The Nature of Work Is Changing, and So Does Employee Experience: Interview with Brian Kropp from Gartner
How Personalized Training Has Been Helping Call Centers Win Customers’ Hearts
Today, call centers are far different from those that were around as recently as five to seven years ago. Contact volume keeps growing, customers are becoming more demanding and impatient, while technologies continue to expand, allowing companies to improve their outreach.
Still, the prevailing majority of call centers experience the urgent need to decrease turnover rates, transit to a broader mix of channels, and facilitate interactions with customers through self-service tools. However, the quality of live calls is of high importance, so knowledgeable agents with a high level of emotional intelligence are a must.
Let’s dive deeper into what challenges and priorities are shaping call centers today and those that will keep doing so in the years to come as well as consider ways of handling them.
The top call centers challenges for 2019
Working in call centers is challenging. Busy work schedules, irate customers, demanding managers, a constant pressure to keep up with KPIs…it’s not surprising that these types of companies suffer from high turnover rates, employee attrition, and absenteeism.
High turnover is still a call center’s #1 challenge
Call centers usually have a turnover rate of between 30% and 45% with the largest proportion being entry-level agents (27%). What does this translate into? Dissatisfied customers, failure to compete with other industry leaders, and financial losses. When companies are constantly hiring new people, trying to get them up to speed as fast as possible to get a higher ROI per agent, they usually miss out on the quality of onboarding and training in general. Unqualified and poorly supported employees quickly become disengaged and move to the category of “I’m done with this job” people. In fact, each new hire costs call centers $10,000 to $20,000 in direct recruiting costs, onboarding that includes lost productivity during the ramp-up-time, and training, according to the McKinsey report.
Lack of focus on development and training
The CCP report shows that 24% of surveyed executives acknowledge that their company doesn’t pay enough attention to their employees’ learning needs. This not only makes call center workers feel insecure in their jobs and disengaged but also affects customers in a negative way. In the same sense, it also leads to customer attrition, financial hardships, and a tainted reputation. It’s unlikely that employees will recommend to their friends a company that doesn’t take care of its workforce development. At the same time, poor customer experience will charm away other potential customers.
Poor cross-departmental collaboration
According to the CCP January 2018 report, 18.4% of companies report poor collaboration across teams and departments to be among the top challenges. For any organization to function properly and effectively, there needs to be established streamlined communication. Whether these are customers’ queries connected with defective products, shipping errors, technology troubleshooting, or lead generation, contact center agents will usually rely on other departments to fix issues and deliver relevant information to customers.
High absence rate/low schedule adherence
Almost 15.6% of companies say that they experience high absenteeism in the workplace along with 14.4% adding they don’t have enough money to hire additional staff, as the same CCP report shows. Another study of over 2000 call centers revealed that the average number of sick days taken per year by call center employees was 8.2 days, compared to 7.4 days for other industries. Moreover, 40% of surveyed call center agents confirmed that 45% of their sick time was used for things not related to illness.
When a lot of employees are absent, it creates additional stress for their fellow workers as they end up taking on additional work to meet established objectives. Heavy workloads lead to burnout, poor engagement, and turnover.
The top call centers priorities for 2019
Though a high turnover rate is a major challenge, call centers don’t consider it as the first priority to focus on. As for other points, they coincide pretty much with the above-mentioned issues.
Delivering an outstanding customer experience
Deloitte’s survey of global contact centers shows that close to 90% of call centers define improving customer experience as their focal point. Along with that, they also list major factors that will contribute to its improvement.
As seen above, accurate and relevant information (66%) with seamless interactions (62%) predominantly impact the customer experience.
Such vested interests in making customers satisfied are explained by the fact that 55% of consumers are ready to pay more for a guaranteed good experience. What’s more, bad customer experiences resulted in 86% of customer attrition in the past four years.
Increasing focus on development and training
The CCp report found that 46.5% of call centers are ready to invest time, money and effort to improve employee training. This priority is also clear as the level of expertise can either facilitate or hinder a company’s goal to deliver a positive customer experience. Soft skills training, product knowledge, compliance with policies, first contact resolution skills, and other crucial aspects of learning must be constantly developed and reinforced to ensure call centers’ success. Moreover, effective onboarding and training in call centers can increase employee retention by 25%.
Improving employee engagement
Employee engagement is a good way for call centers to effectively solve the turnover challenge. According to the McKinsey report, engaged and satisfied call center employees are more likely to stay with a company for a longer period as well as more efficiently perform their job responsibilities. In particular, they are:
- 8.5x more likely to stay than leave within a year
- 4x more likely to stay than dissatisfied colleagues
- 16x more likely to refer friends to their company
- 3.3x more likely to feel extremely empowered to resolve customer issues
Of course, companies shouldn’t forget that high turnover rates won’t be completely solved with engagement alone. They also need to pay attention to offering ongoing development opportunities, providing recognition, and fostering a healthy organizational culture, among others factors.
