Call Center Agent Onboarding: What is the Right Strategy

The contact center as an organization that provides customer service totally depends on the performance, knowledge, and skills of its employees. As the agents are those who directly talk to customers, solve their problems, process support tickets, and do other tasks that relate to customer support, there is no other way to furnish excellent service instead to train and coach agents to assist them in reaching the highest level of knowledge and skills in the customer service industry.

Nonetheless, contact centers bear high turnover and low employee retention rates, so you provide call center new hire proper training more often than it happens in other niches. Another factor is that candidates for the operators' positions are almost always people without experience and special education (such an education just doesn’t exist), and even if a person has been working as an operator before, your department may strongly differ from his previous job.  Thus, agent onboarding is vital for any company as it’s the only way to prepare workers for their position. 

Anyhow, this statement should have been clear to you even before we explained it. So what is the reason for this guide? Why should we discuss the onboarding call center process flow in detail?

Firstly, most managers organize the onboarding of call center agents in the wrong way. Secondly, this approach causes many problems in the future. Finally, a thoughtful and well-developed onboarding process bears a powerful impact on agent performance and productivity since their first work shifts. 

According to this, we will try to answer the following questions: Why does onboarding matter? How should you organize the agent onboarding process? What is call center nesting? What are the best agent onboarding tips? 

We present you with the most complex call center onboarding checklist. 

In this article you will find:

Onboarding in other industries

Why is call center agent onboarding crucial?

What should an agent learn before starting work?

Best call center onboarding tips

Onboarding among other industries

Even though you might think that every business takes into account that onboarding is an irreplaceable part of hiring strategy and acclimatization plan, that is not true. In accordance with the research, almost a quarter of all companies in a market just haven’t even developed and implemented onboarding strategies, while half of all firms use poorly developed and inadequate onboarding programs. 

As a consequence, new employees feel isolated and frustrated as they don’t understand their experienced colleagues and can’t build relationships with them. Thus, they may either perform poorly or even decide to leave and find another job with a less stressful atmosphere among the staff. 

But what are the specific markers of the onboarding process in a call center? Let us discover this together.

Why call center agent onboarding is crucial? 

As we have already mentioned, customer service agents' skills and knowledge are the fundamental factors of overall call center performance. Even though self-service becomes extremely important and popular, most people still come for assistance from real operators - no matter does it happen by email, phone, or web chat. 

The main goal for the agent is to resolve the customer's issues and provide them with satisfactory service and experience, ideally doing so during the first contact. Such service is possible only with the special skill set and deep knowledge of products and services, customer expectations, wishes, and service standards of the company. 

As you could guess, a person who enters your office for the first time in his life doesn’t have anything from the mentioned skill pack. So, you have to train and coach new agents to make them meet your expectations and the firm’s key performance indicators and other metrics - that is what the onboarding looks like.

What should the operators know before starting the work?

  • Hard skills: strong knowledge of products, services, and software that is used to furnish customer service is vital. No agent can perform without an understanding of what the customer has purchased and how it works, or how to transfer the call, hold it or escalate(if needed). If the agent isn’t trained to work with his account and knows product features, pros and cons, and other significant characteristics, you will get nothing but angry customers, low customer satisfaction, and retention. 
  • Communication demands and standards: if the agent isn’t acknowledged of company’s values, client communication rules, and standards, he will not be able to provide customers with adorable service, and this can greatly harm the firm’s image, especially if the permanent client will face this inexperienced and badly trained operator. 
  • Soft skills: such irreplaceable skills as active listening, adaptability, and emphatic communication manner should be gained if not during the onboarding process, then nearly after its end. Every customer support agent has to bear special soft skills set to provide really enjoyable service. If someone doesn’t have such skills, then it is almost definitely that this agent hasn’t got the needed amount of training time.
  • Policies and procedures: such things as escalation, transferring calls, avoidance rules, and so on have to be learned ideally. Every new hire should keep in mind that company rules are a rudimentary part of his job and they should be followed no matter the occurrences. 
  • Customer satisfaction achievement: every agent has to learn the factors that influence customer satisfaction and have an effect on customer experience. Every call center has its own standards for providing excellent customer service, and the agent has to know these standards and follow them. 

The most significant onboarding tips for every call center

Now, when you are confident that the onboarding process is vital and its avoiding may lead to an unpleasant experience and results for your team, it is time to go further and discover some really useful, proven by time and practice, and resultative tips that can powerfully boost the effectiveness of your onboarding strategy. Let us begin!

Introduce the firm’s values to the newbies

Only ⅔ organizations pay attention to describing company values to new hires while others just ignore this part and begin from something else to start the onboarding process. It has no arguments in its favor because you can easily allocate one additional day before the onboarding starts to invite a hire to the office and tell him all about your business’s goals, standards, and principles.

This is extremely influential because when new workers don’t get what and why they should put their effort, time, and energy into, their work looks useless, and they would prefer to swap the working place for another, that can offer them purpose. 

Let employees understand how the company positions itself, what are the approaches to customers, and what are the main goals of your customer service department - make the client happy, satisfied, or something else. 

Make sure that newbies feel and comprehend the essence of business values, company culture, targets, and purpose, so they will know what they are expected to do. 

Ensure that all units and team members take part in onboarding

It is not enough to give the task to the supervisor, group leader, or HR manager to control and organize the onboarding process - all staff members should participate in it and pay their own contributions to the newbie’s growth and development. Take care of involving leaders in all stages to be applied in training a new agent, so there will be no misunderstandings or barriers for them to partake in this procedure. 

