Training Virtual Call Center Reps Is Difficult - But
There's A Solution
BY DAVID C. STUART, OUTREACH TECHNOLOGIES
One of the most challenging aspects to any call center operation is the ongoing
training of call center personnel. This is particularly acute for "virtual" call
centers, where telesalereps (TSRs) often work from home or from remote office locations.
The reason a business adopts a virtual call center approach is typically driven by a
desire for improved cost-efficiency and the ability to more easily recruit staff.
Home-based workers don't require office space, and reps like the flexible hours. However,
the need to continually train personnel is at odds with operating a cost-effective virtual
call center. Solving this paradox may be the key to fully unleashing the power the virtual
call center model offers. In fact, it can likely benefit traditional, centralized call
centers as well.
Call productivity is the name of the game in running a successful call center. Human
capital is expensive, so anything that improves revenue per sales rep or allows reps to
handle more calls has a large impact. Steve Davidson, president of Info-Tel Solutions in
Oklahoma City, a maker of predictive dialing solutions for small and medium-sized call
centers, agrees. "If we can keep reps talking with live prospects, instead of dialing
and speaking with answering machines and voice mail, then the center operates at peak
efficiency." Taking a similar approach to training also helps. By allowing short
topic training to occur right at the desktop, TSRs can be frequently trained, with no
wasted time or travel expense. "This ability is critical for virtual centers, which
can't pull people together on short notice," said Davidson. Studies show that the
frequency of training and the ability to apply new concepts immediately aid in learning
retention. Training TSRs at their desks allows both.
Certain types of training lend themselves to the "stay-at-your-desk" approach
better than others. Method and procedure training (call handling, routing, escalation,
etc.) for a new hire may be accomplished initially through self-guided computer courseware
or through in-person introductory classes. On the other hand, "refresher"
sessions, new technique training for the experienced TSR or short-topic subject seminars
(for instance, a new product update) may be conducted effectively at the desktop. The TSR
joins the session at the prescribed time, and disruption to the workday is kept to a
New integrated voice/data solutions allow this desktop training to occur in a live,
highly interactive manner. Participants converse by phone and see the visuals on their PC.
All that is required is a telephone (common fare for a TSR), and a PC Web browser. Session
participants listen-in by phone as the meeting conductor (a center coordinator or
subject-matter expert) displays visuals (slides, images, Web pages, etc.) or shares an
application. This allows all participants to simultaneously see and even test drive the
application, immediately applying their newly acquired skills. The same technology allows
support reps to assist inbound callers by observing their screen changes from afar,
offering real-time abilities to remotely control the application. All this takes place on
a PC server, typically employed on company premises, with no change to existing networks.
While video is not an integral part of this solution, digital snapshots of the presenter
can be displayed if necessary to let the audience know who is speaking.
Why not just use a traditional third-party teleconference service? One reason is most
require significant advance notice and users are billed regardless of who shows up. An
integrated voice/data conference server eliminates the expense of outside service bureaus,
and is immediately available for conferencing - reservations are not required. Just dial
up the server and begin conferencing. Users pay for only their point-to-point connection
to the server. No conference tolls or setup charges accrue. Perhaps even more important, a
dedicated conference server allows the meeting conductor(s) to see a list of those on the
call and how they are connected ("Is Sally seeing the slides?"), and to control
the call, muting or unmuting participants, and responding to raised "hands."
These seemingly subtle distinctions can make the difference between a smooth training
session and one that is derailed by technology and distractions.
These same conferencing technologies can be applied for group discussions, management
meetings, expert escalation and other training activities. Even traditional centralized
call centers can benefit. For example, remote support offices may need to coordinate a
crisis response on short notice. Any location can initiate a conference, notifying others
instantly via e-mail or other electronic means. Within minutes, all necessary participants
can be in on the call, and an appropriate, informed response can be quickly formulated.
It's also useful for developing and delivering course content. Laura Johnson, who heads a
distance learning initiative for OutReach Technologies, said, "Many instructors and
students are comfortable working with a phone and PC, whereas, in front of a camera, they
Future enhancements of conferencing/training technologies for the call center
- Conference scheduling integration within e-mail and other communications interfaces,
- The addition of live training "help" buttons to company Web pages,
- Voice and data integrated into one streamlined package,
- Integration of POTS conferencing with voice-over-IP and IP gateways.
The benefits derived from live desktop training extend beyond the obvious time and
travel expense savings. Many users report quicker decisions, enhanced group participation
and improved teamwork. And while virtual call centers are a relatively new phenomenon, the
application of integrated voice/data presentation solutions for educating dispersed groups
is not. For example, ComLinx, of Edison, New Jersey, is using this technology to host
business "Webinars" for companies that sponsor online events. With the addition
of effective training in remote locations, the future looks bright for both virtual call
center operators and the teleservices professionals.
David C. Stuart is the vice president of Marketing for OutReach Technologies, maker
of the CONFERease family of CTI-based, integrated telephone and PC conferencing servers.
Stuart joined OutReach Technologies in 1997 and has 18 years of marketing management
experience in computer systems, networking and software environments. OutReach
Technologies, a division of Communication Systems Technologies, Inc. (CSTI), is a leader
in integrated, easy-to-use phone and PC conferencing. The company was established in 1995
to capitalize on CSTI's 12-year success as a developer of wide-area audio conferencing,
audio/data switching and remote radio control systems for the federal marketplace.