Enhancing performance management practices to meet KPIs
According to the CCP report, 14.2% of companies believe that better performance management practices can significantly help in meeting KPIs. Whether it’s a goal to drive sales volume, increase lead generation, or decrease time dedicated to nesting, call centers have to clearly define objectives and train their employees in accordance with them.
Personalized training as a means of beating challenges and fulfilling priorities
Since one of the major challenges for call centers is a lack of supportive training in spite of large amounts of available learning content, the question arises as to how to make training really work. “One-size-fits-all” material won’t make any difference even if it is not in a manual. But the personalization of training is quite another matter.
When your learning system knows when and who needs what kind of help, it can develop a fully customizable learning path to growth and success for each employee. This is what has proven to drive KPIs in high-performing call centers.
Depending on its capabilities, learning systems facilitate talent development in many ways: starting from delivering relevant content to geographically dispersed teams and ongoing employees’ upskilling to using it as an internal social network, feedback generator, and a team collaboration hub.
However, a lot of companies make an important mistake: they focus on learning alone but don’t consider ways that actually improve employee performance, because they fail to connect training with companies’ KPIs.
So, how can performance-based training (PBT) help with this issue?
By implementing PBT solutions, companies get not only a learning tool but also a business activity platform. In short, this smart system is tailored to each individual’s needs. A real-time analytics engine allows the tracking of employees’ progress and challenges they encounter while working and learning new material as well as being able to see the bigger picture of your teams’ and departments’ progress. As a result, it offers customized training by developing personalized learning paths to success.
For example, if it takes Sally, a call center agent, more time to handle customer calls than her fellow workers, the system will suggest a hands-on training material aimed at improving her knowledge of a specific area as well as general guidelines for managing calls more effectively. Today’s learning systems are truly smart and are capable of delivering training to workforces even before the manager starts seeing a “problem”.
Lucas McDaniel, a former customer service representative for a large cell phone plan provider, shares his negative experience on working for a call center company.
We had about eight weeks of training, all of it paid at $8 per hour. The training consisted of the new crop of employees sitting in a room for eight hours a day, looking at PowerPoint slides and listening to recordings of people dealing with customers. Fewer and fewer people showed up over the course of training. They got a couple paychecks, then bailed. It was demoralizing. The last week of training was spent on the floor, where we watched customer service reps field actual calls from customers. I learned more that week than I did the previous seven. All the other training was a waste.
As we can see, out of the eight weeks dedicated to onboarding, only the last one was at least somewhat informative. Lucas describes all that as “one-size-fits-all” training that is done for checking the box. No wonder so many candidates leave a company during the onboarding stage.
The on-the-job training:
WHEN I REALIZED IT WAS GOING TO SUCK
That’s when I realized I was totally unprepared for the job. I watched the customer service reps log their call information in the internal software system, and quickly realized I had no idea how to use it.
“What did you just do?” I asked them. “We didn’t go over that in training.”
“Ask your supervisor,” they’d say.
The supervisor said if we had any questions, we should just look it up in the internal learning database and follow the script. But the database didn’t account for most of the situations the customers described. Or the customer would give a response not included in the script, and we’d be left flying blind. I often had to put the customer on hold just so I could call over a supervisor and ask them what to say.
I lasted only a month on the floor. I had had a line on an IT job at Indiana State University, and it finally came through. The day I got the offer, I told my supervisor I quit — no notice, effective immediately. He didn’t bat an eyelash because the turnover was ridiculous.
This is a perfect explanation of why call centers suffer from high turnover rates. If an 8-week long onboarding leaves call center agents totally unprepared to meet “the real world”, then why did they waste so much time in the first place? When managers are too impatient to get their new hires on the phone, they usually forget about the importance of onboarding and training. As a result, newly hired employees lack the essential knowledge and skills to do their job, and customer dissatisfaction keeps growing.
How could performance-based training help in this situation?
If the company were to use a PBT platform from the first day, then by the end of the eighth week of onboarding, Lucas would have had a personalized learning path based on his progress within this period of time. Moreover, if his company were to deliver training content wisely, onboarding could take less time since this developmental stage is highly personal.
When Lucas faced the question of how to use the internal software system to log his call information, he could have easily searched through PBT platform relevant training material and followed the necessary steps. His supervisor could also check Lucas’ performance data and offer timely support.
Lastly but not any less importantly, in order to engage Lucas and his peers, the company could have used gamification and friendly competition to drive the excitement of helping people solve their challenges. Some companies go even one step further by gamifying content creation for those situations not described in the manuals. This helps them to not only let their employees grow by becoming “mentors” but also assists with the continuous need for content refreshment.
If you want to effectively fend off common call centers challenges and keep improving customer satisfaction, keep in mind Martin Oliver’s words: “Whether you are big or small, you cannot give good customer service if your employees don’t feel good about coming to work.”
Request Rallyware’s performance-based training platform demo to see live how our solution can help your company improve customer satisfaction, increase employee engagement and enhance retention!
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