—both for employees and for customer interactions. A contact center's quality measures are an important component of customer satisfaction, and new hires will play a large role in the outcome of quality metrics in subsequent months. Therefore, it is key that they understand the importance of the role they are about to play right from the beginning.
While "quality" can mean different things to different companies, basic quality standards include satisfaction, accuracy, resolution, professionalism, and business practices. Once they learn how their contact center defines quality, customer service representatives (CSRs) can listen to sample calls, apply the quality standards they have learned, and score the calls. They can also evaluate their own performances on quality standards in simulated environments. By listening to others and grading their own performances, new CSRs quickly understand the links between their interactions with a customer and a company's quality metrics, and can make adjustments to improve their own performances.
2. Use stories to make training relatable and realistic. Adult learners are motivated when the material they are learning relates to what they know. Training is no different; learners who feel training reflects their own story and experience are more open to learning in general and more likely to make connections that help them remember what they learned. In other words, "stories are sticky."
But not just any stories. It's time to retire the concept of John and Jane Doe, or "the average customer." CSRs are helping real customers with unique and specific needs. Thus, it's much more powerful to use stories about actual people and relate how interacting with contact centers affects their lives. In a threaded scenario, a customer is introduced at the beginning of training via a "call to action" video to engage new CSRs, and new hires then follow the customer through different situations and scenarios.
3. Use repetition to build competence and confidence. The best way to improve in any skill area—piano playing, public speaking, baking, or running—is to practice. According to Hermann Ebbinghaus's theory of the learning curve, without practice, learners can forget between 30 and 90 percent of what they've learned within a week of training.
How learners practice is equally important. To practice effectively, pianists can't play scales on a kitchen table—they need pianos for authentic experiences. The same holds true for CSRs. They need to practice in an environment that simulates the one they'll be performing in. Simulation and complex role-playing allow CSRs to practice complex skills, such as researching a customer's record and providing positive reassurance at the same time. New hires build the competence and confidence to handle customer calls by synthesizing skills and practicing what they've learned.
4. Optimize side-by-side and nesting opportunities. After classroom training is complete and new hires have practiced in simulation settings, they will often move to a side-by-side training environment, in which they start handling a live call and then hand it off to a more experienced CSR sitting next to them when they've reached the limits of what they know. A side-by-side model gives new CSRs the opportunity to practice new skills and build confidence with a safety net.
"Nesting" refers to the time when new hires sit together on the floor and are closely monitored by a coach or mentor who is available for support during the first few weeks, when CSRs are most likely to lack confidence or make mistakes. Nesting allows new CSRs to learn from their peers and build confidence.
5. Use data to identify ongoing training needs. The first few weeks of actual performance is a good time to check for ongoing training needs. Trainers, mentors, and supervisors can easily track an individual CSR's scores in handle time, customer satisfaction, first-call resolution, or other calibrated metrics. If a CSR is found to be lacking in any area, a coach or trainer can help agents run through simulations and practice scenarios to review the skills they are lacking or need to improve upon.
Tracking CSR data also helps contact center training managers see trends that might indicate a gap in their training procedures. If new CSRs are all consistently scoring low on one particular metric, for example, a trainer may have skipped a module, a process may be out of date, or some other adjustment may be required.
Contact center CSRs are the face of an organizations' customer experience. As such, it's important that they are given the appropriate training to represent the company well from the start. That training should be meaningful, relatable, and connected to a company's quality initiatives, and should be followed by plenty of practice and mentorship. The goal is to create an environment that gives CSRs the confidence to successfully help customers at any touch point. Creating and cultivating that environment should begin well before CSRs experience those touch points.
John Loughlin is director of business insights at HighPoint Global, with more than 25 years of experience in financial services operations, audit, risk management, quality assurance and customer experience. Andrew Anderson is lead instructional designer at HighPoint Global, leading the development of virtual or instructor-led courses as well as curriculum redesigns for contact center training programs. Amanda Bell is lead instructional designer at HighPoint Global and a Certified Professional in Learning & Performance (CPLP); she’s developed interactive e-learning, mobile learning, instructor-led, and performance-support solutions for a variety of industries.