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Best practices for call center agent training programs

Call center directors should include feedback in agent training programs, understand the center's key goals and objectives and meet agents' learning styles.

Call center directors may face challenges as they establish and implement call center training programs, including budget, resources, time and training expertise. A new challenge has also joined the list: training call center agents remotely.

Throughout the pandemic, call center agents moved from transactional workers onsite to brand representatives who work from home. In a J.D. Power survey of 124 customer service organizations, 86% of those organizations said they plan to support permanent work-from-home models. Remote agents and those in offices who want to provide a positive CX require high-level skills, such as problem-solving, creative thinking and agility, which can affect call center training programs. Call center directors must enable existing and new agents to create positive customer experiences through formal quality, coaching and training programs.

The importance of call center training remotely

Call center directors shouldn't underestimate the importance and value of call center agent training in work-from-home environments. Directors can attribute remote work issues like attrition, burnout and decreased employee engagement to lack of training, professional development and coaching. Formal training -- from onboarding, through new hire training, through professional development and career advancement -- is vital to successful agent performances and call center success.

3 benefits of call center agent training

Proper call center agent training reduces turnover, increases profits and improves customer and employee experiences.

1. Turnover reduction. Turnover in the call center industry is a constant challenge for organizations. Yet, not all turnover is negative. Positive internal turnover can occur when staff members receive promotions or move to new roles within the center. Staff members can move to roles through training and coaching to attain new skills.

Training can reduce negative turnover. Training employees from the beginning reduces frustration, increases engagement, improves customer satisfaction and reduces costs. Call centers spend large amounts of money on replacing front-line employees, and those amounts significantly increase to replace management team members. Ultimately, effective training programs cost less than agent turnover.

2. Increasing profits. If call center directors focus on training and coaching, they can reduce turnover and add bottom line profits. Increasing first call or contact resolution can immediately affect the bottom line, as it reduces escalations that can increase costs and decrease customer satisfaction.

3. Improve customer and employee experiences. Employees want proper training, the tools to do their jobs, rewards for good work and patience when they require improvement. When call center management teams take these actions, they can satisfy employees and help them engage with their roles. This can improve overall CX, which leads to more loyal customers.

10 best practices for successful call center agent training

These best practices for call center agent training can lead to increased success in training and agents' careers.

1. Develop goals and objectives. For a successful call center training program, an organization must ensure its goals and objectives align with business strategy. An organization must develop and document its vision, mission, goals, objectives, culture and brand goals at a strategic level to craft its learning goals into agent training content.

2. Develop KSAC profiles. After organizations develop goals and objectives, they should create role-based KSAC -- knowledge, skills, abilities and culture -- profiles. KSAC profiles should establish what knowledge, skills, abilities and culture requirements agents need for each role. An organization can use this profile for recruiting and for developing training programs.

When creating KSAC profiles, organizations should keep these questions in mind: What level of skill, certification, proficiency or knowledge must agents meet? Do agents need certifications or to meet education requirements? How many years of experience does the organization require? When organizations understand what each role requires for success at a KSAC level, they can hire and train more effectively.

  • Knowledge. Certain roles may require practical knowledge in a particular area. Examples include industry-specific knowledge, like healthcare, retail and government agencies. Agents can gain knowledge from experience, education or certifications.
  • Skills. Agents can learn technical, social and CX proficiencies through training. Examples include customer service skills, technical skills and proficiency in specific software tools. Hiring teams can measure, observe and validate skills through tests and assessments.
  • Abilities. Call center agents should demonstrate empathy, task switch and relate to customers' personal and social attributes.
  • Culture. Culture comprises an organization's beliefs, values and behaviors. Organizations typically document these beliefs and they permeate through the company. Potential employees should align with the employer's culture.

3. Analyze training needs. After the organization develops KSAC profiles, it should analyze its training needs to match its desired outcome. It should assess its current state of performance to determine where knowledge, skills and abilities specifically may be deficient. Then the organization should evaluate the performance gap's cause and resolve those issues.

4. Follow metrics and measurements. Organizations may struggle to develop an ROI model for training. The model requires a strategic approach to determine hard and soft costs. Before organizations delve into ROI analysis, they should establish key performance indicators for their training programs.

  • Agent performance measurements. Training directly correlates with how agents perform. Organizations should consistently review performance measures -- such as first contact resolution, average handle time, quality, customer satisfaction and experience measurements, and professional development training scores.
  • New hire agent time to proficiency. Call center directors should measure how long a new agent takes to meet the center's minimum performance standards. This time can range from four to eight months, depending on the center's complexity. Directors should also consider the quality and formalization of the training programs from onboarding and shadowing. If organizations don't formalize these phases, new hires may face chaotic experiences and have turnover or longer times to proficiency.

5. Determine training phases. One of the biggest mistakes call centers make is focusing only on new hire training and the agent's first 30, 60 or 90 days. A successful training program requires phases with specific time frames and some stages that repeat.

  • Onboarding and new hire training. This phase is finite and is typically administered at a corporate level. It includes any paperwork and corporate policy training that HR outlines. New hire training can last for two to eight months, depending on the center and the agent's time to proficiency. Call center directors can include various resources and training channels in this phase.
  • Shadowing or nesting training. This phase is typically part of new hire training. After new employees learn a skill, they can shadow one or multiple management team members throughout the phase as required. Nesting training is a formal process where new agents work in a practice environment with trainers, managers and other staff to help them learn on the job. It can last for up to two to four weeks. This is where agents learn before they work on the floor.
  • Refresher training. This phase repeats and focuses on retraining agents after management teams notice performance deficiencies. The goal is to retrain agents on skills learned previously and their performance requirements. Management teams also should ensure agents understand any process changes the organization may have made.

6. Align training, quality and coaching. Many call centers operate in silos. Yet, call center directors should integrate training, quality and coaching, as they consistently feed each other through a feedback performance loop. Training programs must have specific criteria directors can measure by quality and review it in a formal coaching process. If a disconnect occurs, it creates frustration and confusion for agents.

7. Deliver training in diverse ways. People learn and absorb information in many different ways. Organizations must offer training programs in various styles and not all online. Management teams can assess how each agent learns best and tailor training to the agent's preferred style. How management teams conduct training may depend on the topic and requires understanding the learning goals and learners.

8. Include agents in training. Organizations should ask for agent feedback throughout the training process. Agents can help create new processes, develop content for training models and provide input on knowledge, skills, abilities and training analysis. Successful training programs are built alongside agents, not in a vacuum and delivered to them.

9. Recognize and reward success. When the organization outlines the above steps with criteria, it can then reward success. Call center directors can recognize employees through training based on training hours, highest scores on quizzes, tests and certifications, professional development credits, quality and coaching levels achieved, projects completed, customer testimonials and internal group testimonials. Directors should keep recognition consistent each week and change the rewards and criteria to keep employees engaged.

10. Make it fun. Directors can add in elements of fun throughout the training process and make that part of the organization's culture.

Continuing a call center agent training program

Successful call center agent training isn't a one-time activity at the beginning of an agent's career. Training is continuous throughout the employee lifecycle and includes many functional aspects, such as quality monitoring, knowledge management, professional development and career pathing.

Call center managers are vital to the training process and can help develop, administer and monitor training. Managers can serve as leaders and provide real-time input through performance monitoring based on reporting and metrics. Also, managers are key stakeholders in testing, developing and administering training across learning channels. If management teams focus on the key steps to implement and establish a call center agent training program, call centers can increase profits, reduce attrition and create a culture that engages agents.

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