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Rich Tehrani

Rachel has just finished your agent orientation program and is ready to hit the phones. She’s passed the product knowledge test with flying colors and seems to have better-than-average communications skills. She’s actively using the new soft-skills she learned in the final phase of orientation and you’re sure she’s going to be one of your stars.

But you have this nagging feeling that you’ve forgotten to teach her something. You wonder, “Is there anything else Rachel should know before she begins her ‘tour of duty’?” Is there any other training she needs that will make her more effective in handling customer contacts, as well as be a more satisfied call center employee?

The answer is “yes.” There’s one more piece. The missing link here is to equip Rachel with knowledge about the unique call center environment and how it operates. Let’s face it — she’s had to learn a lot in the last few weeks. And part of that training should have been an operational overview so Rachel can better understand the context in which she plays such an important role.
So what exactly do new employees need to learn about the call center? We asked agents and supervisors alike what the missing pieces were, and below is their “Top Five” list. How many of these areas are you covering in your own training program?

1. The profession and the industry. How many of your staff members understand the world of call centers? It’s important for them to understand the vital role your own call center plays in the organization, as well as the bigger picture of call centers everywhere. Rachel should understand that this is more than “just answering the phones,” but a mission-critical part of businesses everywhere – a bona fide profession, not just an in-between stop on the way to a “real” job.

Include information about industry demographics (types and sizes of centers, as well as the number of people who work in the profession). Make them aware of the career opportunities and professional development options available to them in the industry. This type of awareness will help your retention efforts in the long run, as well as increase job satisfaction in the short term.

2. Performance measurement. Do your staff understand what you’re measuring every day in terms of the call center’s overall performance as well as individual performance? It’s useful for them to understand what the call center’s performance goals are in terms of service and efficiency (and perhaps revenue) in support of the company’s overall objectives. Rachel should understand how these call center operational goals then translate down into measures of her own performance.
Include training on performance measures, with particular emphasis on all the items an agent will be measured on and why. Every person should understand how his/her performance will be evaluated and understand what they can do to affect those numbers and scores.

3. Workforce management. Do your staff members understand why management is so obsessed with everyone being in their seat and adhering to their work schedule? It’s critical for them to understand the basics of the workforce management process and the impact on service and cost of getting the “just right” number of people in place to handle the calls. Rachel should understand the effect on service she has if she’s not available when scheduled and what that means in terms of how busy her coworkers will be.
Include training on how the forecasting and scheduling process works in your center. Every person should understand how workforce schedules are created, and the impact that just one person can make on service and cost.

4. Call center technology. Do your staff understand how the calls they’re taking right now arrived at their desktop and what the customer has experienced to the point at which live conversation begins? It’s helpful for them to understand the overall concept of how a call or contact arrives at their workstation, as well as what technologies enable them to handle calls more effectively once they arrive. Rachel should understand what her customer has experienced in terms of IVR self-service or sitting in the ACD queue before she picked up the call.

Include training on how a contact gets from the customer to the desktop, and what the communications process is like for customers. Every person should understand what technologies are available to them in handling the call more efficiently, as well as have a basic understanding of the other technologies that work “behind the scenes” in the call center.

5. Customer relationships. Do your staff members understand the value of each and every customer call? While we’re not suggesting they whip out a calculator on every call, it is important for front-line staff to understand the concept of lifetime customer value so the proper emphasis on service is placed. Rachel should understand that while one single call might not seem that important, when the average value is multiplied over a “lifetime” of calls, every interaction can be significant in customer retention.

Include training on lifetime customer value and the critical role that each agent plays in customer retention and the bottom line. And if you have a CRM strategy and CRM technologies in place, it’s important to help the frontline staff understand how that strategy affects them in handling contacts.

Will they follow different scripts for a “high value” customer, or will performance measures change as more focus is placed on the quality of the call handling process versus traditional efficiency measures such as speed of answer and average handle time?

Including these five components in your frontline staff’s orientation program will go a long way in equipping them with the knowledge to better understand the context in which their role is performed. Without this background, staff like Rachel may never perform up to their potential.

Return On Investment
Benjamin Franklin perhaps said it best, “An investment in knowledge pays the biggest returns.” Filling in gaps in your agent training and orientation program pays for itself many times over in terms of increased call center operational efficiency, improved service, and decreased staff turnover.

Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee-based consulting and education company. The company provides a wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals, including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars and self-paced e-learning programs at the manager, supervisor and frontline staff level. For more information, see www.thecallcenterschool.com or call 615-812-8400.

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