The COVID-19 pandemic did disrupt the old normal of grabbing coffee and rushing into the office. Today it’s more like hitting the alarm and running to your work desk to log in to take calls.
The pandemic did teach us new ways of adapting to the changing circumstances, and it taught most of us that what we do at work can be done in the comfort of our own homes.
The pandemic has evolved the mindset of the call center agents. They have chosen companies that offer remote or hybrid work environments, which has left call centers that require agents to work from a brick-and-mortar office to pay a premium to attract and retain talent.
Agent Attention, Respect
Call center training has also changed as agents are sensitive to the training provided during orientation and who rightly insist on being shown attention and respect.
I recall four trainees this year telling me that they left previous call center positions that paid more due to the poor quality of training offered.
One trainee mentioned that the training was supposed to be from 8 am to 5 pm. But the trainer stopped teaching the class at 3 pm because they were too tired and unorganized, jumping from one topic to the other without completing the first topic.
Another trainee mentioned that she left because she was given just three days of training and then placed on the phone to assist callers with processing healthcare applications. She did it for the first week and found herself unable to assist callers with understanding questions on the application.
But when she asked for assistance via chat, her team leads, supervisors, and trainer ignored her for over an hour before replying to her messages. She felt frustrated and then applied to our call center.
To circumvent this challenge, change what gets delivered, engage different learning styles, review content constantly, bring in other trainers, and ask agents and call center leadership to get involved in training.
I recall a trainee telling me that she saw and or heard from her supervisor just once in the three months of training. I believe this practice needs to be different, so each week of training, the leadership team either presents training materials or checks in with the class. It makes the class feel connected with leadership and helps the leadership teams build rapport.
Call center agents also want ongoing training and feedback with the remote or hybrid work environment present. Out of sight should never be out of mind.
I find that some folks are comfortable and get set in their ways, but others want to keep improving. And when they find themselves stagnating in a role that doesn’t invest in their development, they decide to move on.
Keeping up with Processes, Information
Further, call center processes and information change, and the call center training must keep up with these changes for the training to be relevant to the job.
I recall an agent telling me that they were taught in training in a previous job to do things in a certain way.
But when they moved to the floor, they saw processes performed in a different system, and during mentoring, their mentor told them to forget everything they learned while in the class.
The agent felt disheartened after discovering that she spent time learning the training material and passing the practice tests only to find out that none of the content prepared her for the calls.
To prevent this from happening, the training teams need to connect with the call center team by listening to calls, watching agents take calls, and identifying training needs from call center leadership, quality assurance (QA), and agents.
When you can help your trainees understand the more definite purpose for their work, other than just a number meeting many numbers, you get committed agents who want to make an impact, one call at a time.
The same goes for agents who don’t find that they contribute to a more significant cause.
Remember, don’t expect people to know that they are making a difference. Spell it out to them, and provide them with stories of how your company has been able to help customers or the community.
The company culture plays another crucial role set by the leadership team. How do leaders react to challenges, communicate with staff, do they offer rewards to encourage positive behaviors, coach, and follow progressive improvement plans for non-performance, to name a few dimensions?
I recall a leader who would get annoyed with agents and abruptly tell them to leave her cubicle if she was under stress. And I remember feeling like a fish out of water when she yelled, “Ask someone else for help. I’m not the only person here who can help.”
No one likes to feel that they are pulling the weight of the entire team while not receiving any incentive for their efforts. So, don’t lose your best players to the competition. Appreciate them not just by a pat on the back but with some more money in their bank accounts.
The pandemic opened the agent’s world to new possibilities such as not being limited to a specific geography, saving time instead of commuting to the office, and saving money on gas and meals. It’s also caused increased competition to find and keep talented agents.
More Ways to Attract, Retain, Talent
If the above ideas I’ve used to help me don’t help you, here are a few more.
- Reduce the steps of applying for a job posting. In today’s fast-paced world of short attention spans, use automation to pull data from a resume or LinkedIn profile.
- If a position pays $15 an hour, don’t have a potential candidate jump through so many pages where they give up halfway. However, if you decide to keep your long-winded application process, choose to pay the applicant for their time to complete an application.
- Reduce the time between interviews, background checks, and getting the agent in a training class. Remember, agents have applied to more than a single position, and whichever one starts first and pays more that’s where they will go. New hires are ghosting more employers on the first day of orientation.
- Sell your company to the potential hire. Help the agent answer the question, “why should I work for your company versus the five competing offers I have?”
- Improve your job posting. Keep it lean by removing the extra generic stuff found on the internet from similar postings, and make it sound fun. Share your company’s vision and mission and how will the potential hire work towards meeting that goal.
- Create a positive, welcoming experience. When a new employee joins a new company, they want to feel they are wanted and how their role can help meet the company’s goals and objectives. For example, all new hires receive a welcome packet via mail containing our non-negotiable items (NNIs) and a few other goodies. We also check in with the new hire to see how things are going and identify any challenges.
