Often, for your customers, the first point of interactive contact with your business is via your contact center. Whether it's through asking a question of your brand on social media or through your online chat feature, emailing, or calling to speak with a representative, the caliber of this particular interaction can make or break whether a customer decides to continue to interact with your brand (and what they share with their networks about their experience).
Not just anyone is cut out to handle these types of customer interactions. With this in mind, how do you find, hire, train and monitor your agents to ensure a superior customer experience?
Setting performance targets and improving performance levels requires you to hire a workforce that is appropriately skilled and motivated. This can also help in reducing long-term attrition rates.
To staff your center with the best people, clearly define both the job as well as the specific skill requirements necessary to perform the role. Agent requirements can vary greatly for different customer support programs and channels. The skills and attributes you're looking for in a social support agent look different than those you want in someone that will be answering the phone. And still different are those that will be supporting customers via video chat or even traditional email. Recruit and engage only those candidates who meet the requirements for your specific role.
The use of hiring assessment tools has become increasingly more effective in not only assessing an individuals' aptitude to fulfill a role, but they have also come a long way in becoming predictors of future performance. Such tools also provide consistency in the hiring process, allowing contact center organizations to remain focused on acquiring the right candidates, which improves the quality of the new hire and shortens the overall hiring cycle. There are many tools available; select one that best matches your goals and budget.
Your entire onboarding process, from hiring through floor operations, should be designed to confirm the agent is fit for the desired role and that they are provided every opportunity to succeed and grow in their new position. Agent acquisition and training can be a costly exercise. Doing it right the first time reduces costly attrition and produces tenured employees, creating stability in your support organization.
As part of your training initiative, it is important to ensure your new agents obtain:
- A clear preview into their role and responsibilities
- Clear understanding of the minimum skills requirements
- Knowledge of tools and technologies, such as systems/applications to be used
- Knowledge of products and culture
- Visibility into the forward-looking career path opportunities throughout your organization
- A strong, tenured support system designed to foster success
- Access to trainers and training methods that support success in the contact center
- Useful, meaningful and up-to-date training materials that deliver what they need to know to succeed
Ensuring your team has a solid command of the training content is critical to providing the customer experience you desire. Skills validation is therefore a must to make certain that agents understood the content, and more importantly, that the agents can effectively use the learning as a skill to manage live interactions. Skills validation is best accomplished through what is called “nesting,” a three-stage process through which an agent gradually transitions from training to live production. The stages are:
- Silently monitoring: Side-by-side observation with a senior, tenured agent.
- Driving: The new agent silently listens to the call but manipulates (drives) the computer interface for the senior agent.
- Active participation: The new agent talks and drives the interface, while the senior agent silently observes and provides support as needed.
Once the new team members are fully engaged, it is important to continually evaluate performance to ensure the agent team is consistently utilizing the new skills and to look for opportunities for improvement.
We recommend the creation of an auditing process to carefully evaluate agent performance. Monitoring and ongoing performance assessment is a critical component in achieving continuous improvement in agent performance and is foundational to both improving and sustaining customer satisfaction over time.
Digitally recorded calls, as well as live side-by-side observations made by supervisory personnel and a team of quality auditors, can be used to make sure that agent/customer interactions are meeting performance targets. Audit findings or "scores" can then be used by the contact center as an internal mechanism to track quality performance and arrive at actionable improvements—as well as being used as the basis for applying coaching and remedial training activities to improve agent performance.
We recommend that each agent can receive weekly coaching on performance metrics as well as quality. During this quality coaching, an agent will receive the opportunity to listen to their calls and self-identify their call performance, develop action plans, and set goals. For those agents failing to meet performance expectations, they are a placed on a performance improvement plan. Here, you can help the agent focus on the key behaviors needed to help them be successful. If after the designated time the agent is still failing to meet expectations, they would continue to receive progressive counseling, up to and including termination.
It takes effective utilization of these tools to ensure quality staffing at your contact center, ultimately putting customer experience as the top priority. This is the process we use to hire, train and evaluate all of our contact center agents to make sure they're delivering exceptional experiences for our customers throughout their journeys.
About the Author
Terry Arnold, Senior Director and Solution Consultant, has extensive experience guiding customers in the design and development of inbound and outbound contact center programs in a wide range B2B and B2C markets. With over 28 years of experience in the development, execution and management of integrated direct marketing programs, Terry has filled an ever-widening array of roles related to managing customer engagements.More Content by Terry Arnold