Call Center Training Tips: 51 Expert Tips on Training Technology, Agent Onboarding, Ongoing Training & Coaching, and More

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

  1. Leverage videoconferencing for training remote call center reps. “Telecommuting changed the way employees work by giving them the opportunity to work from the comfort of their own homes. Video conferencing takes the place of traditional meetings. It gives employees from all over the globe the opportunity to work together easily. Rather than require travel, lodging, and transportation, men and women from different cities, states, and countries access an application such as Blue Jeans from their computer or mobile device to attend training sessions and conferences.” – Lindsey Patterson, 10 Proven Training Methods To Improve Your Call Center’s Performance, Fonolo; Twitter: @fonolo
  2. Keep your training materials up-to-date. “Using high-quality call recordings ensures that no part of the call is missing, making use of every moment your agent is on the phone. If you have been using the same call recordings for years in a row, now is the time to update them. You likely amassed a number of both good and bad calls over the past few years. Use them to train new agents and educate current agents. Good calls provide an example of how an ideal interaction with a prospect, lead, or customer should happen. Bad calls offer the chance to coach on existing best practices or to alter your approach entirely.” 7 New Tips for Call Center Agent Training Success in 2017, CallTools; Twitter: @CallTools
  3. Leverage technology during onboarding to improve compliance. “Call center compliance technology can make the onboarding process much simpler. Instead of teaching every policy and procedure, these technologies enable agents to follow complex conversational processes and deliver perfect information on every call. In the onboarding and training process, trainers teach new agents how to use a simple tool rather than the complexities of each call type and scenario.

“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

  1. Give your agents access to real-time data to improve customer service. “CSRs need visibility into customer data across all contact and interaction points within the enterprise — regardless of location, repository and format. By aggregating all data and providing a single, secure access point to relevant and real-time customer and product information, a unified view of information can be formed to help CSRs respond to customers’ concerns and issues quickly and accurately.” – Scott Parker, 4 Ways Real-Time Data Improves Customer Service, RT Insights; Twitter: @RTInsights
  2. Use training techniques and technology to make training more efficient. “The key for call centers is to recognize the importance of proper training and to use the techniques and technology that will deliver it as cost-effectively as possible. If they manage it they will find that not only are staff more capable and clients happier, but also that staff are more motivated and likely to stay in their jobs. This reduction in staff turnover reduces expenditure on recruitment, and keeps skills in the organization, leading to even more satisfied customers and healthier profit margins.” – Alex Blyth, How to provide effective training for call center staff, Personnel Today; Twitter: @personneltoday
  3. Leverage online training tools to streamline training processes. “Software such as WalkMe serves as a valuable training tool. It gives employees specific instructions on how to efficiently complete tasks and meet customer needs. Accessing online training tools is easy. Many are mobile-friendly and available 24/7 to meet the needs of employees on-the-go.” – Lindsey Patterson, 10 Proven Training Methods To Improve Your Call Center’s Performance, Fonolo; Twitter: @Fonolo
  4. Use gamification to motivate agents. “Did you know that studies have discovered that companies with engaged employees generate 250% more revenue than companies with low engagement levels? What if you add the latest advances in gamification technology?

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“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

  1. Be an onboarding overachiever. “Before your agents start, be sure to provide clear documentation around objectives and procedures, and put time into resources like call scripts and your internal knowledge base so that agents know what’s expected and how to find the information they need.” – Emily Vince, 5 tips for training call center agents, Zendesk; Twitter: @zendesk
  2. Use scenario-based training. “Traditional new-hire training focuses on processes, such as how to use internal systems and applications. That is typically followed by training on the features and benefits of the company’s products and services, and finally, service and/or sales soft skills training. Each topic is taught in isolation without any context as to how use this information to solve a customer’s problem. It is not until the final week of training that agents are shown how to use this knowledge to help a customer. Since most agents are experiencing information overload at this point, it is difficult for them to integrate everything they have learned.

“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

  1. Don’t neglect face-to-face training. “Face-to-face classroom instruction will always be a key component of new-hiring training. The problem is that in many contact centers, classroom training is about as compelling and captivating as the Sewing Channel or a conversation with Roger Federer.

