Training Your Workforce For Better E-Sales
BY MARNIE FEASAL, ALESYS
Training your workforce to provide better e-sales and e-service can
make the difference between the success or failure of your business. Many
call centers are making the transition from telephone calls as the primary
method of customer contact to multiple channels. The goal is to enable
customers to more conveniently contact the company by whichever medium
they choose. The goal is that by offering customers many ways to contact
you, more of them will become loyal to your business. After all, acquiring
and retaining customers is what business is all about. While the telephone
is still the preferred method of contact for many customers, e-mail, fax,
postal mail and Web sites are increasingly necessary channels for most
effectively serving customer needs. These changes represent great growth
opportunities, but only if your training keeps pace.
This article will outline some challenges and best practices for
preparing employees and managers to perform successfully in the new
multichannel customer contact centers. Of course, one article cannot
provide specific solutions to the issues facing your contact center. You
will need a customized set of solutions to address your unique business
goals and objectives. However, let me share the key steps that many
successful contact centers are taking to train their workforces for the
Let's assume your call center recently decided to join the growing
number of businesses that make it possible for customers to do business
through multiple channels. You added fax and mail-in order forms as
alternative methods of contact several years ago. Now, you are very proud
of the Web-enabled communication channel your business has implemented
through the Internet. Everyone is excited about the new business this
additional channel is expected to bring to your company.
Instead, you begin hearing about complaints from this new Web-based
side of your business! Your CEO just received a nasty e-mail about the
lousy treatment and service a customer received from your contact center.
This customer complained bitterly about the long time she waited for a
live agent in your queue. She clicked on the option you provided to speak
with someone because she had some questions that were not addressed on
your Web site. When she finally reached a live agent (23 minutes later,
according to the clock on her computer), she was told to send an e-mail
outlining what she needed, and asked to include her contact information so
her request could be forwarded to the right department for handling. She
was also told a response would be sent to her within 24 hours.
Four days later, she still had no response, and now your company has a
more drastically escalated customer relations problem. You may have lost
her as a customer. The CEO's assistant is breathing down your neck because
you are supposed to be ensuring these incidents don't happen!
What went wrong here? You have a training program in place and your
agents are supposed to know how important it is to provide a high level of
customer service. But does your training process truly enable your agents
to help customers negotiate the complex network of e-commerce?
In many cases, training departments have not revised their methods of
training new hires and current staff to enable them to provide
high-quality service to customers who use the alternative methods of
contacting your business. New approaches, along with some significant
effort and commitment, are now required to train employees and managers of
multichannel contact centers to be successful in this dynamic and highly
Think about how a multichannel customer contact center differs from a
traditional call center. In the call center, customer contact is
predominantly by telephone, either inbound or outbound. Customers know
they can talk to someone if their need or issue is to be met or resolved.
Customer service representatives (CSRs) are usually trained to talk to
people about your products, services, systems and processes. However, most
CSRs are trained to handle only routine calls, referring difficult or
escalated situations to a specially trained team.
A very different situation exists in multichannel customer contact
centers. Here, customers are working on their computers, either at the
office, at home or on the road, and they expect to be able to start and
finish an inquiry very quickly and with little hassle.
They want to be able to talk to a live person only if they cannot
successfully address their situations electronically. When they do need to
speak to someone, customers expect CSRs to be very knowledgeable and
skilled in managing their situations and take time with them to uncover
and solve their problems right then. If your staff is going to satisfy
these customers, you must make sure they are trained to work effectively
in those media.
The second major difference between traditional call centers and
today's multichannel contact center is that the customer expects more
control of the communication. Today, they want to connect to your site,
navigate easily, complete an online order form or appropriate mechanism
for telling you what they want, and then have the solution documented for
them in real-time, right at that moment. They expect the solution to be
accurate, fast and hassle-free. Why? Because they assume no human
interaction will be necessary! In fact, many e-customers are seeking to
avoid the human contact that was inherent in the traditional call center.
These customers are tech-savvy and sophisticated. They want to move faster
and with more confidence than ever before.
For those who train the staff of multichannel contact centers, the
implications of these changes in customer expectations are significant.
Instead of regular classroom training programs that emphasize the
company's products and services, the need now is for skills in problem
resolution and "working" the system. Customers who need help
from a CSR need more complex solutions because they have already covered
the simpler, more basic issues through the electronic avenues provided
them by your company.
Let's look at some of the best training practices used by companies
who have made the transition from traditional call centers to successful
multichannel contact centers.
Align all training to specific business goals.
The critical first step in the transition is to clearly identify the
business strategies and goals that will make the organization more
competitive and profitable over the next few years. Senior management must
debate the profile of current and future customers, the direction they
want the business to take to meet customer needs and the commitment they
are willing to make to the technology required to realize their goals.
