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Performance Management

Best Practices on using contact center metrics, reports, dashboard and key performance metrics (KPI) to optimize customer service

Call Center Training Hints, Tips & Best Practices

How long does the call center training process take? At some businesses it can be two weeks – others devote six weeks or more to preparing agents before they take their first phone call.

The blogs and articles below provide tips on the call center training process, and how it can be expedited without compromising quality or on-the-job performance. They cover not just new agent training but re-training and coaching of agents that may need a refresher course from time to time. Quality monitoring can help – find out more here. If you still have questions, Search for answers here.

Performance Management and Quality Monitoring: A Checklist for Success

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Is there such a thing as a quick fix when it comes to more effective performance management? Can one little change in attitude or procedure make a big difference in quality monitoring?

The answer is yes – and no. 

Both performance management and quality monitoring require coordinated planning and execution throughout the contact center. 

Performance management is something of a catch-all term that incorporates  a wide range of management aspects, from planning to developing agent skills, to evaluating performance based on metrics and making adjustments accordingly. Doing so will be more successful with a detailed plan of action. 

Likewise, creating an integrated quality monitoring program will take time and preparation, with particular focus on call recording, PCI compliance, quality scorecards and screen capturing

No quick fixes there. However, once the foundation for both programs is established, small changes can indeed pay significant dividends toward the ultimate goal of ensuring consistent, high quality service that meets or surpasses expectations. Here are a few that may help your performance management and quality monitoring endeavors.

Praise from the top

How often does your upper management team review calls? Have them listen to a few every week, and then contact the agents that did a great job and let them know their work is appreciated. 


Training doesn’t have to be boring

If training consists of the same procedures every week or month, agents will tune it out. Have trainers use varied methods to maintain a higher level of engagement. 


Quality monitoring starts (before) day one

While agents are still in the induction phase, introduce the QM system and expectations in place, and make sure they are aware of the criteria. 


Instant gratification

Praise and reward systems can be beneficial (more on some of these later) but there is no substitute for immediate positive feedback following a customer’s praise. If an email or a phone call contains that praise, don’t wait to share it with the group. 


Consistency

This is obvious, but bears repeating. These programs require consistency, not just in how they are carried out by agents but how they are presented and maintained by supervisors.


Who watches the watchers?

Your coaches are entrusted with maximizing agent performance – but who is making sure that the coaches are doing their best? Their work must be regularly monitored as well. 


Group therapy

Individual call monitoring is important, but occasional group meetings to review calls may also be beneficial. 


Clarity

Feedback won’t work unless it is clear and actionable. You can find out if this is the case by providing agents with feedback forms about coaches (they’ll love that anyway). Offer them a chance to confirm that they understand the assessment they received, and if the coach took their thoughts and opinions into consideration. 


Professionalism

Encourage a general climate of professionalism, not only in how agents communicate with customers but how they communicate with managers, coaches and their fellow agents. Once this becomes second-nature, performance will inevitably improve. 


Involve the QM team in agent recruitment

Your quality monitoring teams knows what to look for in outstanding agents. So why not involve them in the recruitment process? 


Positive reinforcement

Coaching and training sessions should not be dreaded by agents. If they are, something is wrong. Try starting each session with positive coaching – what the agent is doing well and how the call center is lucky to have them. Remind agents of the improvements they have already made. Then review areas where further improvement is possible and discuss ways to work together to get there. 


Include customers in performance management

Agents play a role in performance management, but customers do as well. Take their feedback into account. 


Prizes

A lot of contact centers give out prizes to agents for consistent performance or specific moments of excellence. A free meal, a spa day, or a cash bonus works better than a trophy or a “job well done” certificate. 


Encourage peer discussion

You know your agents already talk about their jobs and customers (and probably  you as well) with each other. Set some time aside to allow them to get together and also talk about improving quality. Some very smart ideas may emerge from these sessions. 


The big picture

When discussing performance management with agents, tell them about the center’s greater goals and over-arching customer service strategy. The more they understand the big picture, the more they might buy into the program. 


Public or private coaching?

Some contact centers conduct coaching sessions in a closed office; others have these discussions out on the floor within earshot of other agents. There is no sure formula for which will be more effective at your contact center – so why not try both and see what happens?


Watch your language

Does anyone still use words like “demerits” or terms like “marked down” in coaching sessions? Use positive, supportive language instead. 


Grade calls in sections

Break each call into different sections for review purposes, such as: call open, courtesy, technical skills and compliance, efficiency, and closing. 


Don’t ignore the longer calls

Short calls are always desirable but not always possible. Sometimes you can learn more about agent performance, contact center issues and your QM strategy by reviewing longer calls. 