“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

  1. Healthcare organizations must train new agents thoroughly on HIPAA and PCI DSS compliance. “You cannot work in a customer service department or contact center in the healthcare industry without being aware of the laundry list of legal restrictions. With all the restrictions that agents must abide by, it can be confusing to know why exactly each rule exists.

“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

  1. Train agents to recognize that not all calls are the same. “The easiest way to set your agents up for success is to recognize that not all calls are the same. Current and loyalty customers are more inclined to buy. Their calls are more transactional—dates, rates, space—because they already know you, and they want to come back. New and leisure customers, on the other hand, do not know you. Your agents have to effectively present the value proposition of staying at your hotel against the pay price. Plus, they have to do it in a way that engages whoever is on the line.

“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

  1. Keep a trainee observation log. “When I ran a call center training department, my trainers all kept a log of detailed notes on their new hires’ daily in-class performance. When a new hire struggled with a particular concept, the written notes helped the trainer clearly describe the specific challenge. For example, a note describing a new hire having trouble with upselling might read, ‘John frequently confused features and benefits while role-playing upsell offers.’

“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

  1. Teach reframing techniques. “Most sales agents make the mistake of blurting out an answer in a way that makes them sound defensive.  Oh, but we have other payment plans and you­ll be able to keep it within your budget!  Well, true it­s a bit more money, but you said you wanted to get the most you can, which is why I recommended this product. Prior to answering, Reframe these objections into questions that allow the customer to say  Yes.
  • Thanks for letting me know Mrs. Jackson. So what you are really looking for is a product that will get the job done, but also stays within your budget?
  • If I hear you correctly, what you are actually looking for is–?

“Avoid sarcastic or blatantly sales-ish Reframes like this one.

  •  So what you are really looking for is the reassurance that can only be provided by a vendor that won the 2010 Service Excellence First Place award?

“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

  1. Agents should have attentive listening skills. “If a customer wishes to explain a situation in detail, agents need to be willing to listen. In addition, customers may not necessarily accept the solutions an agent has to offer or have questions about them, so attentive listening is critical to showing respect for customer opinions and offering them the best eventual solution.” – Golriz Golkar, 10 Customer Service Skills Every Call Center Agent Should Have, Vocalcom; Twitter: @Vocalcom
  2. Ensure that agents are able to accurately identify customers’ needs. “Call center agents who have a good understanding of the customer’s needs and can personalize their interactions are more effective than those who do not. The more information on-hand; the better.  This can include purchasing history, caller demographics, previous call recordings, voicemails, emails and social media postings.  Agents with access to this information have better insight into the customer and are able to provide more personalized service.

“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

  1. Start onboarding with orientation. “The very first, essential aspect of agent onboarding is to make a great first impression on the agent. This initial impression sets the tone for the rest of the agent experience. Integral to this is to confirm that the new employee made the right decision in joining the company. Failure in this area is hard, if not impossible, to overcome.” – Janet Livingston & Peter DeHaan, Proper Agent Onboarding Promotes Overall Call Center Success, Call Center Sales Pro; Twitter: @JanetCLivingsto
  2. Follow orientation with transition training. “While a dynamic orientation process is critical for engaging agents early on, it’s not enough to build long-lasting commitment and propel them through the on-the-job challenges that lie ahead. That’s why the best contact centers continue ‘incubating’ and nurturing new-hires all the way through initial training – and beyond.

“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

  1. Use peer training and gamification. “During training sessions, it can be helpful for agents to work in pairs and assess each other’s performance. In addition, top-performing agents may share their best practices with peers. Gamification can also be a fun way to encourage healthy competition during training practices.” – Golriz Golkar, 7 Tips for Training Call Center Agents Effectively, Vocalcom; Twitter: @Vocalcom
  2. Eliminate the ‘Principal’s Office’ mentality. Call it out:Many of us don’t notice our routine behavior and your employees are no different. Before going into any specifics of why you’re having a discussion, ask them why their reaction is what it is. She could not explain why she assumed there was an issue, but calling it out made her aware that her defenses were already building up.

