Agent Skills Development
By Susan Hash
Many contact centers have seen their training budgets slashed in recent years, crippling
their efforts to expand the frontline's skills and deliver a consistently high-quality
customer experience. While some organizations still don't realize the ROI that training
provides, leading service providers understand the impact that knowledgeable contact
center agents have on the customer experience.
Ultimately, the importance that an organization places on agent development depends
on how the leaders view their people, says Edward Lawler, author of Talent: Making
People Your Competitive Advantage, and distinguished professor of business
at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business. If executives
view the service that the contact center provides as a source of competitive advantage
and a chance to develop a closer relationship with customers, then they typically
take a very different approach to hiring, training and development than those who
see the role as a transactional activity.
The following is a look at the staff development approaches taken by two top service
Building Skills with Specialty Teams
One company that clearly views its people as a competitive advantage is Zappos.
The online retailer has a skills-development program in place in which agents rotate
through various specialty teams, such as a workforce management team, stats team,
live chat and email teams. There are a limited number of spots available within
each team, so members are usually rotated every six months.
To work on a specialty team, agents must submit a written summary of their current
skill sets, training courses they've completed and examples of how they exemplify
Zappos' core values. Each team has its own set of expectations and interview process.
Once on a specialty team, new members undergo a training period to learn the skills
necessary to carry out the team's procedures, and to meet its objectives. After
three months, agents who successfully learn and demonstrate the skill sets are awarded
a merit increase in hourly pay.
A High-Level, Hands-on Approach to Career Pathing
At Conifer Health Solutions, providing agents with opportunities to learn new skills
is just one step in staff development. Company executives take a hands-on approach
to employee career development. Conifer leaders have developed a system for tracking
the skill sets and growth potential of all levels of employees—from frontline
agents to company directors. Each level of management plots their direct reports'
current skill levels on a coordinate grid, which is divided into four-quadrants.
The grid allows managers to identify their top, middle and low performers. Besides
identifying where every employee is on the grid, each individual has an arrow that
shows which direction they are moving in the graph.
On an annual basis, directors from each business unit attend a companywide strategic
meeting to discuss employee growth and development. Each director brings a graph
of their unit with all of their employees plotted. The graphs are combined into
one overall organizational graph with each business unit depicted by color. The
graph illustrates the strengths and needs of every business unit, and highlights
opportunities for staff with specific skill sets to move into other units.
INSIDE VIEW: Go Daddy
At Go Daddy, an extensive training process ensures that the contact center has the
right people in place who have the knowledge to handle customers' immediate needs
and long-term goals. Customer care new-hires undergo a six-week onboarding process
that includes two weeks of classroom training in which agents are put in the customer's
seat. New-hires build a small-business website to learn how to use all of Go Daddy's
products and services, and the different levels involved—from the novice user
to the advanced. Next, new-hires attend four weeks of customer service training
in the classroom to learn about the company's culture and its customer service philosophy,
followed by the opportunity to use what they've learned on the phones in a safe
environment surrounded by coaches and mentors. After the formalized training process,
customer care reps graduate to the next level—an intensive eight-week training
process in which they're introduced to their team, and undergo more in-depth product
and customer service training.
Read the full story here.