North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Step 2 Agent Skill Development & Ongoing Training


Ongoing training is designed to provide the knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSA) needed to do the current job better and plant the seeds for jobs in the future. Training never stops. Most companies never get past the new hire training because they are too busy putting out new hire classes. Experienced agents receive an average of six training days per year. The best companies in the world recognize that training is not a single event but an ongoing process. When you invest in your current workforce today it will pay out big dividends when expansion and growth occur later. Your current workforce needs to grow and expand right along with the contact center. A best practice is to provide recurring refresher courses and cross-training opportunities for existing employees.

- Refresher Courses
- New product and services
- Systems; applications and best practices
- Personal and Professional development

The best athletes know the power of practicing the basics. That’s all ballplayers do at spring training - practice the basics. Olympians spend years developing and practicing the basics. What agent skills, knowledge and attitudes should be reinforced?

Product Review
Nothing is more basic than product training. Most companies are good at training employees on their products. For agents to be truly credible with customers they need to be thoroughly fluent in your product knowledge. Not just what products and services you sell but what those products do, how customers use them and how customers benefit. What issues do customers experience and why? This includes keeping up with new products and services. Agents can become product authorities when they have used the products, even if in a lab or classroom setting. When agents believe in your products and convey this belief with confidence, customers respect agents more and gain the trust needed to resolved calls on the first call.

Systems & Applications
New hires are always rushed through new hire training; forced to learn new products, systems and proprietary applications. Bring them back after 90 days to review application best practices. Have your power users submit more efficient and effective ways to use the applications. They have figured out short cuts, tips and tricks. Cross-pollenate the knowledge. This can reduce your call times, improve first call resolution, reduce transfers and when you make the job easier you improve the morale and tenure.

In a contact center the more flexible agents can be, the more resourceful the site can be to the changing marketplace.

Cross-training agents allows them to “fill-in” when the site is short-handed for whatever reason. Many times, one product line queue is busier than others and being able to shift agents who are already trained reduces costs by leveraging internal talent. No contact center can afford to have agents sitting idle because they only know how to do one function. The more your agents know the more valuable they become. The more flexible and responsible the site is to callers.

Cross-trained agents become a hiring pool for promotions, special projects and management. The more in-depth technical knowledge an agent has the more valuable he becomes to the site. Agents are motivated to stick around when the company invests in their career development. The company sends the message that it is genuinely interested in the agent’s career growth. Perhaps you allow the most motivated and driven agents to self-select the cross-training opportunities and you sit back and watch the rising stars.

Cross-trained agents smooth out the ebb and flow of productivity when agents are out due to illness, emergency, injuries and other unavoidable absences. Team members can easily cover for an absent team member when they already are skilled in the absent team member’s key tasks, products and system applications.

Cross training eliminates skills’ gaps keeping your site up and running and always productive. It motivates agents, keeps them engaged and constantly growing and evolving and you raise the skill level of your entire workforce.

Compliance training is essential to educate employees about the industry and governmental laws and regulations that pertain to their tasks and duties in the workplace. Compliance training is the most important training an organization can do and yet it can be an after thought and put on the back burner for a rainy day.

Without proper training, the company may be at risk of lawsuits and penalties. To avoid potential risk, conduct on-going compliance training to educates the workforce on current and new regulations. If your industry is highly regulated, you know that regulations rarely stand still and to avoid penalties ongoing compliance training is a must.

Compliance training keeps agents updated on any regulation changes and how it impacts their jobs. The traditional “read and sign” compliance format is simple to implement but misses true knowledge integration. Many employees read the content and manage to pass the quiz at the end but are unable to apply it to their jobs. They fail to understand the regulations when asked about them. Regulatory auditors are seeing through the “read and sign” and are beginning to interview workers. The workforce must be prepared for compliance interrogation or jeopardize their entire operation.

Making compliance training as important as new hire and management training starts with a mindset shift. Compliance training doesn’t have to be painfully boring! The best compliance training courses are not only conducted in January but are integrated into your core business and reinforced throughout the year.

Next step is changing the mindset of the instructional design team. They need to approach compliance training as problem solvers; creating learning that is timely, relevant, meaningful and actionable. Create engaging compliance courses that facilitate the application of the regulations for true knowledge integration. Bring legalese topics into the real world to provide context and meaningful applications. Instructional designers need to step it up and make compliance more fun.

Holding training sessions helps employees understand the best practice standards and how to preform tasks more appropriately and efficiently. You develop a culture of compliance and how the culture values the laws, regulations, polices and procedures that it lives by.

Build your compliance training program around what laws and regulations affect job performance. What policies and procedures affect job performance? You can always layer in the “nice-to-know” material after the “need-to-know” has been mastered.

Most companies provide some kind of new hire training that includes product training, the history and story of the company, how to get your paycheck and benefits. What companies forget is those new hires are people and when you invest in making them better people you make better employees who will stick around. These folks who stick around also make great candidates for promotions with future responsibilities. Employees need to be prepared ahead of time. Waiting until you promote them is too late.

Provide an on-going personal development plan that includes awareness courses and activities, discovery of personal values, reflection time, and goal setting. Build into your program planning for career, relationship and self-improvement.

Hopefully a contact center values continuous improvement, not just of the site but personal continuous improvement. This value will help create a culture of personal self-development when employees see managers taking self-improvement courses. Everyone can benefit from becoming a better person. When people get better it raises the bar and the entire organization rises too. Why settle for allowing the site to sink to its lowest common denominator when it can rise to its highest numerator!

Tips!

You are the Example. What continuous self-improvement program have you completed lately? How can you share what you learned with your team? What is one thing you can implement because of training?
Cross Training – let agents self-select what skills, knowledge and attitudes they choose to develop. Watch the rising stars and groom them for management.

Take the Next Step!

Ongoing agent skill development and training raises the level of knowledge, skills and attitudes for the entire workforce therefore making the contact center more productive, competitive and self-reliant. The most successful companies never stop after the new hiring training. They continue with refresher courses on products, services, system application, soft skills and technical skills.

Cross-training agents makes agents more valuable; they can fill in at a moment’s notice. Agents who have been cross-trained to do everyone’s job inside out and backwards become a go-to-person. Many times, these people are highly driven and motivated and become rising stars for promotions. Invest in your people and they will invest in the company with tenure.

Don’t forget the compliance training and figure out how to make it fun! It is a vital part of the education and training plan and is usually the most dreaded to complete. Get the most out of the compliance training by making it more meaningful, applicable and engaging. You will not only meet the compliance requirement but employees will know how to apply regulations with complete knowledge integration.
Ongoing training is how the best keep getting better. Run to the finish line and collect the gold!

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Interior Designer

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Consultant

The North American Customer Service Management Association (NACSMA) assists Service Center professionals with improving the delivery of Customer Care to their clients by providing a collaborative networking approach to operational issues.