25 tips for optimizing your contact center's QA practices
Quality assurance does more than ensure regulatory compliance, it helps contact centers deliver the best outcomes for customers. Read our blog for tip...
September 20, 2017
Call center agent training is a continuous process; it doesn’t end once the onboarding process is complete. Call center supervisors must continue to monitor metrics, measure results, and tailor ongoing training to ensure that agents’ needs are met and that call center activity is in line with broader business objectives.
From training technologies to effective onboarding, peer-to-peer training, ongoing coaching, important metrics, and other considerations, the training landscape is complex in the call center, and there’s no single training process that works across the board. That’s why call center leaders must be able to identify training needs, tailor training to individual agents’ skills gaps and needs, and implement training practices that are both efficient and meaningful to drive results.
We’ve rounded up 52 tips to help you develop and implement a functional, impactful training program that’s perfectly customized to your call center, industry, and individual agents from leading call center experts, training organizations, and industry resources. Use the links below to jump to tips in a particular section, or simply browse through the complete list for meaningful insights from thought leaders.
In this guide, you’ll find:
Read on for valuable tips you can implement to improve your agent training process today. Training Technology Tips
“Contact centers spend significant time and money training agents to consistently and accurately deliver required information. Despite this investment, human failure can still lead to legal liabilities, fines, defects and customer dissatisfaction. Technology ensures that every customer gets the right information, including an accurate disclosure statement, one hundred percent of the time.
“Another part of new hire onboarding in the contact center involves teaching agents how to handle sensitive customer data, including PCI compliance when handling credit cards. How do you make sure no sensitive information is leaving your building? Do you ban paper and pens? Do you enforce a mobile device restriction and, if so, how do you enforce it?” – Art Coombs, Using Technology for Easier Employee Onboarding, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
on “Gamification is the application of game principles and design elements of game design to non-game interactions such as those in a contact center. Gamification in the contact center can deliver value by maximizing employee engagement levels, improving accountability, and ensuring that daily operations align with business strategy.” – Gary Audin, Gamification Plays Well in the Contact Center, No Jitter; Twitter: @nojitter
Training New Call Center Representatives
“In comparison, scenario-based training focuses on helping agents to solve a customer’s problem. For instance, I helped one of my clients identify the top five reasons why customers cancel their service. Then, I designed a training program to help their agents address each one of these top five cancellation reasons. Management guru Stephen Covey wrote in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, ‘Begin with the end in mind.’ That means designing your training course with the foremost goal of helping your agents provide the best solution for their callers.” – Mike Aoki, 5 Ideas for Effective New-Hire Training, Contact Center Pipeline; Twitter: @CCPipeline
“In the best contact centers I have seen, when new agents head into the classroom, they aren’t trained; they are entertrained. Critical information, tips and contact-handling methods aren’t communicated merely via static lectures and manuals; they are experienced and embraced via training games, stories, role plays, videos, etc. Making training fun and interactive not only captures attention and reduces stress, it greatly enhances employees’ ability to absorb and remember training material. Studies have shown that, unless fully engaged, adults learn some but don’t necessarily retain information.” – Greg Levine, Call Center New-Hire Training: Getting Rookie Reps Ready, Call Center Weekly; Twitter: @CCW_Digital
“There are two sets of rules that are important for medical-related contact centers: HIPAA and PCI DSS. These are similar in that both exist to protect patients, but they also serve unique purposes within a contact center.” – Art Coombs, The Ins and Outs of HIPAA and PCI DSS Compliance, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
“Callers need to reach the right agent in the right amount of time. Beyond scheduling to create a smooth call flow, it’s essential that you have systems in place to identify caller needs quickly and match them to the right agent. Skilled-based routing will ensure confidence in your agents before the caller even says a word. In turn, callers will feel more assured of your hotel’s ability to give them what they want, and they’ll be more likely to buy.” – Christine Brosnahan, How to Train Your Call Center Sales Agents to Sell Effectively, Aspire Marketing; Twitter: @aspiretweets
“The detailed notes made it easy for the trainer to create a strategy to get the learner back on track. John’s trainer might decide to spend a few extra minutes with John reviewing the difference between features and benefits. A little extra practice or instruction was often all that was needed to for the concept to click. Without that extra intervention, many new hires would continue to struggle and fall farther and farther behind.