Every team leader or manager who should pay attention to onboarding the employees has to have direct and precise tasks, instructions, and terms concerning it. This relates to the technical department, HR unit, and especially supervisors. Every one of these units has its own task in the onboarding procedure - no matter if it is acknowledging the worker with software and equipment, or salary issues. 

That is why we say that all staff members and leaders should take the mentorship above new hires, not only one specialist who can’t cover all aspects of the job by himself only.

The role of every leader in the onboarding process is distinct: the supervisor may play the role of a communicating point, so he will describe to the agent the nature of the job, main aspects, and nuances, important things to learn, and administrative issues, such as scheduling, workplace location, breaks, and behavior policies.

IT unit has its responsibility to provide the new operator with technical knowledge and equipment, such as the right instruments and technologies - creating and setting up the account in the call center system, describing when and how this software works and how to use its features. 

An HR manager oughts to explain some organizational nuances, such as salary issues, legal aspects, vacations, rewards, career perspectives, and so on. 

It is also vital to make sure that the leading manager will be involved in all aspects of agents’ onboarding path, and there will be no problems with accessibility to information about what have other departments done for newbies’ onboarding. 

The manager should not only control the process on his own but also become a person who is trusted by agents and who can be asked for everything they need or want to know. Managers play the biggest role since onboarding started, so the ideal situation is when you as a manager get in close contact with agents or you even become their friend. 

Train them on a real example

The easiest way to avoid agent dissatisfaction, and potential turnover is to provide them with additional internal communication and mentorship of an experienced professional who will play the role of everyday coach and share his skills and knowledge with the new hires.

Who suits the best for such a task? Surely, an experienced call center agent who has a long and successful career in the industry and knows everything about how call center operations are going on in your team. Use operators to coach operators, and this will be the fastest, the most qualitative, and the most enjoyable onboarding experience for them.

The first time in an agent’s position is very emotionally stressful and difficult for the worker. He can be frustrated by the number of unsolved problems of clients, untactful conversations, and other issues that often happen in our niche. Another problem is the feeling of total isolation and loneliness that sometimes meets the operators. 

With close communication between the experienced worker and a newbie, the starter will discover that it is an achievable goal for him to become a successful customer service specialist and deal with all problems - both personal and customer’. 

Show real cases and play roles

One of the most resultative and popular training tactics that are used for already experienced agents is roleplay, where one of the operators is a “customer”, and another is an operator. Use a similar model to onboard new workers, and let them try every one of the roles, so they can see how an encountered professional answers “client’s” queries, and try to become a real operator without a chance to do something wrong. 

Another great idea is to let the skilled agents describe the most popular cases and questions that they face every day. They can divide requests into groups by topics and tell a newbie the most popular appeals regarding every topic, so he will understand and discover the questions that will face him in the nearest future. 

On the other hand, let your professionals tell some confusing stories about the real situations when they couldn’t deal with customer troubles, so the new call center employee will get that such occasions may happen with everyone, even with the best specialists.

Use training dialogues in the software interface

Another almost real practice is when the manager designs some request tickets, create a new account for a newbie and let him sign in, and makes him deal with these tickets. 

This tactic works to make a fresh agent see all well-known and popular queries that will meet him during real work, and find resolution paths in a training mode to be prepared for the authentic cases. 

Manager’s goal is to control this process and see how an employee performs to notice the improvement areas and some tips for further training sessions. Such monitoring makes the onboarding process more personalized and productive, as every hire has its own skill pack, knowledge level, and ability to train. 

Operate live requests too

When the agent has enough experience with dealing with fake tickets, roleplays, and other training games and activities, he is ready for some real trial. Of course, you can’t let him process phone calls as they are difficult to control when in progress, so to avoid any troubles use some not up-to-second digital channel of communication. 

Social networks, messenger, or email are ideal to let the newbie test himself with real clients. As these channels don’t require immediate response(but the time is limited too), give a task to one of your trusted subordinates to control the newbie’s responses and approve them before sending. This is a real-time experience with real buyers that can’t lead to trouble, because it is totally under your control. On the contrary, it lets the agent feel who it is to work in reality. 

Closely control client satisfaction

Even though you have to let the operator begin handling live requests, it is vital to take control of the customer reviews of his performance. As newbies don’t have enough practice and experience, they are more likely to make mistakes and provide poor service.

Let one of the proficient operators or managers control all customer interactions and every feedback about newbies’ performance, and come with constructive feedback about it to avoid the same mistakes in the future. 

In addition, help the onboarding operator to handle calls of dissatisfied clients to let them deal with difficult and stressful situations, that will definitely face in the future. 

Build and operate the knowledge bases

What is easier - answering every question of the agents personally, repeating every statement, again and again, year by year? Or is it wiser to design and develop a single thoughtful and detailed knowledge base that will contain answers to all the potential questions for both operators and clients? We bet that you know the right answer.

This solution has numerous advantages: customers adore and love self-servicing options, and the knowledge base is really great for those who don’t want to link to live operators, wait in the queue, face transfers, and other issues to get the short answer. Contrastively, what can be better than a resource that can respond to all agents’ questions without any effort from your side? 

Such a base easily boosts agents' knowledge about the product and company and reduces the number of unnecessary calls. Finally, the development of a knowledge base costs too little to deny it. 

Celebrate it

How long does it take to end the onboarding process? One month? Two months? Maybe three? 

To say the truth, in the real world new hires need much more time to become really acknowledged of all processes in the company, become a part of a team, start feeling self-confident and be ready for further challenges(onboarding is the challenge itself)

Let us say that true onboarding ends after the first year, so organize a little event on that score. Track such dates and organize little vacations to let agents know that you have looked for their professional path for all that time, and know it is a moment to set new goals, select new targets, face new challenges, and become even better.

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