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 providers.

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.

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.


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