Hiring, Training and Continuously Measuring for Proper Staffing

Regardless of the service being provided (whether it be sales, support or anything else), one of the most important factors to ensure your customers are satisfied is to have the right staff responding to the contacts.  Hiring, training and continuously monitoring are all essential elements to ensuring you are keeping your customers happy.

Hiring:  It is not hard to hire warm bodies – but hiring the right warm bodies requires knowing which skills are necessary.  For example, for a contact center primarily dealing with simple issues like password resets, you might want to hire less expensive agents who have little to no experience in technical support.  However, if the calls require more experience with advanced troubleshooting skills, you’ll want to hire more experienced agents, who will cost more.  Hiring these more experienced agents for simple password resets could lead to wasted money and high turnover.  During the interview process, the candidates should be run through tests and mock scenarios to assess how appropriate their existing skills are for your specific needs.

With the increased use of chat as a method of support, the hiring profile is evolving.  Not all good phone agents will be good chat agents.  A phone agent handles one call at a time.  A chat agent may handle multiple interactions simultaneously, so hiring candidates with good multi-tasking skills is essential.  In addition, good written skills are imperative.  A customer may be more willing to miss or ignore a verbal grammatical error; however, the written communication is there in front of the customer to see and read more than once.  But not all agents are comfortable or skilled with written communication – these candidates could make better phone agents.  The level of required skills should be ascertained during the interview process.

Training:  Once you’ve hired your newest group of agents, they’ll need to be trained.  When building your training plan, be sure to not only plan for tools, products, processes and soft skills training, but also allocate additional time for testing, coaching and retraining.  Many call centers take the time to test agents at the close of training, but often there is no repercussion for scoring poorly.  It is important to decide what an acceptable level of knowledge, speed and accuracy is for your customers.  While 70% may be an acceptable passing score in school, is it really acceptable to you that 3 in 10 customers are provided inaccurate information, do not have their issues fixed correctly, or are simply unhappy with the level of service your agents provide?

Product and process knowledge are simple to test for – the trainees either know the material or they don’t.  But soft skills are harder to test and must be assessed at a level appropriate to the type of contacts being serviced.  For example, if your call center is answering calls for emergency dispatch, your agents must be trained to act with a sense of urgency and not be approved to take calls until they have mastered that skill, along with the rest of the required knowledge.  As another example, agents making outbound survey calls might need to prove proficient in handling respondents with patience in order to receive a passing score.

Continuous Monitoring:  Your new hires are finally on the floor.  How do you know that they are continuously performing to the expected levels?  While new hires may need more frequent monitoring, any employee interacting with customers should be evaluated on an ongoing basis.  Ideally, some evaluations should be performed side-by-side with agents, and some should be performed remotely, if your technology allows for this.  If you have agents who are struggling, the combination of side-by-side and remote evaluations will help identify whether the issues are skill or will.  An agent who does not know how to use the tools to find the answer to a customer’s issue will not know where to look, whether the evaluator is at their side or not.  However, an agent who is lazy won’t bother to look for the information only when they believe they are not being watched.  The monitoring should be performed at random intervals to evaluate across different days and times, but should be targeted to ensure that each agent is monitored an equal number of times per week or month.

Agents should be tested periodically on product and process knowledge.  This could be as simple as a written or online test.  These tests will help identify both individual issues and process level issues.  If a large portion of the agents are struggling or not proficient on a particular skill, you may need to consider floor-wide retraining.  If only a few agents are struggling, coaching and retraining for only those agents should be performed.

Hiring, training and continuously monitoring the right staff is as essential to ensure high Customer Satisfaction as the products themselves.  If you have additional thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

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