Is Your Training Covering the Essentials?

By Penny Reynolds

Rachel has just finished your company’s agent orientation program and she’s ready to hit the phones. She has passed the product knowledge test with flying colors and seems to have better-than-average communications skills. She is actively using the new soft skills she learned in the final phase of orientation and you are sure she is going to be one of your stars. But you have a nagging feeling that you have forgotten to teach her something. You might ask, “Is there anything else Rachel should know before she begins her tour of duty?” Is there any other training she needs to become more effective in handling customer inquiries and to be a more satisfied call center employee?

The answer is yes. There is one more piece. The missing link is to teach Rachel about the unique call center environment and how it operates. Face it – she has had to learn a lot in the last few weeks. And part of that training for all call center employees should be an operational overview so they can better understand why they play such an important role at your company.

So, what exactly do new employees need to learn about the call center? We asked agents and supervisors alike what the missing pieces are and below is their Top 5 list. How many of these areas are you covering in your company’s training program?

1. The Profession and the Industry: How many of your staff understand the world of call centers? It is important for them to understand the vital role your company’s call center plays in the organization, as well as the bigger picture of the call center industry. Rachel should understand that the job involves much more than just answering phones – it’s a mission-critical part of businesses everywhere, a bona fide profession, not just an in-between stop on the way to a “real” job.

This training should include information about industry demographics (types and sizes of call centers, and how many people work in the profession). And it should make them aware of the career opportunities and professional development options available to them. This type of awareness will improve your retention efforts in the long run, and increase job satisfaction in the short term.

2. Performance Measurement: Does your staff understand your company’s process for measuring and improving the performance of the call center overall along with that of individual employees? It is useful for them to understand the call center’s performance goals in terms of service and efficiency (and perhaps revenue) in support of the company’s overall business objectives. Perhaps the call center gathers marketing data and processes customer input, using this information to improve future products and services. Rachel should understand these call center operational goals and then translate them into measures of her own performance.

Include training on performance measures, with a particular emphasis on all the items an agent will be measured on and why. Every employee should understand how his or her performance will be evaluated, and should understand what can be done to improve those scores.

3. Workforce Management: Do your staff members understand why management is so obsessed with everyone being in their seat and adhering to work schedules? It is critical for them to understand the basics of the workforce management process and the impact on service and cost of getting just the right number of people in place to handle the calls. Rachel should understand the impact her absence would have on service delivery. She should also understand what her absence would do to her co-workers’ workloads.

Include training on how the forecasting and scheduling process works in your call center. Every employee should understand how workforce schedules are created, and the impact that just one person’s absence can make on service and cost.

4. Call Center Technology: Does your staff understand how the calls they take arrive at their desktop and what the customer has experienced up to the point at which conversation begins? It’s helpful for them to understand the overall concept of how a call or contact arrives at their workstation, as well as which technologies enable them to handle calls more effectively once they arrive. Rachel should understand what her customer has experienced in terms of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) self-service or sitting in the Automatic Call Distributor (ACD) queue before she picked up the call. She should also fully understand the capabilities of all the technology at her disposal in terms of handling each call (such as CTI – Computer Telephony Integration – or contact management systems).

5. Customer Relationships: Does your staff understand the value of each customer call? We are not suggesting they whip out a calculator on every call; however, it is important for front-line staff to understand the concept of lifetime customer value so the proper emphasis is placed on service. Rachel should understand that while one call might not seem that important, when the average value is multiplied over a lifetime of calls, each interaction could be significant in terms of customer retention.

And if you have a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy and CRM technologies in place, it is important to help the front-line staff understand how that strategy should guide them in handling customer inquiries. Will they follow different scripts for high-value customers? Will performance measures change as more focus is placed on the quality of the call-handling process than on traditional efficiency measures such as speed of answer and average handle time?

Including these five components in your front-line staff’s orientation program will go a long way towards helping them better understand the context in which their role is performed. Without this background, staff like Rachel may never perform up to their potential.

Supervisors Need Training, Too: In all too many situations, specific call center training ends at the front-line staff level. In surveys we have conducted over the past several years, The Call Center School has found that more than 80 percent of supervisors in call centers were promoted from front-line agent positions. And while most new supervisors receive training on general supervisory skills, only about 20 percent receive any more advanced call center operational training.

Below is a checklist of key skills needed by today’s call center supervisors. How do your supervisors measure up?

People Management

Operations Management

Organizational Structure/Teams:Can they describe the different types or organizational options and team structures?ACD Routing and Reports:Do they understand ACD settings and how they are used? What reports are available and how to access them?
Recruiting, Screening, Hiring:Can they outline job descriptions and hiring criteria? Can they interview and screen effectively?Call Forecasting:Do they know how the forecast is created, as well as what factors influence it and how staffing is affected by various factors?
Training and Assessment:Can they effectively assess new and existing staff skills, identify gaps, and recommend needed training?Staffing Calculations:Do they know how forecasts get translated into staff numbers and how to calculate cost and service tradeoffs?
Staff Retention:Do they understand all the factors that lead to staff turnover and how they can contribute to improved retention?Scheduling Solutions:Are they aware of how schedules are created and what types of short-term and long-term solutions are available?
Setting Performance Standards:Can they create/update qualitative standards that are measurable and objective that track critical performance?Call Center Performance Measures:Do they understand which call center measures need to be in place to support corporate objectives?
Measuring and Diagnosing Performance:Do they know how to objectively measure performance and how to diagnose problems to create improvement plans?Call Delivery and Networking:Do they understand how a contact travels and where things can go wrong in the network and how to react?
Coaching, Monitoring, and Counseling:Do they understand the difference and can they apply proven principles of coaching and counseling for call center issues?Call Center Technologies:Do they understand how to use all the center’s technologies (IVR, WFM, QM, CTI) to manage staff effectively?
Motivation Techniques:Do they understand how to identify what motivates staff and how to implement motivation programs in the center?Call Center Math:Do they understand the numbers and how to apply them in managing service levels and staff performance?
Workplace Design:Do they understand the basic elements of effective workplace design and how to make changes for improved productivity?Staffing Alternatives:Do they understand the various staffing options that may be utilized such as outsourcing, telecommuting, or contracting?

Return on Investment: Benjamin Franklin perhaps said it best: “An investment in knowledge pays the biggest returns.” Whether it’s filling in some gaps in your agent training and orientation program or implementing an expanded supervisory/management training curriculum, you’ll find that the investment will pay for itself many times over in terms of increased call center operational efficiency, improved service, and decreased staff turnover.

Penny Reynolds is a Founding Partner of The Call Center School, a Nashville, Tennessee based consulting and education company. The company provides a wide range of educational offerings for call center professionals, including traditional classroom courses, Web-based seminars, and self-paced e-learning programs at the manager, supervisor, and front-line staff level. For more information, see or call 615-812-8400.

[From Connection MagazineNovember 2003]

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