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Navigating the Training Maze

Navigating the Training Maze

Navigating the Training Maze

How to steer around the challenges of building a resilient team.

Training is often a maze with many different and confusing branches that must be navigated to find one’s voice in the contact center.

In my earlier days as a call center agent, I couldn’t help but notice the revolving door of new hires passing through our call center. Class sizes typically ranged from four to six new hires, and I found myself stepping into a mentoring role for these fresh faces.

However, a frustrating pattern emerged: after the initial week of training, agents would drop off, leaving vacant seats that needed urgent filling. As someone on the receiving end of those calls, it became clear that the center was hemorrhaging money through the loss of agents during training.

This situation translated to an increased workload for me and my colleagues and contributed to palpable frustration among my cubicle neighbors. The constant influx of calls and outflow of agents felt like trying to mop a wet floor with the tap still running.

When the opportunity arose to take a more active role in training, I seized the moment to make positive changes. I focused on engagement and simplifying the training material in my first training class. The results were promising; out of five agents, four were still standing by the fourth week of training.

However, my enthusiasm was met with a setback in my second training class. Out of a group of four, only one hire remained after four weeks of training.

Disappointed but undeterred, I took a step back to reflect on reducing turnover. Gradually, I started fine-tuning my training resources, which included revamping the training binder, creating better handouts, developing engaging training slides, and removing irrelevant content, such as the history of Medicaid.

Through these efforts, I managed to bring new hire turnover down to less than 20% within the first 90 days of the agent journey.

And while each contact center and organization are different, there may be insights from my experience that could help others manage the same issues and get through the maze.

Cost Analysis

We all know that call and contact centers are notorious for agent burnout and high turnover rates. However, addressing these challenges is imperative, especially during the training phase. The financial impact of losing an agent is estimated between $10,000 and $20,000 (SWPP, cited by Sharpen) underscoring the importance of implementing ways to improve training and retention.

To get buy-in from my call center leadership to improve the training, I created an analysis of the cost incurred when a trainee leaves. This analysis has been updated to the city of Indianapolis, Indiana, and a considerable amount of research, and even using Brent Holland’s and Mark Alpern’s article, The Hard, Hidden Costs of Attrition.

Through effective training, agents find job satisfaction, thereby contributing to a positive workplace...

In the grand scheme, the total cost of training an agent, standing at $13,622 (SEE FIGURE 1), is more than a number; it’s an investment in building a skilled, confident, and resilient team. Every dollar spent echoes the commitment to shaping agents who handle calls and excel in providing exceptional customer service.

When agents receive comprehensive training, they aren’t just armed with the knowledge and skills to handle customer inquiries smoothly; they exude confidence and stay engaged. A quality training program goes beyond ticking the boxes of technical know-how and soft skills: it cultivates an environment of ongoing learning.

Through effective training, agents find job satisfaction, thereby contributing to a positive workplace and putting the brakes on the pricey problem of high turnover. It’s like putting money in the training piggy bank: investing thoughtfully pays off by creating a call or contact center team that can deftly navigate the ever-changing operations landscape.

Remediation Strategies

Building a solid training program sure has its twists and turns. Sometimes, it takes a few tries to pinpoint areas for improvement. And when you think you’ve got it all figured out, new challenges crash the party out of nowhere, making you rethink your game plan.

Here, I’ve laid out a couple of challenges I’ve come across and some nifty remediation fixes to boost trainee retention.

Long training classes

A while back, our call center made a big move: we combined four different call center lines into one mega-training course.

Here’s the twist: two lines required agents to learn a significant amount of information, making our training journey a marathon over nine weeks and reviewing through two hefty training binders. Upon completing the training, the agent had to pass a final exam on those two training binders and complete two weeks of mentoring.

When you stretch out a new-hire training class beyond five weeks of instructor-led training (ILT) and web-based training (WBT), you risk trainees feeling swamped. And seeing your turnover rates spike during training.

Then again, you also run the risk where the new hire starts taking calls after training and is unsure about what to do on each call due to being overwhelmed by the training content presented. Which again leads to turnover, and that was precisely what was happening at the time until we used the classroom turnover numbers to convince the leadership to break up the training.

Possible remediation:

  • Identify the foundation for agents to successfully take calls, train on soft skills such as conflict resolution and customer service, and on common caller inquiries versus training on every imaginable call an agent could receive. Those calls can be documented on your knowledge management system (KMS).
  • Train on a couple of lines, let the class dive into calls, and then regroup after a few months for the next set. Think of it like leveling up in a game: start at tier one, master those lines, and then move up to the next tier for more challenges.
  • Let’s throw in a helpful chatbot or group chat to assist agents with those random call curveballs. Remember, teamwork makes the dream work!