“Keeping a written log of trainee observations had a few additional advantages in my training department. If a trainer called in sick, someone else could easily cover their class by reviewing the log to see where they left off. The log also helped trainers get a second opinion when they faced a particularly challenging situation. I had two shifts of trainers working in two locations, so the trainer could email me the written notes if I wasn’t able to personally observe the class.” – Jeff Toister, 5 Ways to Train Contact Center Agents Faster, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
“Avoid sarcastic or blatantly sales-ish Reframes like this one.
“When the client says Yes, which he/she often will, your rebuttal now becomes a solution, an answer to their request for a better alternative, not merely a response to an objection.
Reframing an Objection allows you and the customer to focus more on what they want and need and less on what they feel your product or company will not or cannot do for them. This is a critical time on the call and you do not want to lose them here, if you do not have to.” – Reframing Late-Call Objections, Call Center Training Solutions; Twitter: @callcentertrain
“Performance support can help: Few things are more frustrating to both customers and agents than not having access to the information necessary to resolve an issue. With performance support, agents have quick and easy access to comprehensive information about the customer while on the call and can tailor the conversation to the customer’s specific needs, offer the best solution, and seal the deal faster.” – Francine Haliva, 5 Best Practices for Call Center Agents to Drive Sales, Kryon Systems; Twitter: @KryonSystems
“To do so, many have incorporated a ‘transition’ training component into new-hire training, where agent trainees are taken out of the classroom and placed in a controlled environment to help them get used to handling real customer contacts. Typically, agents complete a week or two of classroom training, then head to the transition training bay (or ‘nesting area’) to take basic calls while being closely monitored and carefully coached by a supervisor – or multiple supervisors if the training class is particularly large. After a week or so handling rudimentary customer calls, trainees usually head back to the classroom for some more advanced didactic training and to work on the areas in which they struggled while on the phones. Then, after a week or so, it’s back to the nesting area to hone their call-handling skills and knowledge before graduating to the official phone floor.
“Transition training not only is a great way to gradually prepare trainees for the fast-paced and dynamic contact center environment; it shows new agents that the organization cares about their success rather than merely ‘throwing them to the wolves,’ which is common in many centers eager to get ‘butts in seats.’” – Greg Levin, Call Center Onboarding Programs Raise Agent Engagement, Retention and Performance, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI Ongoing Training and Coaching Tips
“When work-based coaching is consistently done well and has become a part of the culture of a call centre, it encourages self-learning, invites creativity and delivers higher performance. It becomes OK for call centre staff to ‘admit’ to areas in which they need personal development, new skills, or new ways of doing things – when otherwise they might have hidden their uncertainty, or covered up their inadequacies.
“When coaching is fully integrated into a call centre, it builds confidence and generates ‘response-ability’ in individuals; that is, the ability to respond – to take action to improve their ability to perform at work. Ownership by the coachee and self-determination are key facets of effective coaching.
“While many organizations are bogged down by policies and procedures that hinder the contact center from doing what’s right for customers, that’s not the case at Citrix. Their philosophy: hire smart people, and then trust those people to make good decisions. That culture of trust permeates the contact center and has helped Citrix become one of the most sought after employers in the area.” – Erica Strother Marois, Energy, Creativity, and Trust Make for Award-Winning Service, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
“Does ‘good’ look like every call answered in X seconds, or does ‘good’ look like no more than X complaints per call handler? If you don’t tell your staff, they won’t know what they should be working towards.” – Gemma Layton, 15 tips for contact centre managers, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
“Perhaps you can tag along with the agents while they are on call to identify what their challenges are and what’s contributing to their low performance.
“The results from the trend analysis, assessment and observation sessions will help you in identifying the root cause of the performance issues.” – How to Improve Staff Performance in a Call Centre?, Tailor Train; Twitter: @Tailor_Train
“Support sales efforts by creating nicely composed descriptions of everything you offer. Teach agents to use the adjectives and not to edit them out in order to save time.” – Ronna Caras, 10 Tips for Improving Inbound Sales and Service Telephone Results, via CRMXchange, Caras Marketing and Training; Twitter: @srgreenhaus
“Incorporate quick training into team meetings by listening to sample calls. Alternate between good and bad calls to highlight where the differences lie, and encourage the team to share their best practices and experiences to fill in knowledge gaps and learn from each other. Select sample calls that demonstrate successful techniques that call center agents are using, and make note of words, language and signals that received a positive response from the caller.
