10 Characteristics of a Great Contact Center Agent Learning Experience
We can all remember the first few days of any new job. Anxious. Excited. Overwhelmed. Onboarding -- the first few weeks of an employee’s life with an organization -- is often overlooked. In fact, Gallup found that only 12% of employees strongly agreed that their organization was doing a great job onboarding new employees. And yet, research conducted by Glassdoor found that well thought out onboarding improves employee retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.
Onboarding takes on a whole new meaning when a good percentage of your call center team is working remotely. This new reality provides organizations with an opportunity (and requirement) to revisit both their contact center agent onboarding and training strategies in earnest.
For the most part, everyone agrees that a blended learning environment that leverages a wide range of channels and approaches is the most engaging and effective. For the contact center, e-learning is key to pulling it all together through practice and testing. With that in mind, if you are embarking on revamping your contact center training, the following are 10 key requirements for a successful agent learning experience:
1. Have a Plan
It goes without saying that you need a plan; however, for a remote working environment, the plan must be specific. In the past, you may have hired contact center agents in groups to fill a classroom. Or accommodated a single agent with less formal on-the-job training. Your new plan needs to be able to accommodate a single agent as well as larger teams of agents. And it must guide an agent through every minute of the day without the benefit of a course instructor. The following requirements will be important to achieving that.
2. Be Clear About Learning Outcomes
One of the key shortcomings of many call center training programs is the fact that the learning outcomes are ambiguous. As a result, the learning content is not precise and tends to miss the mark.
As you review your course content ask yourself: What is it the agent needs to do and know when they are on-the-job? Do they need to know the psychology behind different types of customers or just be able to identify how to best engage with them? Or, do they really need to know how an ACD works? No. However, they do need to understand what happens to customer wait time when they don’t log in according to the schedule. Yes, it may be interesting to know. Yes, it may be valuable to know at some point. But does the agent need to know that now? Many times, the answer will be ‘no’.
Think about everything a new (or existing) agent needs to know and do. It can be overwhelming even for the most seasoned agent. That’s why it makes a lot of sense to separate out those things that they need to know verbatim, off-the-top of their head from those things that can be quickly looked-up. Then give them lots of time to practice looking things up.
3. Embrace your Learning Management System
While you may have leveraged e-learning in a rudimentary way to cover off some content, now is the time to embrace the Learning Management System (LMS). Your learning assets (e.g. e-learning, video, PDF, etc.) can all be uploaded to the Learning Management System, which makes them accessible for remote and local learners alike. Importantly, it tracks each learner’s progress, test results, and other key details while at the same time guiding agents through their own learning path.
With that in mind, make sure your LMS has the ability to create custom learning paths for specific roles within the contact center and provides testing with real-time reporting. This is particularly important for remote call center agents, as you will want to know how well they are embracing the content and progressing through the course. You will want to reach out with a timely phone call or chat if you feel they are not on track.
If you don’t have an LMS, or just want to try one out, there are lots of FREE options available that are just fine for smaller organizations.
By owning your own content and hosting it on your own LMS, you will be able to avoid costly per-learner fees common with off-the-shelf contact center learning programs. Also see Customize to Your Environment.
TIP! If you are purchasing e-learning or having it developed by a third party, be sure it is SCORM compliant. You can upload a SCORM compliant course and it will work perfectly on most Learning Management Systems.
4. Leverage a Blended Learning Approach
The learning environment you are able to create is paramount to contact center agent engagement. How do we create a pleasant and informative learning experience without the benefit of casual person-to-person engagement? It’s not easy to shadow someone or sit side-by-side when you are working remotely. And the camaraderie experienced in a new hire classroom is just not the same on a Zoom call.
A ‘Peer Coach” is a qualified contact center agent who works in the same/similar capacity to that of the learner/agent. The Peer Coach works with the agent, in a confidential manner, to reflect on what has been learned, to expand, refine, and build on skills, share ideas and generally help support the agent through the learning process.
While you may think that simply delivering your traditional classroom courses via webinar is the best option, it is challenging even for the most engaged agent to be attentive for more than an hour.
Given this new reality, most organizations are moving to a ‘blended’ learning environment. The first few days of a new contact center employee may look something like this:
DAY 1: Introduction – Supervisor + Peer Coach (Live Zoom Meeting)
Check-in Peer Coach (Live Telephone Call)
DAY 2-3: System Training (eLearning, Video, Off-line Practice, Live Webinar)
Check-in with Peer Coach (Live Telephone Call)
DAY 4-5: Policies & Procedures (eLearning)
Scenario Testing (eLearning)
DAY 6-7: Soft Skills Training (eLearning)
Roleplaying with Peer Coach (Live Telephone Call)
Do you think they are a good fit within your organization and the role? Are they grasping the content and work to be done? Do you want to continue to invest in this employee’s development? If the answer is ‘yes’, then now is the time to bring them into the office for more advanced training.
DAY 8: Tour and Meet + Greet
Side-by-Side Monitoring with Peer Coach (Live)
DAY 9: Advanced System Training (Classroom)
DAY 10+: Take calls (limited scope queue)
Leverage your LMS to guide the learners through each step. For example, if the agent has side-by-side monitoring planned for the day, introduce an e-Learning module (no more than 2 minutes) that explains side-by-side monitoring etiquette (e.g. no interrupting, fidgeting, gum chewing, ask questions, etc.). When they have completed the monitoring, have them debrief by way of an online test/checklist. This will not only reinforce what they have learned but also give you the tracking/reporting you need to make sure they are progressing as planned.