New hire attendance or behavior issues

Formulating the ground rules is crucial before getting into the training content. So, ensure your recruits clearly understand your attendance policy and class expectations.

Think of this as helping the new agents learn your center’s vibe and values. We don’t want someone acing the training but bringing some not-so-great vibes to the call floor: like taking a lot of unapproved time off or getting into fights with other trainees. It’s all about setting the right tone from the get-go.

For when we don’t stick to these standards, it paints a not-so-great picture of our center. Those struggling with attendance might miss out on training, and when folks act out without consequences, it signals that it’s okay.

Formulating the ground rules is crucial before getting into the training content.

And for the hardworking bunch? They might start thinking your center isn’t the place for them, leading to turnover. Keeping things on the straight and narrow helps everyone feel like they’re in the right place.

Possible remediation:

  • The first move is a coaching session if a trainee misses training time, such as more than a day. If coaching doesn’t work, it’s time to pull out the attendance policy.
  • When behavioral issues detour the class, start with coaching the trainee. Whether it’s someone turning the training class into a disruption zone or sparking a showdown with a fellow trainee, getting to the bottom of it and setting some expectations is vital. And if that doesn’t work, start with a performance improvement plan (PIP).

Overly small training classes

If you are supposed to have a class of eight agents, but on the first day, you end up with two or one, that’s a bit of a hiccup.

Unfortunately, the call center won’t in all likelihood move the start date around because chances are that the trainee(s) who showed up will not show up for the new training date. With smaller classes, a few of your costs stay the same, such as the cost for the trainer(s), which makes a small class inefficient.

Stay in tune with the class by doing constant check-ins and consistent touchpoints...

I’ve seen this scenario play out more times than I can count. Seasoned call center agents are like hotcakes, always in demand by hungry companies. And they, in turn, are looking for those tempting opportunities. And who can blame them? Whether it’s the paycheck, that work-life sweet spot, the perks, or just the vibe they get about a company’s culture: it’s a tough choice to resist.

My go-to suggestion? Let’s throw in an extra trainee or two for each class. Just in case life throws a curveball, like someone deciding the job isn’t their jam after a week or two. It’s like having a backup plan for our backup plan: a little safety net to keep things running smoothly.

Back to the class of eight agents I mentioned earlier, in any training class, a bit of turnover is par for the course: typically, around 20% for a group of eight to ten agents. Yet, dealing with just one or two agents in a class turns the whole effort into a wasted cause if they decide not to show up.

Possible remediation:

  • Since it is a small class, move according to the trainee’s pace. Let’s tailor the pace to match the trainee’s rhythm. In this one-on-one setup, we often find we can trim a few days off the timeline without sacrificing the quality of the training, such as converting long WBTs to short, engaging presentations.
  • Stay in tune with the class by doing constant check-ins and consistent touchpoints to help gauge how things are flowing and make any necessary tweaks along the way. Further, such check-ins help identify agents who may be leaving for whatever reason, such as another job or changes in circumstance.

Lack of on-the-job support

Now, the in-person and WBT sessions might be top-notch. But, when trainees step onto the floor and dive into the mentorship stage, having mentors who aren’t quite feeling the warm and fuzzy about mentoring (don’t want to mentor) - or are a bit vague on how to train - it’s setting the stage for some not-so-great experiences.

We’re talking about trainees picking up habits like sneaking out early or getting the wrong scoop on what to do on calls. When they have a mentor yelling at them, and I’ve seen that happen because the mentor was having a bad day, that’s a surefire way to send trainees packing. And if they’ve been taught the wrong behavior or info, you can bet they’ll start a little clone army of confusion.

Yet even if agents got A-plus instructions during training and mentoring, once they’re flying solo on calls, if they’re left hanging without resources for everything from caller questions to asking for time off, that’s a fast flight to job dissatisfaction. You guessed it, turnover, which was proven by a 2018 Gallup study. It’s like setting up a recipe for frustration; nobody wants that on their plate.

Possible remediation:

  • Hook the newbies up with seasoned pros who want to be mentors through a mentorship program because learning the ropes is always better when you’ve got a guide who’s been there and done that. Train your mentors to teach new hires how to mentor a new agent.
  • Train the class on using the available resources during your training class, such as a hands-on demonstration and a scavenger hunt to learn your KMS. Add them to your team’s chat room, and if possible, provide them with a chatbot that can help with questions. Lastly, check regularly with the new agent to see how things are going.