    “Change the expectation:Make it a point to frequently have 3-5-minute discussions; provide their statistics, praise privately (and publicly), teach a new process, refresh information, review trends, or have them show you a ‘how to.’ Your employee’s receptiveness to coaching will increase the more they perceive that you are invested in their individual growth rather than only concerned when their performance is not meeting expectations. Within weeks of one scheduled and one random interaction per week, she would come in asking ‘where her performance was at?’ or ‘what are we learning today?’ After a few months, she was enthusiastically swinging by the office almost daily.” – Jennifer Boston, Coaching Effectively: Curbing the ‘Principal’s Office’ Mentality, Call Center Weekly; Twitter: @CallCntrWeekly

  3. Use work-based coaching consistently. “Coaching is a process designed to help people identify their own chosen path in relation to a work skill or discipline. It is about asking.

“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.

“The challenge for many call centres is to find sufficient time for effective coaching.” – Nick Drake-Knight, How to Make Coaching Stick, Call Centre Helper; Twitter: @callcentrehelp

  1. Cultivate a culture of trust. “The core values that the Citrix contact center abides by are simple but powerful:
  2. Have a bias for YES
  3. Own it
  4. We Win Together

“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

  1. Set measurable goals. “The easiest way to improve an agent’s performance is to make their progress measurable. This allows them to track their improvement and understand what goes into achieving their goals. Faster response time, more answered calls and higher customer service levels are all examples of measurable goals that you can implement in your call center.” – David Wise, 5 Ways to Effectively Coach Call Center Agents, Avoxi; Twitter: @AVOXI
  2. Use positive reinforcement. “Comment on, congratulate or better still; formally recognize your call center agents when they perform well. Formal recognition visible to other employees will boost the agent themselves and it is likely to motivate their peers to replicate their celebrated colleague’s behavior as well as the agent repeating the behavior.” Quick Call Center Coaching Tips to Improve Performance, Scorebuddy; Twitter: @score_buddy
  3. Define what success looks like. “If you want to coach and manage your call centre team leaders to deliver ever increasing performance, then take time out to define what ‘good’ looks like to you!

“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

  1. Identify underlying issues. “Identify the areas where your agents are having issues and the areas that require improvement. Is the agent constantly scoring low in specific types of calls? Do you find that there are a variety of performance issues such as poor communication skills, poor problem-solving skills or issues with processing transactions?

“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

  1. Define and monitor the right performance metrics in tandem with operational efficiency. “The per­for­mance met­rics used to mea­sure cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion must be con­sid­ered in tan­dem with oper­a­tional effi­ciency. In order to keep your call center’s oper­at­ing bud­get in line you need to mea­sure your operation’s effi­ciency. For­tu­nately, oper­a­tional effi­ciency and cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion aren’t mutu­ally exclu­sive, and with proper over­sight, both objec­tives can be achieved. Impor­tant KPIs to pay atten­tion to are:
  • Agent Occu­pancy: How long is your agent spend­ing time answer­ing or deal­ing directly with calls. A low occu­pancy num­ber may indi­cate over­staffing and high oper­a­tional costs. While a high occu­pancy num­ber is bet­ter, it needs to be bal­anced with the qual­ityof the cus­tomer interaction.
  • Aver­age Han­dling Time: This KPI mea­sures the time agents spend han­dling indi­vid­ual calls. Man­agers should look for long han­dling times as they can reveal inad­e­quately trained agents or bro­ken processes and tools.
  • Call Trans­fer Rate:Are calls being routed to the right agent the first time or are too many calls being redi­rected? This KPI will help man­agers hone in on infra­struc­ture inefficiencies.” – Joanna Jones, Four Performance Metrics to Improve Your Call Center; CustomerThink; Twitter: @customerthink
  1. Motivate agents with meaningful incentives. Have call center sales incentivesin place— You may already have incentives in place for your sales teams, but it’s just as important to have sales incentives for call center agents who are selling your products or services. However, the incentives that will motivate your sales staff differ from what will motivate your call center agents. Customer service representatives are more likely to be motivated by the feeling of having helped someone, and aren’t usually as competitive as sales reps. Sales expert Liz Roche recommends focusing on non-variable compensation with some achievement-based compensation mixed in.” Five call center sales tips and techniques, TechTarget; Twitter: @SearchCRM
  2. Pre-write product descriptions and promotions. “Nobody is so good that s/he can just “wing it.” It takes years of practice before a great salesperson hones in on the perfect sentence to describe or explain something. The best salespeople eventually come up with statements that are very compelling. But you probably don’t have years. Meanwhile, you’ve got salespeople at various levels of experience explaining your products, services, company, features, benefits and value with a wide range of competence and confidence. Some are very wordy and filled with “ums” and “ahs” and some are so generic the caller can’t see any value in the investment.

