What are the main stages of call center training?
Let’s start from the beginning. Agent training process usually incorporates several stages. The latter may vary based on the type of call center that you want to organize. For example, if it’s an outsourced call center, onboarding might take a little longer compared to an in-house facility. I’ll explain, keep reading.
Stage 1: Language training
In outsourced call centers, the very first step on the road to becoming a call center agent is a brief language training. A candidate should speak pretty good English already, so it’s usually a quick session that includes some general pieces of advice on pronunciation, intonation, tone, vocabulary, grammar, and accent.
Stage 2: Call Center Basics
The next stage is learning the basics of call flow and developing call handling skill. Such competencies are trained during mock calls — a realistic roleplay, during which the candidates practice talking to customers, learn to ask effective questions and address most frequent customer concerns. This stage usually takes no longer than a week. Some call centers skip it and teach candidates to handle calls as they go.
The two previous steps are considered introductory in outsourced call centers because they are similar to every facility regardless of the “account” — a company that hired outsourced agents. All the following steps are essential to every call center whether it’s outsourced or not.
Stage 3: Product-Specific Training
Learning company’s product is a fundamental stage in call center agent preparation. Ideally, call center agents must have the product off pat so that they would be able to provide better customer support or close more deals. This is probably the most boring part of a call center training, but it’s absolutely necessary. Product-specific training usually ends up with a couple of written tests and a series of mock calls. It always incorporates a lot of information, so it’s a good idea to provide agents with printed handouts or at least encourage them to bring pen and paper for taking notes.
Stage 4: Shadowing and Nesting
This is the 'finish line' of agent training. Upon the completion of this stage, call center trainee becomes call center agent and moves on to the probation.
- 'Shadowing' is a process during which a trainee basically follows an experienced rep, listens to their calls for a couple of days, takes notes, asks questions, and makes the best use of this temporary partnership. They both wear a double jack headset to ensure training in real time.
- At 'nesting' phase, a candidate does all the tasks of a call center operator. This is a transition stage between training and probation, so an average working day during nesting does not typically last more than six hours.
Agent training: The 6 actionable tips
Now that we’ve covered the basic agent training stages, let’s move on to some working pieces of advice which you can use for training your agents.
#1 Set clear expectations from the start
The best prevention from high turnover is hiring people who are right for the job. Working in a call center is definitely not for everyone, and you want to make sure that candidates understand not only the benefits but the downsides of this position. Let the candidate know that working in a call center is no bed of roses. A good idea would be to have them listen to a really good call, a typical call, and a really bad one. Be very straightforward about stress, long working hours, night shifts. Once you are sure the candidate understands and accepts all the pros and cons of this job, you can start training.
#2 Develop a knowledge database
Onboarding process is sometimes overwhelming. The trainees can easily get lost in an abundance of information and technical terminology. That’s why you should consider creating a knowledge base that will incorporate all the necessary information so that the employees could refresh their memory at any given moment. Such knowledge base can become a great time saver as it will provide agents with quick answers to the most common questions.
#3 Train agents to use technology
It’s essential that agents have all the necessary skills for using the technology that you implement in your call center. Namely, there shouldn’t be any confusion as to where they can find a client card in CRM, how to update customer information and manage calls. If you notice that agents are not very confident, it’s a signal that you need to conduct a corresponding training session. Also, a technology use training is a must whenever you implement a new solution, such as an outbound call center software.
#4 Gamify training process
Gamification is a great strategy for any organization trying to motivate their employees, and it surely can be adopted in a call center. The desire to progress to the next level, to get a badge, or to win a reward is in the human nature. Start with the simplest things. Call onboarding process a “beginner’s level” and then outline all the ways a new employee can “upgrade” in your company. Also, introduce rewards for achievements. This will make trainees more involved.
#5 Keep your newbies engaged
A successful completion of training does not guarantee that agents will stay in the company for a long time. People are social animals, so it’s paramount for us to feel connected with the environment we are working in. If an employee feels isolated, there are more chances they will dislike their job and quit. Develop a culture of cooperation and support in your call center. One way of doing it is organizing social events for employees outside of the company. Another great strategy is assigning a mentor to every newbie. An experienced peer can help the new agent adapt to the job and become more comfortable within the team.
#6 Set clear objectives
Don’t expect your candidates to succeed as agents if you don’t teach them your brand’s objectives. Whereas it’s important to discuss your company’s history and values, it’s even more critical to talk about the vision of your business. Make sure your agents know what tasks to prioritize and what goals to focus on. Namely, if it’s more important for your company to provide top-notch customer service, then agents should disregard average handling time and listen to each customer for as long as it’s necessary. This way, you’ll ensure the best business results.
How to improve agent training program?
The truth is, there’s not much variety that you can offer when it comes to agent training. There will always be a lot of listening, observing, and memorizing. However, it’s possible to make training more engaging and thus easier for trainees to complete.
Leveraging learning styles
When it comes to acquiring new information, we all have different learning styles. There is one interesting framework developed by Honey and Mumford back in the early 90-ies that distinguishes the four learning styles based on individual preferences and natural propensities of each person:
- Activist - someone who learns by doing. Such trainees are most likely to switch off if you make them listen to calls and passively observe the workflow for too long.
- Theorist - someone who needs credibility during learning for the information to assimilate. If such candidates don’t understand the importance of their job for the company, there’s very little chance they will engage and succeed.
- Pragmatist - someone who processes information based on its practical significance. In other words, if such trainees are to spend three days listening to calls, make sure they understand why they need it and how it will benefit them later in the working process.
- Reflector - someone who needs to take their time to process new information in order to understand it. So if such candidates seem quiet and disengaged, it doesn’t mean they are bored. They just need to deal with it on their own.
The knowledge about agent’s learning styles will enable you to customize a training program so that everyone could get the best of it. You don’t have to conduct a learning style questionnaire for every batch of candidates. Just make sure that your training program is many-sided and that it incorporates activity, discussion, practice, and review part.
On a final note…
Your agents are the face of your business, so you should spend a reasonable amount of time and resources on training and preparation. The more competent and dedicated the agents are, the more success you’ll achieve in your business.