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Customer Interaction Solutions
October 2006 - Volume 25 / Number 5

Stop The Revolving Door - Five Best Practices
In Contact Center Agent Training

By Shelby Test-Peralta, StarTek, Inc.

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Leverage training strategies and best practices to maximize return on investment, reduce agent turnover and recruitment costs, and improve agent performance and customer satisfaction.

One of the major challenges for contact center managers is retaining employees. Not only is it costly to lose an agent — replacement can cost between $5,000 and $17,000 — employee turnover can have a negative impact on overall contact center performance, customer satisfaction and employee morale.

Training plays a crucial role in job satisfaction and performance for agents. Unfortunately, ongoing education often takes a back seat to other strategic efforts, such as expanding call center services. Yet savvy contact center executives are recognizing the value of embracing training as a key employee retention strategy, reconciling the costs for training with bottom-line results. This article will provide an overview of training best practices that coordinate with an overall organizational strategy for reducing costs and improving performance.

Best Practice #1: Transform ordertakers into service providers while protecting service levels.
Resolving a customer issue on the first call, efficiently and effectively, improves customer satisfaction and leverages that goodwill into opportunities for cross-selling or upselling. Achieving this often requires a higher skill level than many contact center agents currently possess. Moving from an order-taking mentality to true customer service requires skillfully combining performance management efforts with expanded training to broaden further subject matter knowledge and develop additional skills.

Best Practice #2: Recognize that training is not “one-size-fits-all.”
While traditional classroom education still has an important place in the training curriculum, dynamic training based on the particular needs of agents is the best way to speed comprehension, ensure knowledge retention and improve specific skills in the most costeffective manner. Training experts agree that a blended solution — classroom training combined with e-learning, simulation and other online training channels — is the ideal solution for contact center environments. Delivering training opportunities on-demand, online and in chunks designed to fit into an agent’s schedule delivers the flexibility needed to ensure a meaningful and measurable impact on performance, while keeping training costs down. Some of the most progressive contact centers are using software to allow supervisors to create mini-videos that address how to handle specific issues or changes in a process, enabling supervisors to respond quickly and train agents before an issue impacts performance.

Best Practice #3: Balance the needs of virtual contact center agents.
While the debate about the pros and cons of home-based agents rages on, the fact is that many contact centers gain value from extending their capacity through cost-effective and flexible telecommuters. However, telecommuters present an additional layer of complexity in employee management. To make this work most effectively, contact center managers need to make creative use of technology such as instant messaging to facilitate ongoing communications. Dynamic training opportunities such as e-learning take on an even greater importance when a company has home-based agents to train and continually educate.

Best Practice #4: Don’t forget the coaches.
Every good team needs a coach. While e-learning is a proven, effective way to train agents, one-on-one interaction with trainers, supervisors and peers is still a valuable tool to reinforce comprehension and build additional skills. Search out potential peer coaches and give them the assistance they need to help newer agents become successful. Some contact centers are investing in coaching tools that help supervisors deliver real-time insight and assistance to agents even as they interact with customers.

Best practice #5: Build confidence.
Create a way for new hires to practice their newly learned skills without being sent to the frontline immediately. One way is to pair beginners with experienced contact center agents who can provide the guidance new hires need to more quickly come up-to-speed. The mentoring approach can be an extremely effective way to ease the transition into the real situation.

A Strategic Training Plan In Action
StarTek recognized early on the benefits of training in improving retention of contact center agents. The company developed a training plan it uses for its contact centers that includes classroom training, e-learning, simulation, mentoring/ coaching and personalized training and development plans based upon the skills and career interests of the agent.

The strategic approach to training has paid off. StarTek has a much lower than industry average turnover rate of nearly 50 percent, while maintaining customer satisfaction that ranks high. Other benefits include productivity gains, higher employee morale and better overall skill levels. Agent training is an investment that pays dividends in agent satisfaction and retention, customer satisfaction and loyalty, and overall contact center performance.

Shelby Test-Peralta is StarTek’s (news - alert) Senior Vice President of Human Resources, responsible for attracting, motivating, developing and retaining StarTek employees. Shelby is a certified Senior Human Resources Professional through the Society of Human Resources Management as well as a designated Certified Compensation Professional through World At Work (formerly the American Compensation Association). StarTek, Inc. (http://www.startek.com) is a provider of business process optimization services for outsourced customer interactions. Headquartered in Denver, StarTek has 18 operational facilities across North America.


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