North American Customer Service Management Association

Support for Contact Center Professionals

Phase 3 Strategy - Step 4 Onboarding Program

Onboarding

Research and corporate policy suggests that new hires should receive 90 days to prove themselves in a new job. The faster new hires feel welcome and more importantly feel prepared to do their jobs, the faster they will be able to successfully contribute to the contact center’s mission, production and bottom line.

So, let’s say you’ve had a successful recruiting and selection process; the next step in the process is onboarding. Onboarding is the most overlooked step when bringing on new employees. When used effectively, it can have an impact on employees staying longer than 90 days. Every year, 25 percent of the working population (this percentage goes up for contact centers) makes a job change.
Onboarding helps new hires adjust to the social and performance aspects of their jobs so they can quickly become productive, contributing members of the organization. HR departments are usually overworked and understaffed which typically leads to being unable to include a comprehensive onboarding strategy that meshes with the contact center.
What tools are needed to provide an effective onboarding process in your contact center? Where does the onboarding process fit in the larger picture? How can new hires facilitate their own onboarding process?
Formal or Informal

Organizations that implement a formal onboarding program move to the front of the line.

The structure,with written policies, procedures and support, guide new hires through the maze of job tasks and socialization. A step-by-step program teaching new agents their roles, what the norms are within the company and how to behave, are more effective than when new agents are left to “sink or swim”. When left on their own, new hires don’t always figure out how things are done and end up struggling to be successful.
A contact center’s intentions are well meant in providing orientation and training, introducing agents to supervisors and managers, reviewing company history, products and services, new hire paperwork and of course policy and procedures. It feels like drinking out of a fire hose! This fast and furious approach is too much, too fast and does little to fend off early attrition. Losing good people in the first 90 days is a symptom of the onboarding process or lack there of. Tracking this metric tells the real story.
Top contact centers take the time and spread the onboarding period over several months featuring new employee-centric activities that facilitate learning and promote a sense of belonging. They even start the onboarding process well before the agent is hired with a comprehensive pre-hire job preview. This is critical for candidates who have never worked in a contact center. New agents leave because they didn’t understand that they sit at a small desk and take calls all day. Providing a clear and honest picture of the good, bad and the ugly is setting the expectations from the start. You eliminate potential “don’t fit” agents before they start.
Invite agents to talk with potential candidates during the pre-hire process. Let agents and candidates talk as peers; perhaps even have the agent take the candidate on a tour of the contact center. Have candidates listen to calls and watch the agents engage, providing time for the candidate to ask questions. The more a candidate experiences, the clearer the expectations become.
Thus, the turnover, especiallyin the first 90 days, is minimized and agents are better connected to corporate strategy and company culture.
The Four Components of an Onboarding Program

- Compliance is the most basic. It includes introducing new employees to basic policy and procedures, rules and regulations, and is delivered during the orientation or new hire training phase.
- Clarification is when new employees understand their new jobs and all the expectations. When done well there are no questions about what is expected.
- Culture includes providing new agents with a sense of organizational norms or cues – how to behave in the contact center. Norms are both formal and informal. When new employees are left on their own to figure these out it can take some additional time as well as a few awkward or unintentional situations that may require verbal and written warnings.
- Connection refers to setting the stage for information and message flow through an organization. New agents must establish interpersonal relationships and information networks to get things done.
The degree to which the contact center encourages these four components determines its overall onboarding success. Most contact centers cover the first two: compliance and clarification and miss culture and connection. Rarely are culture and connection delivered in any formal manner. HR sees onboarding as a “checklist” item and as far as they are concerned, Employee Handbooks cover the minimum expectations.
Proactive onboarding will move your contact center onboarding program to the ultimate level by integrating all four components. Only about 20% of all organizations achieve this. Most skip it because so many other items on the new hire “checklist” more urgent and/or important, to get the agents on the phones quickly.
Benefits of an Onboarding Program

- Increased Job Satisfaction – When people feel included and connected to the team, they tend to stick around. When new employees make friends and build relationships, they feel satisfied and stick around. Most people find that it comes down to the people they work with, not so much the job itself that gives job satisfaction. When people are feeling satisfied they are more likely to perform.
- Increased Performance – When new hires are crystal clear on expectations and objectives they will perform. Too many times new agents are shuffled into the training room for a quick introduction to the contact center managers who proceed to explain their expectations of the agent. It’s usually too early in the training, the presentation is too fast, and when the agents hit the floor they aren’t sure what they heard and are unclear on what’s expected of them. In fear of looking bad no one asks for clarity.
- Better Retention - When agents don’t obtain the metrics they are expected to it, leads to turnover. By clarifying the expectations and providing support, you build the relationship between your new employee and the contact center. Building relationships with feedback, coaching and follow up sets everyone up for a long-term relationship.
Short and Long Term Results

New Agent Adjustment – Effective onboarding can improve retention rates, time to productivity, customer satisfaction and employee job fulfillment. Here are a few key aspects that must be include in your onboarding program.

- New agents need self-confidence in job performance. The new hire that feels confident in doing their job will be more motivated and eventually more successful compared to less-confident peers. Self-assurance drives commitment, satisfaction and turnover. What activities can you include in the onboarding program to rapidly boost new hire self-confidence?
- Role ambiguity starts when agents are unclear of their role, its objectives and how to perform their job within the organization’s expectations. A well-onboarded agent will have role clarity and understand what is expected of them. When the objectives are fuzzy, you will not get the results you need and performance issues will continue to rise and many times leads to termination.
- Social integration includes working with contact center “insiders”. New agents need to feel socially comfortable and accepted by peers and managers. When new employees feel accepted they are considered “adjusted”. Managers that fail to establish successful relationships with their team are vulnerable to unadjusted agents, turnover and disappointment.
Losing an agent who is a poor fit or not performing well is an understandable outcome in those situations, but losing an agent because they are confused, feeling alienated or lacked confidence indicates an insufficient onboarding process.

Tips!

1. Help new employees with the informal norms; “how things get done” at your company. The unspoken rules and ways to communicate, how to behave and how to get accepted and make friends quickly.
2. Create opportunities for employees to meet others including one level up and/or down. Encourage managers to participate in internal networking events, company lunches and other social events.

Take the Next Step!

In summary,a formal onboarding plan includes all four components: compliance, clarification, culture and connection. Most contact centers meet the mark on the first two; the areas of improvement are culture and connection. Building an onboarding plan that goes beyond the initial orientation builds connection to peers, management and the company. This could take several months including activities that help the new agent understand the “norms” of the center. A structured onboarding approach shows that when onboarding is done correctly, it leads to:
- Higher job satisfaction
- Organizational commitment
- Lower turnover
- Higher performance levels
- Career effectiveness
- Lowered stress
A formal, well thought out onboarding plan and successful implementation is the first and best defense against attrition. Make it a priority and you will be pleased with the results.

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