Call centre efficiency and profitability benefits from aligning agent performance with continuous training
A high-speed work environment requires adaptable improvements. Call centres provide numerous service types, but they all share one common denominator: sales. Theoretically, the right product or service sold at the right time, to the right person, makes the business. The crucial element to focus on here is ‘people’, and this is also why the best sales are done by the best salespeople: because of that empathetic connection, one person to another.
People are simultaneously predictable on a large scale, and frustratingly diversified in their individual desires and needs. While we are making tremendous strides in artificial intelligence – and its application in the workplace – the human element is nowhere near replaceable just yet. Call centres and that human touch point is proof of that. There is even measurable data to underscore this: Judy Nelson, the first vice president of Merrill Lynch Global Private Client Services, instructed her call centre agents to focus on solving their clients’ problems, not religiously sticking to the clock2. This led to an average increase of 6% in terms of customer satisfaction. Additionally, it actually decreased average call time by around 5%; people working with people, instead of simply agents chasing numbers.
Profitable call centres are those that invest more in the service that their agents can provide, than the people that need to use that service. Radical thinking, but even-handed thinking. To get to that universally effective and superior quality service as a process baseline – the most effective, meticulous and empathetic agents at their best – requires training. Not just once or twice in an agent’s feasible employment cycle, or every other year: continuously. The most effective, productive call centre agents are initiative-driven and go-getter: they are the products of belief in the service they provide to customers, of a solid training foundation, and of constant improvements and additions to their people skills and work techniques.
Training implies dedicated processes that are adaptable, and people that are similarly dedicated to – through training and continuous guidance – crafting the right people for the job. Training materials and processes approach a basic service that needs to be delivered, but from there the processes will change as the centre and its aims mature alongside shifting customer needs. There are some core aspects to consider when investing in the processes that could train up your most effective sales agents.
Provide pre-training portals
Although this might seem like a costly exercise, having an information portal available for initiate agents goes a long way to smoothing out the induction kinks. It can certainly limit the time necessary for induction training3, as long as the information is monitored, and training-aligned agents are on call to provide necessary clarity. In this way, potential trainees are loaded with knowledge of the services they are to render to customers, before they’d even hit the training room. The challenge is to make sure that the centre and business retain control of information distribution, or else freely give the tools of their trade to competitors.
Keep people skills fresh
Business process invests in numbers and statistics, but call centres need to more continuously strike that balance between the numbers, and the agents generating them. Providing a stellar service in selling products, or providing solutions to disgruntled customers, all hinge on call centre agents’ ability to connect with people. If the starting point is the customer’s needs being serviced and met, then it stands to reason that a successful agent is one that can place herself in those customers’ shoes, and imagine whether or not her service as call centre agent was successfully provided, had she been the customer. Invest in your agents’ people skills and train them to be able to engage their customers beyond the scope of the service or product.
To capitalize on those critical people and interpersonal skills, the best training offers regularly updated techniques and skills that foster agents’ abilities to connect emotionally with customers. Customer psychology should be a frequently updated touch point with agents, specifically the understanding that customers value more than just the solution to their problem, or the satisfaction of their product needs. They also value genuineness, honesty, and empathy from the people that sell and solve. They need to know that the agent cares about them on a personal level, and as repellent as the phrase “get in bed with the customer” might be, it is in essence what any effective agent needs to accomplish1. Once they have a positive, memorable service experience, they then automatically associate that satisfaction with the business and its service provision. Increased customer acquisition and retention are the direct benefits to the centre’s profits, should this kind of people-centric customer focus stay actively and constantly refreshed through agent up-skilling and training.
The beauty of effective call centre training is that, when approached with the above-mentioned human connections, it can work in both directions: agents are trained to offer genuine interest, empathy, and sales solutions to customers. Conversely, genuine emotional investment and interest in agents, as provided by trainers, managers, and support staff, can be an especially impactful – not to mention cost-effective – tool for profitability. The fact that a manager genuinely cares for their agents, and supports them while they do their work, goes the distance for keeping up morale and floor spirit. Paying individual attention to each agent, not just with an eye on pure quality, but what leads or detracts from that quality, means a more dedicated workforce that is open to guidance and continuous improvement. After all, “it’s not what you say that matters, it’s how you say it” counts as much for agents addressing customers, as it does for trainers or managers when addressing agents. Track data and statistics about each agent, and engage with them person to person whenever necessary. This will improve your staff retention, which prevents profitability loss due to high turnover.
Manage trainee expectations
No individual that walks through the doors of any kind of job training room, appreciates finding out that there are hidden catches to the job. Few people appreciate any hidden clauses, or find job specification ‘interpretations’ palatable, and rarely stick around. No business can be expected to reveal its inmost workings to people that are not even employed by it. The same honesty that is valued by customers, is also valued by agents that know the score, and what the requirements and demands of the job involve. Being a call centre agent is not a job for everyone, and while many people can make it work, these people – sooner rather than later – fail out of the race, because they did not know fully what they signed up for. Manage trainee expectations. Start with honesty, and see who sticks around. The ones that don’t, could have been less-than-ideal stragglers on your floor, had you not weeded them out of the training process.
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