How to provide effective training for call centre staff

Training call centre staff provides some unusual challenges – not least the little time they have to attend courses. This calls for innovative solutions.

Effective training is vital to most call centres. “Today’s contact centres are complex and fast-moving environments,” says Adrian Garton, HR consultant at call centre Merchants Consulting.

“Customers are becoming ever more demanding and new technologies are being launched one after another. Ensuring agents are sufficiently trained to be able to keep up is essential.”

There are many challenges involved in training call centre staff, such as controlling costs when annual staff attrition rates often reach 20% or more. But a growing number of call centres are finding solutions to each challenge.

Matthew Seldon, business development manager at e-learning provider Ecordia, says – unsurprisingly – that online training is playing a major part in keeping costs low.

“The high volume of staff requiring training, and high staff turnover mean that training is required frequently and so costs tend to be very high,” he says.

“The best solution is online training through an approved vocational training provider, which can reduce its costs through online delivery.”

Finding the right time

Online training can also cut the amount of time delegates spend away from the phones. Peter Venn, a consultant at Academee, a provider of blended learning solutions, says: “It is extremely difficult to take advisers off the phones long enough to train and up-skill them effectively. On average, call centre agents spend between 3% and 8% of their time on training. The trick is to do it at quiet times.

“E-learning is an ideal way of delivering bite-sized learning. Podcasts are also becoming more popular.

“Many call centres are also using automatic call distribution technology to broadcast business briefings and bite-sized learning chunks to large groups of staff. This is a simple, delivery channel, enabling users to dial one number to pick up the latest learning snippet.”

Regardless of the delivery method, it can be difficult to make call centre training engaging and effective. Andrew Wallbridge, leadership consultant at HR consultancy Blessingwhite, says: “The greatest challenge for any call centre is to engage its staff in the job. It can do this by offering them training that interests them or actually improves their long-term career prospects.”

Even if they can get their employees onside in this way, call centres still need to deliver training that helps them to add value to the company’s customer service or sales functions. Grant Leboff, managing director of telemarketing firm Phone Intelligence, believes this rarely happens. “Most training in call centres is about techniques,” he says. “It tells people what to do, but doesn’t explain why.

“We provide our staff with training on the fundamental principles. We help them to understand why customers become defensive and how to set them at ease. Much of it is about empowering customers. This kind of more sophisticated training produces remarkable results.”

The positive effects

Not everyone is negative about the possibilities for call centre training. Caroline Dunk, principal at consultancy CDA, says: “In many ways call centres provide a great training environment. Staff are generally based in a relatively small number of locations, closely supervised by a team manager. There is normally good access to online information and there are plenty of performance metrics that can be used to track the impact of the training.”

The key for call centres is to recognise the importance of proper training and to use the techniques and technology that will deliver it as cost-effectively as possible. If they manage it they will find that not only are staff more capable and clients happier, but also that staff are more motivated and likely to stay in their jobs. This reduction in staff turnover reduces expenditure on recruitment, and keeps skills in the organisation, leading to even more satisfied customers and healthier profit margins.

Case study: Converso

Converso Contact Centres provides a mix of inbound and outbound services to blue-chip clients. It employs about 220 agents in its Essex headquarters. According to managing director, Dino Forte, training is a high priority: “Technology can help, but ultimately the success of all our campaigns depends on having skilled and knowledgeable staff.”

The company employs four full-time training staff, and spends £2,000 to £4,000 getting each new employee up to speed, through a mix of classroom training and on-the-job coaching.

“You can only learn so much in a classroom,” says Forte. “You need to sit next to a more experienced person, listening in on their calls, to see how they handle different situations.”

He believes the greatest challenge is tailoring training to individuals with different levels of experience and aptitude. He says: “Our younger staff tend to pick things up more rapidly, but our older staff, once they’ve got the hang of it, are much more reliable and conscientious. Our challenge is to deliver training that is useful to everyone.”

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