5 Ideas for More Effective New-Hire Training
By Mike Aoki

When I managed the call center training department at a major wireless phone company, we invested six weeks in our new-hire training and coaching. That investment in training paid off in improved agent performance. Since leaving that telecom company and starting my own training business 12 years ago, I have seen how dozens of companies handle their call center training. The following are five ideas to help make your new-hire training more effective. They are based upon my personal experience and the best practices of my clients.

1. Use scenario-based training. Traditional new-hire training focuses on processes, such as how to use internal systems and applications. That is typically followed by training on the features and benefits of the company's products and services, and finally, service and/or sales soft skills training. Each topic is taught in isolation without any context as to how use this information to solve a customer's problem. It is not until the final week of training that agents are shown how to use this knowledge to help a customer. Since most agents are experiencing information overload at this point, it is difficult for them to integrate everything they have learned.

In comparison, scenario-based training focuses on helping agents to solve a customer's problem. For instance, I helped one of my clients identify the top five reasons why customers cancel their service. Then, I designed a training program to help their agents address each one of these top five cancellation reasons. Management guru Stephen Covey wrote in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "Begin with the end in mind." That means designing your training course with the foremost goal of helping your agents provide the best solution for their callers.

2. Use "hands-on" demos to make your product training more effective. Encourage your agents to use your products and services. This will give them a better understanding of how each product works. In the wireless industry, we found that agents were always best at helping those customers who had the same model phone as the agent. We encouraged our agents to try different phones because it helped them to provide better customer service. This does not just apply to the wireless industry. I recently saw an advertisement by a travel agency that essentially said, "You will talk to an agent who has actually visited this vacation spot, so they can tell you first-hand what to expect." Now maybe you can't send every agent to every vacation spot, but you can have them do occasional customer site visits so that they have a better understanding of your customer's expectations.

3. Your training team should be a mix of trainers promoted from within your call center and trainers hired from other companies. If there is one thing that I learned from managing a training team, it is the value of having a group of trainers with varied experiences. Half of my 12-member team were former high-performing agents or team managers. They had great credibility within our center and had in-depth knowledge of our company's internal processes and procedures. The other half was comprised of trainers who came from other companies. They brought a fresh perspective and new best practices to our team. This mix of inside savvy and outside best practices made our team stronger and made our training more effective.

4. Provide graduating agents with several weeks of intensive post-course coaching. The majority of new agents' questions and mistakes occur during their first few weeks taking calls. It makes sense to have a dedicated coach helping them during this challenging time. One of my clients dedicates a quality coach to shadow every newly graduated class of 15 agents for their first two weeks on the floor. These agents sit in the same area of the call center, so their coach can provide instant help. Having a coach immediately available to answer questions is a huge morale booster for rookie agents. It also helps the coach to identify any information that may need to be reinforced during subsequent new-hire classes. The newly graduated agents take calls for most of the day, but then spend the final hour of their shift in a meeting room discussing their most challenging calls. This helps them to learn from their peers and also gain additional tips from their coach.

5. Gather feedback to calibrate the effectiveness of your new-hire training. Have team managers and quality coaches identify the most common questions from each newly graduated class. Also, monitor each graduating class's quality scores and key performance indicators. Your training team can use this information to modify and improve their next new-hire training session. You can also have your trainers conduct monthly side-by-sides with agents. That will provide your trainers with immediate feedback on the effectiveness of their new-hire training programs.

Inside View: StellarOne Bank

Virginia-based StellarOne Bank's companywide customer experience initiative is designed to blend the neighborhood bank experience with the latest technology. Its goal: To offer increased convenience to customers, to improve efficiency within the business and to create a new banking experience aligned with the way that customers want to bank today. As part of that initiative, the bank launched its first "financial center of the future" in Charlottesville. Gone is the traditional teller line; instead, customers are greeted by Universal Bankers arranged in pods. Universal Bankers are specialists trained to handle all of the customer's needs on the spot, rather than passing them off to someone else. A similar strategy is in place within the contact center where first-contact resolution is the primary objective. The center has a single queue for everything from simple inquiries and routine transactions to online banking support. Contact center associates act as universal agents and are crosstrained to handle anything that comes their way.
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