“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

  1. Give agents access to their recorded calls. “Providing agents with a quick way of self-evaluation can make them immediately aware of areas that need to be improved. How? Simply give them access to their call recordings. Training that complements your standard classroom sessions can be delivered directly to their desktops.

“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

  1. Trainers and supervisors should divide their time between high- and low-performing agents. “Make sure that low performing agents do not use up all of your supervisors’ time. It’s important to give time to all agents in order to realize improvement opportunities as well as focus on performance problems. Have your supervisors evaluate each agent individually and plan their training accordingly. This ensures that each training session is specifically targeted to each individual employee.” – David Wise, 10 Tips for Better Call Center Agent Training, AVOXI; Twitter: @AVOXI
  2. Implement ongoing product knowledge training. “During team meetings, have each Agent take turns doing a five minute presentation on the key selling benefits of a product.” – Mike Aoki, 12 Tips to Improve Your Contact Centre Sales Results, Reflective Keynotes; Twitter: @mikeaoki
  3. Strategize with your agents. “You never really know what you’re missing on the front lines. For instance, 75%of customers would like the option to be called back rather than wait on hold, yet many call centers still don’t provide a call-backoption. When you involve agents in the decision making process you’ll uncover new ways to not only make their jobs easier, but also improve the customer experience. It’s truly a win-win!” – Nicolina Savelli, 10 Survival Tips for Call Center Agents in 2016, Contact Center Pipeline; Twitter: @ccpipeline
  4. Build a warm, friendly environment. “Managers set the tone in call centers. So you need to take steps that foster the right attitudes, like creating an environment that’s warm, friendly, and fair.

“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

  1. Train often to keep agents engaged. “While having no initial call center training is unusual, what is common, however, is for training to be rushed, crammed into too few hours, over too few days, and with not enough ongoing training to help agents build the right sales stamina or muscle. And this will ultimately hurt sales conversions.

“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

  1. Reframe the negatives. “If you can train your customer service representatives to substitute five common forbidden sentences with positive, smart replacements, they’ll turn disgruntled customers into satisfied clients.

“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

  1. Harness the power of YouTube. “YouTube is chock full of videos – and yes, while it’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole, watching cat video after cat video, used the right way it can be an incredibly powerful educational tool. You can find humorous clips that lighten the mood or stick in the mind, and countless fail videos to show trainees how not to handle customers. Need some inspiration? Check out these videos to get started:
  1. Apologize to customers when mistakes are made. “Being sympathetic is the starting point to apologizing. Sympathy allows you to understand the customer’s experience. You place yourself in their shoes, and by doing so, you are sensitive to the frustrations and anxiety they are feeling. Because your feelings are now in harmony with that of the customer’s, effective resolution becomes your primary focus. Likewise, you less likely to be offended and defensive.

“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

  1. Train your agents to be responsive, not reactive. “How many times have you tried to train agents to “listen to understand”? Core to that skill is the curbing of our natural instinct to react, especially when someone is presenting us with a problem. The benefit of being able to regulate emotions and focus clearly on the problem at hand enhances the ability to empathize as well.” – Debi Mongan, The Surprising Ways Mindfulness Can Improve Your Contact Center, ICMI; Twitter: @CallCenterICMI
  2. Use VoC to supplement coaching. “Voice of the customer can assist you with training by providing direct customer feedback straight to the agent level. Today, management shouldn’t be the only ones receiving VoC. To assist with the process, you might want to look into software that allows you to provide customer feedback, in real-time, and directly to the agent.

“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

  1. Encourage agents to personalize their sales approach.Encourage personalized selling— According to CRM experts Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, personalized selling is one of the most important aspects of almost any business career. When dealing directly with customers, Peppers and Rogers recommend doing simple things like remembering people’s names and understanding their points of view and feelings. This will go a long way towards building customer trust andmaking a sale.” Five call center sales tips and techniques, TechTarget; Twitter: @SearchCRM
  2. Always plan for the unexpected. “Role-play the entire sale process — opening, closing, upselling, cross-selling — with your customer service representatives (CSRs), and pay special attention to handling objections. Be aware of allof the potential customer objections that could come into play with your product, and come up with multiple rebuttals that your CSRs can use for each.