Different trainee start times

Have you ever had that feeling of joining a movie halfway through? It’s like that when trainees hop on board at different points during training. It’s like throwing a wrench into the smooth flow for everyone involved, from the trainers to the existing crew and the newbies.

Every agent deserves a training journey that's thorough and backed up with real-time support on the job.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just a logistical head-scratcher. Most times, those new trainees who hop in midway don’t stick around for the whole ILT and WBT stages since catching up with the rest of the class feels like a bit of a decathlon. And it’s not something that most newbies are up to the challenge.

Possible remediation:

  • Establish a structured onboarding schedule that aligns with the training curriculum, minimizing disruptions caused by staggered start times, and share it with leadership.
  • Now, for online sessions, let’s hit the record button on each ILT session. Doing so will help the current gang brush up and let the newbies who joined later catch up with the rest of the class. Give the newbies a bit before and after class to review materials and recordings, and keep those doors open for any questions they might toss your way.

Every agent deserves a training journey that’s thorough and backed up with real-time support on the job. It’s not just about ticking boxes; it’s about ensuring they feel confident and cared for. Rushing through training or leaving them hanging during those crucial initial months: it’s like hitting the fast-forward button on turnover.

Building an Effective Training Program

How to well-craft a training program? That’s the secret sauce. It’s not just about getting the agent through training; it’s about making agents feel like they’re stepping through different stages and getting closer to proficiently taking calls. Following are the stages a comprehensive training program needs to include:

1. Welcome and Get to Know Each Other

Kick-off by setting the stage with an introduction and training expectations, trainees get to know the training team and leadership, the vibe of the workplace, and those soon-to-be comrades.

2. Program Dive and Soft Skills Splash

Let’s unfold the magic of what’s in store, from program specifics to the art of soft skills. It’s not just about what they’ll be doing but also how they’ll do it.

3. The Tech Tango

It’s time for a hands-on journey through the tech realm. Let’s demystify it all from the CRM system to the KMS and any other tools in the agent toolkit.

4. Checks, Hunts, and Practice Play

Knowledge checks, scavenger hunts, and practice rounds help the class revisit the information learned in preparation for the final exam.

5. Listen and Learn

Get into the real deal by tuning in to recorded calls. It’s not just about hearing; it’s about understanding, learning, and getting those ears trained for the symphony of customer interactions.

As the new agents take their solo calls, pay attention to them and look for growth opportunities.

6. Open Book Finale

The grand finale is an open-book exam with a passing score that’s not out of reach. Once agents pass the exam, consider giving them completion certificates that they proudly place at their workstations.

7. Guidance Under the Mentorship Umbrella

Now, let’s walk through the ropes with a mentor by their side. It’s not just about what each agent knows; it’s also about identifying how the information learned can be used and building on their skills and knowledge.

8. Bite-Sized Wisdom

Sprinkle some microlearning courses or short training emails into their inbox every other week. These trainings help the class continue their learning after class has been dismissed.

9. Call Coaching and Additional Support

As the new agents take their solo calls, pay attention to them and look for growth opportunities. It’s not about judging but fine-tuning those call skills for a stellar performance.

A solid training gig leads to more productive agents, nailing first-call resolutions (FCR), breezing through calls quicker, keeping the mistake count low, and lowering call escalations. It’s like giving them the tools to own the game and keeping those turnover blues at bay.

In the call center symphony, training isn’t just an expense. Rather it’s an investment in crafting skilled, confident voices that resonate through every call. It’s not about the cost; it’s about creating a team that doesn’t just answer calls but creates exceptional customer experiences. Training is a performance, and each agent is a crucial player in the masterpiece of outstanding service.

Mark Pereira

Mark Pereira

Meet Mark Pereira, a passionate learning and development professional with a wealth of knowledge and experience. He is an experienced Trainer and On-Site Supervisor who has earned several certifications. These include the Certified Professional Trainer (C.P.T.), Certified Customer Service Professional (C.C.S.P.), and Modern Classroom Certified Trainer (M.C.C.T.). Combining his academic background in Commerce and Innovative Education and Teaching with practical experience, Mark is a valuable learning leader who boosts retention and productivity through proven teaching methods. He provides expert coaching to agents with empathy and skill and stays up-to-date with industry developments and advancements from his base in Indianapolis.

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