It’s ok to ask for help

If an agent is having difficulty answering a customer’s questions, he or she might be hesitant to forward that call to a supervisor if it reflects badly on their performance. But if that is the best way to keep that customer relationship, make sure the agent knows that doing so is the right step. 


Never stop improving

Did you achieve your quality goals? Great! Now, set new ones. Complacence is the enemy of every contact center. 


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Reducing Churn with Motivated Agents

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In every type of business there are unfortunate realities that seem inevitable. With contact centers, one of these pitfalls has always been agent churn, or agent attrition. 

For years, the rate of attrition across the industry has remained fairly consistent at approximately 30%. Many call center managers would single out this turnover as one of their top priorities for improvement, but when the numbers don’t drop they just assume there’s nothing to be done, and that about one of every three agents is not going to be there very long. 

However, given the significant business costs associated with agent churn, and its impact on customer service, perhaps it is time to take a new look at agent retention. 


The Cost of Attrition

If you are a contact center manager, the cost of attrition is already built into your annual operating budget. Funds are allocated for the high costs of recruiting and hiring new agents, training those agents, and any loss of productivity resulting from new hires becoming acclimated to a new company and new procedures. 

However, there are additional hidden costs that are not always acknowledged, including the impact that agent churn has on customer churn. 

If a customer receives poor service from a new agent, he or she may decide to try another company. According to an inContact study, a 1% increase in churn represents a 1% decrease in revenue. If the attrition rate could be improved by 50%, the result would be a 1.2% increase in company revenues. For a firm with $500 million in annual revenues, improving the attrition rate would represent more than $6 million saved in hidden costs. 

Another detriment to churn that is less obvious is how it disrupts the culture of the contact center, particularly in the effect it has on remaining agents. It’s not pleasant to regularly welcome new agents into nearby cubicles, only to watch them leave after a short period of time. 


The Cure for Attrition

It will come as no surprise that the key to reducing attrition is keeping agents longer by making sure they are happy and motivated in their work. Companies have different philosophies on what works and what doesn’t when it comes to employee motivation, but here are a few tips that can produce positive results.

Hiring

Retaining quality agents begins with hiring quality agents. Those who start out with the required experience, personality and skills for call center work are more likely to become the type of agents worth keeping. 

Environment

An agent who dreads going to work every day will soon rid himself of that habit. A call center that is bright and clean and inviting provides motivation by simply being a more pleasant place in which to work. There are also a number of team-building activities, seminars, outings and other activities that can improve agent morale and build a team spirit outlook.

Respect

Agents are on the front lines of customer service, and they will have ideas on how methods or scripts can be altered to better serve customers. Respect these ideas and reward those that are implemented. Agents will feel more motivated if their ideas are taken seriously, and they feel like part of a team. In addition to open communication, managers should also nurture, encourage and support their agents to encourage loyalty and consistent job performance. 

Rewards

It’s the most obvious, but also among the most effective motivation tools – reward good performance with a little something extra besides a weekly paycheck. It doesn’t have to be elaborate – perhaps an “Agent of the Week” designation that comes with a gift card for a local restaurant. 

Training

Some agents may view training as a necessary evil, but if these sessions are used to teach new skills, which may be critical as call centers evolve into contact centers, it provides motivation for the agent by adding variety to their daily obligations. Learning new skills benefits both the agent and the call center. 

Trust

While coaching and training should be a regular part of the agent experience, agents should also be able to use call recording software to review their own performances and make changes as needed. They will also appreciate the trust you show in them by allowing them to correct their own mistakes. 

Patience

Did an agent mishandle a call? It’s going to happen, especially with newer hires. This is a coaching moment, but not a “verbally dress down the agent on the floor” moment. Nobody’s perfect. Take the necessary steps to minimize such incidents, but insults and threats are not going to result in better performance or motivated employees.  

Technology/Flexibility

Agents work best when they have the technology that makes their jobs easier. Call recording software and quality assurance solutions not only benefit managers, but agents as well.

Workforce Management (WFM) can play a prominent role in engendering employee satisfaction. When WFM was first introduced, it was perceived as a means to control a call center workforce and keep an electronic eye on them at all times. But in today’s call centers, agents and managers have discovered how WFM improves both communication and schedule flexibility:


Skill-based Scheduling allows managers to better match agents with the types of calls they are most comfortable and experienced in handling.  This boosts both employee confidence and customer service. 


Flexible Schedules are more easily managed with WFM, so agents can balance obligations in their personal lives with work responsibilities. 


Online Collaboration between agents and supervisors makes it easier for agents to bid for shifts, and to handle changes as needed. 


Exception Calendars keep all call center personnel informed and prepared for issues. 


Reporting and Transparency Tools provide more accurate assessments of agent performance, so they can be monitored and reviewed fairly.