They must also discuss the significant role employees and managers will
play in the future of the company, and commit to the most effective and
appropriate ways of training and continuously improving the skills of
their people. Though often difficult, this first step merits considerable
time and energy by senior decision makers so subsequent steps are
successful. A best practice involves having this session facilitated by an
outside consultant who knows how to guide the decision makers to plan the
future of the company. All staffing and training issues must then be
aligned with the decisions made in this step.
Develop procedures that enable the business goals.
The next step usually taken by best practice companies is to review or
develop detailed procedures and job descriptions for the new or revised
tasks that will support the business goals and strategies. This
documentation process requires the organization to rethink how work is
assigned and accomplished. While developing these procedures takes a
thorough and unbiased eye for detail, this critical step ensures that
customer expectations and needs are addressed at the levels of quality
specified by management. Online help systems are then developed from the
procedures to enable CSRs to quickly find relevant information needed to
assist a customer.
This step is often outsourced to companies who specialize in
documenting work processes and then culling out the key steps for
placement into a fast, well-organized help system. Don't make the mistake
of just plopping entire procedures onto your help system. That information
overload will slow your response time to a crawl!
Recruit and train for your business vision.
Best practice companies create an internal partnership between the
human resources/training function and the operations function to recruit
and train employees and managers who can make the new vision for the
multichannel customer contact center come alive. CSRs and managers in
these centers need the following skills and attitudes to be successful in
the multichannel environment.
- Technology skills to quickly and accurately function and navigate
your systems and resources,
- The ability to learn software applications quickly,
- Appreciation for the customer's time in responding accurately,
completely and quickly to their requests,
- Writing skills to explain the status of their request to customers,
- Probing and problem-solving skills to resolve more complex issues,
- Patience and perseverance in finding information and solutions,
- The ability to explain complex processes or steps the customer must
take in language that is not condescending or impatient, and
- Skills in working well as part of a team.
If your center is fortunate enough to have applicants who bring these
skills to the job, revel in that luxury! Most centers today find the labor
pool in their geography does not produce applicants who are fully prepared
to perform well in the contact center environment. The training function
must develop many of these required skills in new CSRs and managers.
Training is only worth the time and money if it addresses the unique
and specific needs of your business. Organizations that run profitable
contact centers typically contract for the custom development of training
for this reason. They have learned that "canned" or
"off-the-shelf" training packages usually miss the mark in
teaching their staff how to be successful in the multichannel environment.
Additionally, systems or software training provided by most vendors does
not teach CSRs how to most effectively manage the customer interaction,
which includes the human issues balanced with the technology issues. Those
skills need to be carefully developed to ensure your center meets its
quality and customer service goals.
Successful multichannel contact centers include a balance of classroom
training for instilling culture, vision and values, with online training
and practice in troubleshooting and navigating systems. These companies
also provide ample opportunities for new hires to practice explaining
solutions and procedures to customers, both in writing for e-mail
responses and over the telephone, when necessary.
Training must focus on preparing CSRs and managers to uncover
exactly what customers require, and provide sufficient realistic skill
practices in communicating timely and accurate solutions to customers in
writing and by voice. This kind of powerful training results in higher
quality performance and speedier responses. It is the outcome of the
organization's commitment to balance human resource issues with
technological issues. It also reflects recruitment and hiring strategies
that are compatible with the business vision and goals established by
senior management. Centers that insist on this focus consistently achieve
their visions for the future.
Develop management skills.
Another critical step that best practice organizations take is to
train various levels of management to recognize, reinforce and coach
continuous improvements in every job function. This emphasis on quality
performance enables the contact center to remain competitive and
Line and middle managers need training on how to most effectively
support and coach performance to quality standards in a multichannel
contact center. They need to understand what the CSRs are being taught,
and then practice effective coaching skills with scenarios developed
specifically for your business. They also need to learn how to use
measurement data from the various channels in the most effective ways to
continuously improve the performance of their work units.
This step is often provided through a contract with a provider of
customized contact center training that has expertise in training
management staff. The key is to challenge managers at all levels to enable
their staff to achieve goals and standards to acquire and retain
customers. That's the bottom line impact that should be expected from any
As you refocus your operation to accommodate the unique considerations
of the multichannel contact center, your organization will find many
opportunities to fine-tune and strengthen current operating and training
procedures. The most consistent advice from best practice contact centers
around the world is to put at least as much money and attention into the
development of the skills of your people as you do for your technology.
This investment will help you remain competitive and grow your business.
It's a fascinating journey that will reward those who are willing to
commit to preparing their workforce for success in the evolving e-business
Marnie Feasel is senior vice president of ALESYS, a consulting and
training company that specializes in improving training in call centers
and multichannel contact centers. ALESYS has worked with large and small
inbound, outbound and blended centers to help them achieve their business
strategies for customer retention and profitability.
to the August 2000 table of contents ]