“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

  1. Agents should give verbal feedback to customers to acknowledge the customer’s concerns. “Talking with someone and not acknowledging what they’re talking about is very frustrating for them, especially on the phone, because we don’t even have body language to check out. So come up with a few feedback lines. A few to start you off are: ‘I see.’ ‘Hmmm, that’s good.’ ‘Ok.’ ‘Interesting.’ A few simple words and phrases like that will help the person feel you’re listening and listening well. In person, you have the ability to nod and smile, and they can SEE your expressions. However, on the phone, we need verbal feedback. And be careful we’re not saying the same word over and over. Like OK, OK, OK, OK. That’s just boring.” – Nancy Friedman, 6 Ways To Improve Listening Skills, Telephone Doctor; Twitter: @TelephoneDoctor
  2. Humanize the customer experience. “The most successful call centers empower Agents to be creative in their day-to-day customer interactions.  Enabling your Agents flexibility in their customer service delivery, rather than forcing strict scripts, allows the front line to emotionally engage with the customer on a level that becomes personal to them.

“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

  1. Train agents to listen to the whole problem. “Don’t interrupt a complaining customer. It can be really, really hard to do this, but make sure that your team is trained to listen to the whole problem. No matter how long it takes. Even if call center employees will eventually hand off the call to another member of your staff, listening to the whole story is important, so the customer feels taken care of.” – Sara Angeles, Customer Service 101: Phone Etiquette for Small Businesses, Business News Daily; Twitter: @BNDarticles

Tailoring Training to Agents’ Needs

  1. Conduct an agent satisfaction survey. “We’ve been conducting an employee satisfaction survey of our Customer Advocacy teamsince 2015. This effort is led by Lori Gauthier and Dave Dyson. Loris is our director of marketing research at Zendesk, who holds a doctorate in communication and a PhD minor from Stanford, where she taught a course in communication-research methods, and Dave is a senior customer service evangelist and former customer advocate, support manager and senior support manager. Leadership at Zendesk has found the results invaluable; direct, high-quality survey feedback on work culture, career development, opinions of management and more, makes it possible to identify problems and develop a plan to improve.” – Kate Crane, Conduct an agent satisfaction survey, Zendesk; Twitter: @Zendesk
  2. Overcome learning obstacles. “So how do we remove obstacles to our participants’ learning and provide the conditions in which they can learn? It begins with understanding their needs in training. What are they going to be doing on the job that they don’t know how to do or are not consistently doing correctly now? What relevant experience does each person have that they can use in learning new content or skills? Why aren’t participants doing things correctly? In a diverse group of participants, the answer could be different for each participant.

“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

  1. Use call listening to help agents deal with challenging calls. “With no two calls ever being the same, call listening – rather than role play – is considered the best way to teach agents the soft skills they need to handle an emotional call.

“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

  1. Link coaching to KPIs. “By its nature, coaching should be targeted, but it’s difficult for supervisors to keep up with all team members’ performance and customize coaching accordingly. By linking to KPI’s, coaching instances can be targeted to performance trends that indicate problems as well as those that indicate opportunities for enhanced performance. Supervisors with access to personality assessment results can even leverage that information to help them tailor their coaching.”Best Practice Coaching for Call Center Agents, Compare Business Products; Twitter: @comparebusprod
  2. Treat each agent individually. “Create goals, targets and objectives. But make them unique – no one member of the team will be the same. Tailored personal development plans should also include clear, realistic advice on how to stick to reach these goals. Finally, make sure the plan is regularly tracked and refreshed – it should be a living document, and not something that is referred to once every three months.”5 Tips for Call Centre Agent Performance Improvement, BusinessBlogs; Twitter: @BusinessTalk
  3. Place agents in roles that match their skills. “Agents may be trained to interact with customers on different channels, but it’s important to note each individual’s strengths. For example, an agent may have a spontaneous personality that is essential for social media communications, while another might have strong interpersonal skills that would work well for the voice channel. Matching agents to the most appropriate roles or channels ensures better customer service while empowering them to do their best in the roles that suit them well.” – Golriz Golkar, 7 Tips for Training Call Center Agents Effectively, Vocalcom; Twitter: @Vocalcom

What strategies do you employ to facilitate a smooth and effective training process for call center agents?

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