- When we were in the office, I would take the new training class around the office to introduce them to the entire call center team and others we would find on the way.
- In the remote setting, it’s a bit challenging, so I try to bring as many new faces and voices as possible into my training class to teach the class about our content and processes.
- We also send out a newsletter introducing the trainees to the call center team. We include the trainee’s name, favorite vacation spots, colors, and television shows in the newsletter. The trainees also have a short blurb about what customer service means to them.
It’s not just a job anymore in today’s call center world. Ongoing training is a requirement, where sometimes the training can be on skill development, such as time management or accountability. Provide resources to assist when life happens, flexible work environment and schedules, and offer professional counseling since mental health is a big concern, especially in call center life, to name a few.
HAVING A REMOTELY-ACCESSIBLE RESOURCE CENTER
Our call center has an online resource center, the INXIX Call Center Resource, to help agents find out answers to their caller’s questions. It is stocked with updated training, frequently used job aids, quick resource guides (QRGs), video tutorials, and links to various sites, to name a few of the items.
I helped create the resource as I wanted to help our agents out. When I was an agent, it was challenging to find the right information when you really needed it the most. It made me feel that I wasn’t able to help the callers calling in for assistance.
I didn’t want our agents to feel that way, as I believe with technology changing, we need to equip our agents as much as possible to deliver excellent customer service.
We identified this need in our center as we had agents asking in the Teams chat, which led to delays in callers receiving answers to their questions. We also did this to keep the consistency of information among the agents.
Because when our agents moved to remote, it wasn’t as easy as them walking to the bookshelf resource and picking out what they needed. Or for an agent to turn around and ask their neighbor for the answer to the question. We couldn’t pass out updated documents to the agents since we were working remotely, and when we sent out an updated copy, it got lost in the emails, or agents didn’t have the time to look at the emails.
Creating the Center – How the Journey Started
We decided to create the INXIX Call Center Resource using MS SharePoint. I recall one of the trainers, Migdalia, providing us with the steps to request this site, so my colleague, David, went ahead and obtained it.
Now we had a site but no idea how to add the content, so I decided to teach myself through private classes, YouTube, and Udemy on how to add and organize the content and other best practices.
Since the call center has eight main lines, we created a subsite for each call center phone line. The layout of subsites and pages was organized using flow charts as it had to have a hierarchy that the agent could easily understand while taking calls. For example, if an agent goes to the provider line subsite, they get to see the top 30 medical claim denials and how these claim denials can be resolved.
Each of these subsites contained information relating to the phone lines. The main welcome site contains information about general policies, phone login procedures, QA, reporting system issues, birthdays and anniversaries, and training videos on customer service, to name a few.
But even though we placed all the content on the site, and it was searchable, I felt it had to be user-friendly. This was when I started learning about the practices of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). I wanted to easily communicate to my audience what each element did, such as telling the agent that this link is clickable or this element is a searchable tool for frequently asked questions (FAQs) about a particular phone line, to name a few.
I would create a page or application and David would perform a quality check on the information. This way, we ensured that the content was not only accurate but visually pleasing.
We didn’t want to spend all this time creating this site with great content that no one would even use.
Training the Agents
So, we had this vast site filled with great content, and now we had a new challenge to face, which was training agents on how to use it.
We started with a focus group of about six agents. Agents were selected based on their technology savviness and we initially trained them how to use it. Then we would check in with them at the end of the day or early in the morning to gain feedback about what they liked or what needed improvement. We gave this focus group about a week to use the site.
After a few tweaks to the site from the feedback obtained, we divided the call center into small groups and trained them to use the site. When we provided agents access to the site, we provided a link to a micro-learning course created using MS Sway that outlined the site’s navigations and a recorded video demonstrating the steps to navigate through the site.
The site contained a survey on the welcome page, which agents could use to provide feedback on its performance or what content they would like to see on the site.
Getting Agent Buy-In
Since the information is searchable and frequently updated, the content is available at the agent’s fingertips within a few minutes. But we had to get agents using it, and using it frequently.
On every newsletter that went out, we outlined the benefits of using the resource site, we also encouraged the chat agents who helped in the Teams chat to provide links to the material needed to solve a caller’s issue, and we had competitions with prizes to encourage agents to get into the site.
A few weeks in and I noticed a decrease in the questions asked in the Teams chat but an increase in the visitor traffic to the resource site, which confirmed that agents were now using the site to get answers to their questions before simply asking questions in the Teams chat.
The INXIX Call Center Resource, as a result, prevents callbacks (due to incorrect information) and lowers average handle time (since agents didn’t have to look through training binders or wait for a colleague to reply to their Teams chat). And it reduces our training time by a few days compared to when we didn’t have this resource.
We usually leverage the resource center to reinforce training before and after the agent graduates from a training class. It also acts to increase retention of the information taught during training.
I believe that when you provide your agents with the tools to succeed at work, show them how to use it, and create scenarios for them to use it in – you create a team of empowered agents.