“They are just temps,” said one contact center manager describing his seasonal agents. “They will be gone in a couple of months!” That condescending attitude was reflected in the seasonal team’s environment. They were crammed into an abandoned conference room filled with computers, phones and wires. This “seasonal contact center” was separate from the “normal center” where permanent, full-time agents had nice desks. Does this sound familiar?
There is nothing wrong with hiring short-term staff to handle holiday call volumes. The secret is how to properly train and support them.
Customers don’t care if they’re speaking with a permanent agent or a seasonal one. They expect a great customer experience at all times. That means training your seasonal hires to deliver the same great service as your regular team.
The following are 10 tips for training your seasonal agents to deliver the same high-quality customer service as your veteran agents.
1. Simplify their role.
Do you want to set up your agents for success? Would you like to save training time? Carefully define your seasonal agent’s role. For example, Company A hires temporary agents during tax season. They train them to answer tax receipt questions from a specialized queue. This allows temps to quickly ramp up on just one task and master it. That saves training time. A second benefit is freeing veteran agents to focus on more complex inquiries. This keeps service levels high.
2. Clarify what they will NOT be doing.
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Seasonal agents may try to handle everything in an attempt to impress you as a prospective employer. That increases the likelihood of mistakes. Average handle time also increases as the rookie takes forever trying to find answers. To avoid this, train seasonal agents to quickly recognize out-of-scope issues. Then, train them on how to transfer these calls to the appropriate resource. This will save both you and your customer’s time and aggravation.
3. Offer late-night/weekend training, if needed.
Company B hired seasonal agents to work late-night and weekend shifts. However, training was only offered Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Since most new-hires had full-time jobs or attended school during the day, they missed multiple classes. To avoid this mismatch, consider scheduling your training times to coincide with their projected shifts.
4. Make seasonal agents feel welcome.
Treat seasonal agents the way you want them to treat your customers. Make them feel like part of the team. Starting a new job can be scary, so welcome them with a tour of your contact center. Involve them in announcements and town halls. Provide a “big picture” view of the company and its customers so that they can understand how they contribute to the organization. Have a graduation ceremony when they finish training, so they know they have accomplished something great.
In addition, create a supportive training environment. Decorate the training room with company posters. Clean up any clutter. Have your IT department properly bundle phone and computer cables so they look less unsightly. Invite senior managers to welcome the team. Make the training fun. Add small prizes or allergy-free candies as incentives for learning contests during training. Have computer “scavenger hunts” where participants need to find the answers to common customer questions by using their internal knowledge base/CRM system. All of these activities add fun and help seasonal new-hires to feel welcome.
Why is that important? You want seasonal agents to perform well during their stay with the company. Seasonal agents may also go on to become permanent, full-time agents so start them off on the right foot. Properly treated, they may also become customers and cheerleaders for your brand. Badly treated, they can complain about your company on job sites and creating negative word-of-mouth for your organization.
5. Model the right behavior.
Agents follow what you do, not what you say. For example, what message does it send if a guest speaker arrives late for their class presentation? It tells new-hires that they’re not important. It also demonstrates that late behavior is allowed. So start class on time, and ensure that guest speakers arrive on time. Provide great “customer service” to your class. Answer their questions promptly. Commit to finding the answers to unusual or out-of-scope questions, just like you would with a customer.
6. Choose a veteran to lead them.
Some companies choose senior agents to supervise seasonal teams. The theory is supervising an “easier” team of seasonal agents will help to prepare the senior agent for a full-time team leader role. However, supervising seasonal agents is actually TOUGHER than leading a veteran team. Veterans know the job. In comparison, EVERY seasonal agent is a new-hire. They require more coaching and support. Putting a wannabe team leader in that position is not a good idea. Instead, move an experienced team leader to the seasonal team, and backfill their old team with a senior agent, if possible. This will ensure that the seasonal team has a veteran leader who knows how to coach. Meanwhile, the senior agent gets to be an acting supervisor with a team that is already performing well.
7. Involve the team leader in training.
Seasonal teams need to hit the ground running as an integrated unit. Make this happen by getting their team leader involved early in training. Introduce them during the first day of training. Have them say a few words to welcome their future team. If possible, get the team leader involved as a subject-matter expert so they can answer questions. That will encourage new-hires to view their team leader as a resource. In addition, involve the team leader as a coach during role-plays. That gives the team leader a head start in gauging their agent’s skill level. Think about it this way: You would never take a sports team, train them, and then introduce them to their new head coach right before a real game starts. So why wait until new-hires graduate and are taking real calls before having them meet their team leader?
8. Leverage blended learning to help millennial agents ramp up quickly.
Many seasonal workers are millennials, working part-time after school or trying to get a full-time job. They are used to a wide range of learning experiences. Yet, one company I know used a series of lectures to “train” 75 new-hires at a time. Needless to say, the training was totally ineffective.
Instead, offer a mix of eLearning, mini-lecturettes and audio/video clips to maximize millennial’s development and build their morale. Let them have hands-on exposure to products and services, if that is practical. Share customer testimonials, so new-hires can see what makes customers happy. Another hallmark of millennials is the desire to work in teams, so add group exercises to your training. For example, ask trainee teams to create “Top 10” lists of product benefits or customer objections. The key is varying your training activities so that millennials stay involved and learn effectively.
9. Create job tools such as FAQs.
Leverage FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) to help new-hires develop quickly. FAQs can be online or paper-based and should answer questions regarding product knowledge, CRM systems and resources such as the Help Desk. Also include relevant FAQs from other departments, such as HR, IT and marketing. Ask participants to highlight or circle key tips, since the very act of deciding what is important helps to boost their retention of the material. You can also post FAQs around their work area to remind them of key details.
10. Provide post-training support.
Would you put permanent agents on the floor and ignore them? Of course not! Provide ongoing coaching and product updates to boost your seasonal team’s performance. Keep them in the loop regarding trending customer service issues. Let them know how their work contributes to the bottom line. This builds morale and increases their performance. In addition, make coaching a two-way street so new-hires feel supported. Ask them for feedback on what tools/knowledge would help them perform their job better. For example, they may ask for quick remedial training on a product or clarification on a company policy.
Instill a Service Focus
Do not treat seasonal agents as “just temps who will be gone in a few months.” Treat them the same way you want them to treat your customers. Train them. Coach them. Motivate them. Instill a service focus, so clients get the same great customer experience no matter who answers the call. Invest in their development even if they are only staying for a short period of time. Remember, customers don’t care if they are dealing with seasonal staff or full-time employees. They simply want the best customer experience possible.