All of these capabilities help call centers to engage agents in the planning and management process, and that makes for happier agents. 


Conclusion

When asked to specify the greatest obstacles to achieving their key business goals, 53 percent of call center leaders selected attrition, outranking all other choices. By intelligent employment of communication, process and technology, particularly workforce management software, it is possible to reduce attrition rates and create motivated agents.




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Fast Contact Center Training with Consistent Performance – Is it Possible?

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How long does it usually take to train a new agent at your contact center? Two weeks? Four weeks? We’ve even heard of some call centers that require six weeks or more. There must be a better way.

Actually, there are several techniques that can expedite the training process, without compromising the quality of the sessions or of the agent’s subsequent on-the-job performance. This article published by ICMI offers some good ideas, which we have summarized here, while adding a couple of our own. 

Keep a Log
Rookie agents will all struggle with different aspects of the job. By keeping a written log of performance observations, it makes it easier to pinpoint issues and focus training on making those corrections. Call scoring and quality software is also helpful in tracking this and helping agents improve performance quickly.

First Call Groups
The sooner a new agent takes his or her first live customer call, the faster the acclimation process. Some contact centers create a group of new hires, and have them each take a call as a trainer observes. This way they will get immediate feedback, and also have the opportunity to watch other new agents work and learn from their performance. 

Take the Tour
Familiarity with a company and its products and operations will help a new agent’s job performance. Incorporate a tour into the training process that includes not just the contact center but visits to the returns department, fulfillment center and other components in the supply chain. If some of these facilities are remotely located or out of state, conduct a virtual tour through online video. 

Self-Coaching
It’s never too early to encourage agents in assessing their own job performance. Have them score their first call efforts and offer suggestions on how they could have handled each situation better.Call recording software can help agents review their calls and use as a self-coaching tool. 

Agent-to-Agent Assistance
If a manager or trainer isn’t always available, an agent should be able to get the answer to a question from another agent. Adding chat or wiki access to a contact center provides a system for these knowledge-sharing discussions. 

FAQs
Have the answers to the most common agent questions already prepared through a FAQ document that outlines best practices. 

Mentors
In larger contact centers, with teams of managers and coaches and trainers, it is beneficial to set up a mentor relationship for each new hire, so he or she will always know where to go for answers or additional help. A mentor could be a coach, or it could be an experienced agent.


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Call Center Training Tips: Monitor Improvements

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Training and coaching is only effective if you close the loop. This means that what happens after these sessions are complete is just as important as the sessions themselves. How else will you discover whether coaching is having the desired effect?

Many types of companies employ the closed-loop structure as a guideline for quality management and monitoring, and a way to improve both customer service and employee performance. It means forging links between processes and personnel so they complement each other, thus achieving optimal results more quickly. 

Here is one 4-step system that will close the training loop at your call center. 

1. The Plan of Action
What do you hope to accomplish through training and coaching? List specific goals and approach each training session with these goals in mind. Solicit input from managers, agents and even customers (through survey results and by reviewing recorded calls to identify challenges). 

2. Training Sessions
Schedule training sessions in advance and follow your plan of action, while being flexible enough to consider agent feedback and ideas about areas that may not have been part of the original course. 

3. Monitor and Check Progress
Review the results of the training and coaching sessions after a sufficient period of time has elapsed. This can be accomplished through follow-up sessions with agents, and throughrecordings and quality scoring of calls dated after the most recent training. How many objectives were achieved? 

4. Closing the Loop
With the new data in hand, you can now create a new plan as in step #1, outlining another set of goals. With each journey around the loop, your call center becomes more efficient, while delivering better service and better results. 


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Fast Contact Center Training with Consistent Performance – Is it Possible?

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Call centers may be contact centers now, but according to a Gartner survey 68% of customer first-contacts with any company are still via telephone. How those calls are handled is critical to a company’s success. 

Call recording enables a contact center to gather, save and review customer call data, which can improve customer service, agent performance and business efficiency. 

There are a number of ways to measure ROI on call recording software. Here are some of the most prominent:

Agent Training
Call recordings are the best way for agents to learn from past performance. Over time they will be able to use these recordings for self-evaluation as well. Great calls and terrible calls can be archived and used to train new agents in how to handle an array of specific challenges. Taken together, these benefits bolster customer service while reducing both agent costs and agent turnover. 

Conflict Resolution
Customer complaints can escalate into costly legal action if they are not definitively addressed. Having an audio record of each conversation saves time, clarifies uncertainties, and could eliminate court costs. 

More Efficient Call Handling
Reviewing past calls will inevitably generate ideas for how to lower average handle time, improve call resolution, and better address customer needs. That can boost sales, aid in customer retention, and benefit the company’s bottom line.

To learn more, please watch the following videos about call recording and screen recording for contact centers. 


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