“When coaching agents using monitored calls, be sure to allow them to listen, reflect and ask questions so they can work out for themselves which areas to improve and how.” – Garry White, 5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Agent Training, Contact Center Pipeline; Twitter: @CCPipeline
“Learning every agent’s name, greeting each shift as it comes on, and creating a “break room” where agents can maximize their 20-minute breaks boosts an environment’s warmth and friendliness.
“Action Step: Review your call center’s atmosphere with some top center employees. Compile a list of things you can do to make it a warmer and friendlier environment.” – David Miller, Top 7 Tips On Motivating Inbound Call Center Agents, Customer Think; Twitter: @customerthink
“A poorly trained agent you will spot from a mile, almost sensing the clammy hands and aimless intent going on behind the dial. And for any impatient respondent this kind of weakness is the perfect excuse for a quick, easy hang up.tai
“And for an agent, being on the receiving end of this bites, big time. And the more it happens, the more their confidence will start to bleed until survival mode kicks in and they start looking for the nearest door.
“So train and train often. It’s the key component to keeping your agents happy, feeling in the loop and engaged. With a cloud-based phone system you can do this easily, letting agents login from anywhere at anytime and chip away at constant improvement. Investing in agent training will also show you’re invested in their future and want them to keep kicking their sales and personal goals.” – Joel Hill, Call centre techniques to stop the flow of agents leaving, LinkedIn
Customer Service Training Tips
“For instance, one forbidden response is, ‘I don’t know’ Replace this with ‘That’s a good question, let me check and find out!’” – Tips To Improve Customer Service, TelephoneDoctor.com; Twitter: @TelephoneDoctor
“Own it by letting the customer know you are aware of their concerns, and that you will work to resolve it. Now is not the time for excuses. Explain to the customer what you plan to do bring a swift, satisfactory resolution.” – Sean Hawkins, Apologizing to Customers is Not Difficult, Call Center Weekly; Twitter: @CallCntrWeekly
“By having the right VoC tools in place, agents can see how good of a job they’re doing right after a call. Voice of the customer takes some of the coaching work off your hands and tells agents how they are doing, allowing them to improve directly through customer feedback without the need for coaches or other intermediaries.” – Jade Longelin, 4 Die-Hard Call Center Coaching Tips to Hold Everyone Accountable, PlayVox; Twitter: @PlayVoxCX
“Consistently train your reps until they can respond to any customer objection or situation with ease. I like to get progressively tougher with each CSR as role-playing continues. Eventually you want to have the person playing the customer role to be really tough, trying to get the person in the CSR role frazzled and off-track.” – Jim Gilbert, The Most Effective Call-Center Training Technique You Can Use, Part 2 of 2, Total Retail; Twitter: @MyTotalRetail
“To enable a more ‘human’ experience, a set of clearly defined service or sales behaviors must be built that deepen the customer conversation and empower the front line to consistently connect with the customer. Agents should be measured on how well they execute the essence of the ideal customer interaction, not the details. Instead of defining a behavior with a set of tasks for the Agent to accomplish on every call, define behaviors based on intent and how the customer perceives the Agent. The goal is to empower the Agent to listen to the customer, to emotionally connect and to be human.” – Matt Knott, 5 Tips to Create Customer-Obsessed Call Center Agents, Salesforce; Twitter: @salesforce
Tailoring Training to Agents’ Needs
“People often think that anyone can be a trainer and that everyone knows what goes into good training. After all, don’t we have years and years of schooling in our past and haven’t we seen good and bad examples of training? Unfortunately, that experience may only teach us how we each prefer to learn. It doesn’t give us the knowledge or experience to remove other people’s obstacles to learning when those obstacles are different from our own. That’s where a person needs development to become a skilled trainer who can identify and remove lots of different kinds of learning obstacles.” – Elaine Carr, How Trainers Can Overcome Obstacles to Learning, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
“This approach allows them to mirror the techniques used by their more experienced colleagues across a variety of situations.
“This is especially effective if a member of the Quality Assurance team can listen in alongside the new recruit to talk through the aspects of the call that are considered best practice.” – Helen Finnie, How to Support Employees Handling Emotionally Challenging Calls – With Empathy, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp
What strategies do you employ to facilitate a smooth and effective training process for call center agents?
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