5. Customize Learning to Your Environment
Taking advantage of off-the-shelf e-learning makes a lot of sense, particularly for soft skills or other common topics that work across different industries. However, it is important that the examples and the testing be FULLY aligned with your environment. It can be very confusing for an agent who is providing support for men’s wear customers to be learning about features and benefits by way of a shipping container example.
The same is true of testing. The importance of relevant testing can’t be emphasized enough. Once again, if the testing is generic, your agents will have a ‘general’ idea of the content. However, if the testing is fully customized to your environment, they will be better able to comprehend and apply what they have learned.
For example, if you are conducting testing around the skill Empathy, include calls (real or re-enacted) from your center where empathy was missed or expressed and ask the agent to evaluate the call. Hearing realistic examples will add tons of value to the learning experience.
VereQuest’s Check-Up™ program allows you to take advantage of well-tested content and models that can be fully aligned with your environment and hosted on your own LMS. Importantly, the testing is 100% customized to your industry and organization. You own the content and can avoid costly per learner fees associated with generic call center agent training.
6. Design for New Employees AND Existing Agent Coaching
The majority of effort around training is typically focused on new hire training. However, the real benefit of a renewed learning strategy is for closing performance gaps for existing agents as well.
There are typically three reasons why agents do not do what we ask of them: (1) They don’t know how; (2) They have forgotten; or (3) They don’t want to. Obviously #3 needs a different kind of conversation. However, if an agent understands theoretically what needs to be done but is struggling to translate theory into real-life action or the agent has simply forgotten, e-learning can be a big help. By reviewing a short module, the agent is receiving the reminder they need to take responsibility for their own performance and saved their supervisor valuable time.
7. Keep it Short
First of all, it is important to note that one minute of classroom time does not translate into one minute of online training. An e-learning course can take anywhere from 40% to 75% less time to complete than a traditional classroom course.
When designing contact center agent e-learning, most experts agree that a good length for a web-based course is somewhere between 5-30 minutes. This builds on psychological research, specific content patterns and, more often than not, gut feeling. And, when it comes to contact center agents, also makes learning much more flexible for day-to-day scheduling. It is so much easier to fit a few 15-minute modules into the schedule than a ½ day classroom-based workshop.
8. Work to Keep it Engaging
Not all e-learning is created equal. We've all seen call center agents' eyes glaze over just minutes into a video or e-learning module. Just because you have added a few clipart characters or a video or two doesn’t mean that it will be more engaging. There are lots of ways to engage learners. Here are three tried and true design principles to keep in mind:
It is more effective to use a combination of media types than using text alone or video alone. The most effective pairing is visual and audio together. Bear in mind that people can generally only pay attention to one visual and one audio element at a given time and so keep it uncomplicated.
Keep it simple. The way you present information also directly impacts learning. The elements you do not include are just as important as the ones you do include. Over-explaining or including too many types of media may overwhelm the learner, so get rid of whatever isn’t necessary.
People generally absorb information more effectively when they feel like there’s a ‘human’ element included and when content is personalized, conversational, and informal. So incorporate one-on-one conversations with subject matter experts wherever possible.
TIP! If you are using stock photo images in your learning (which makes perfect sense) make sure you have lots of diversity. A great resource for contact center agent and customer images of this type is https://depositphotos.com.
9. Keep Testing at the Forefront
Many online learning programs tend to treat the testing component as an after-thought. Once again, go back to the Learning Outcomes and make sure the testing is both customized and aligned with your goals. Wherever possible, incorporate a variety of testing modalities and (particularly for contact center agents) lots of audio/chat/email examples of customer interactions that include both best practices and disasters to illustrate the reality of contact center life.
When designed well, testing can also act as a great onboarding tool for experienced call center agents, allowing them to fast-track through the course as long as they pass the testing.
For more sophisticated environments, role-playing can be a critical tool. For example, after completing several soft skills modules and successfully passing the tests for comprehension, it makes sense to introduce a formal role-play to enable them to safely practice (and test) their ability to put what they have learned into a live environment. You can hire a third party to help you with this or (better yet) recruit a few seasoned agents to participate.
10. Make Sure It Can Be Easily Updated
If there is anything the last few years have taught us is that you cannot predict what changes are going to take place in the contact center. The frontline contact center agent is often the first point of contact when change occurs.
Therefore, it is paramount that you be able to easily update your learning – without the need for complex programming or specialized support. Being able to update content yourself is not only cost-effective but, most importantly, time-sensitive. With that in mind, if you are building e-learning internally, choose your authoring software carefully. The flashiest e-learning will not be helpful if it is constantly out of date.
Contact center agents learn best when they are given only the essential pieces of information needed to understand a concept and the ability to practice and apply their skills in a real environment. Simplicity and clarity are key.
As the role of the contact center agent evolves, greater demand for more sophisticated skills and practical learning will grow. How you address that need – and, in turn, the needs of your customers – will be key to your success.
Sharon Oatway is President & Chief Experience Officer of VereQuest. Sharon is a Customer Service, Sales, and Marketing professional with more than three decades of hands-on experience elevating the overall customer experience along with multi-channel contact center performance. Sharon and her team at VereQuest have listened to/read and analyzed several million customer interactions for some of North America’s leading brands. As a result, Sharon is a recognized thought-leader in what it takes to build and sustain great customer experiences.
Established in 2002, VereQuest provides organizations with a wide range of contact center services including a library of multi-channel e-learning modules and a robust contact center quality monitoring offering. Working with businesses throughout North America, VereQuest provides a unique perspective on a complex, ever-changing customer environment.
Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.