Training Budget
Illustration by Eric Jackson

Training can be one of the biggest costs in any contact center. If you take several hundred (or thousand) agents and multiple that by the number of new things they need to learn each year, you quickly have a six- to seven-figure training budget. Every product launch, system change or process improvement requires some form of training. So, it is vital to become more efficient at training.

For example, when I managed the training department for a 900-seat contact center in the telecom industry, it was common for us to run a five-week new-hire course. On top of that, veteran agents received an accumulated total of six more training days per year. The cost of training—including training needs assessment, design, delivery, post-evaluation and licensing of some vendor material—plus the trainers’ salaries totaled more than $1 million per year. Even if your contact center training budget is lower, you may face pressure from senior management to stretch your training dollars further and do more with less. The following are tips to help you maximize your training investments.

1. Conduct a thorough training needs assessment. Want to know the secret to wasting a lot of money? Implement a training program without first determining your contact center’s exact needs. For example, one client demanded sales training for their agents. But a needs assessment revealed that the biggest barrier to sales was the agents’ mindset. They simply did not believe in their company’s product. They had become cynical and jaded. As a result, all the sales training in the world would not have helped, because agents were disillusioned with the company. Based upon that needs assessment, the senior management team focused on improving morale first. Over the next year, they addressed the morale issues. Once that was fixed, training was able to improve the department’s sales results.

2. Choose the most appropriate training delivery method. Classroom-based sessions and elearning are the most common forms of contact center training. Each delivery method has its strengths and weaknesses. The key is knowing which method will help you achieve your training goal quickly and efficiently.

Classroom training is expensive, because it means taking agents off the floor in groups. That impacts service levels and involves adding additional staff hours to cover for the agents in class. There can be costs for meeting room space and the printing of workbooks. There are also hidden costs for classroom training, such as scheduling additional “make-up” sessions for agents who were off sick during their previously scheduled training day.

In comparison, e-learning solutions, such as interactive web-based training modules and generic software training programs, can be very cost-effective. They allow agents to individually log in and do the training at their own pace. E-learning also makes scheduling easier for workforce management. Rather than having to schedule a class of 20 agents off the phones at once, e-learning allows a contact center to schedule individual training times when call volume is lower. E-learning programs are also typically shorter in length than classroom sessions. Many e-learning modules are only 30 to 60 minutes in length versus classroom sessions that last several hours or days.

On the other hand, e-learning is generally only effective for training product and process knowledge. Classroom training is more effective for introducing soft skills, such as customer service and sales skills. So, choose your training method wisely to minimize costs and maximize your training impact.

3. Design your training to support departmental goals. To maximize your training dollar, programs should be used to support your contact center’s key goals. For instance, if your No. 1 goal is first-call resolution, then your training programs should focus on asking the right questions, problem-solving skills and product knowledge.

4. Ensure that training and quality assurance are aligned. Your quality assurance (QA) team needs to reinforce key messages from your training. If you are training soft skills like customer service techniques or sales skills, your QA team should be listening for those skills being used. You may also have to modify the QA scoring process to incorporate key skills from the training program. After all, what gets measured gets done. So, measuring how agents use their newly learned skills will definitely motivate them to apply what they have learned, and maximize the impact of your training dollars.

5. Set expectations by carefully positioning your training programs. How many contact centers are plagued with “flavor of the month” training programs? Instead, create agent buy-in by carefully positioning the reasons for training and how it benefits them on the job. For instance, I helped one of my clients to create a training invitation that showed how training would help to make the attendees’ jobs easier in the future. As a result, people arrived in a positive mood and ready to learn. That helped the training program make a bigger bottomline impact.