Four Best Practices for Onboarding New Contact Center Employees

WRITTEN BY JOHN LOUGHLIN

Four Best Practices for Onboarding New Contact Center Employees
Illustration by Stephanie Scott for Contact Center Pipeline

Hiring and onboarding new employees are processes that no contact center manager takes lightly, especially since high agent turnover remains a top challenge. Compounding this challenge is the fact that many new employees lack the appropriate skills and support required for long-term success. Standardizing an appropriate onboarding process that nurtures new agents is important to addressing the turnover problem and providing a solid foundation for their employment.

Good first impressions are extremely important—not just for employees, but for hiring managers, too. Welcoming, educating and preparing new employees should commence before those new agents even set foot through the doors of the contact center. Setting expectations and establishing a sense of camaraderie early can make a difference in how new-hires perform in their jobs days, months and even years later.

Here are four best practices that contact center managers can follow when bringing new employees on board.

Get a head start

The onboarding process typically begins on day one of a new-hire’s employment, when in reality it should begin much sooner.

Contact center hiring managers should proactively reach out to and communicate with their new team members right after reaching an employment agreement. Hiring managers should send their contact information, provide links to new-hire portals so that employees can start getting up to speed on expectations and guidelines, and an outline of what to expect on the first day. It is also a good idea to provide information about the actual contact center facility, including directions, photos of the building, details about where to park, and other items that make getting to the job a little bit easier. Build a foundation for good mentoring by helping new-hires prepare for (and get to) their new careers.

Tools should be ready for immediate use. If new employees need computers and access to three different systems, all of those logins should be set up before anyone walks into the room. These technology pieces are critical. How are employees supposed to train on systems if they can’t access them?

Other important tasks should be completed well in advance of a new-hire’s first day. Payroll requests should be set up, nameplates ordered, and teams and receptionists notified that Mr. or Ms. New Employee will be starting so they can appropriately welcome new agents into the fold. Also, managers should discuss workflows, timelines and task ownership with that new employee’s team members, and ensure coverage if PTO or other assignments come up. Do the behind-the-scenes legwork to set everyone up for success.

Be prepared

Day one has finally arrived. Imagine the scenario: 30 new employees are starting employment and are told to report to Conference Room Bravo at 8 a.m. on Monday.

When they arrive in the room, employees find desks and computers indicating where they should sit, with login and temporary password credentials ready to go. There are information packets at each station and maybe a coffee mug, T-shirt or other company “swag” welcoming them to the fold. The stage is set and they already feel as if they are part of the team.

It is critical that first training session of the day begins promptly and that hiring managers are in attendance. If the person overseeing the training is late, it sends a message to the entire group of new-hires that it’s OK to be late. Therefore, the instructor for the first part of their orientation should be in the room before employees arrive, and the session should begin promptly at 8 a.m.

After the initial training, managers should remain present and engaged. They can lead tours of the contact center and make introductions. They can take the time to answer questions and walk new-hires through the first few days of their employment rather than encouraging a “self-teaching” mentality.

Everything outlined above sets the tone for a positive employee experience. New-hires who walk into an environment such as this know what to expect from their first moment forward. Work environments will be structured and organized, expectations will be clear, and most important, there is a plan. They are expected. They’ve made the right choice to begin work with Company Z.

Set expectations

When new-hires begin their employment journey, managers need to set very clear expectations for their behavior while at work. After all, they are coming in to a new culture. Is it better for them to infer information in a roundabout way (“Oh, most people here are in jeans. I guess I can wear jeans tomorrow.”) or to be given the information directly (“The handbook says I need to wear khakis and a button-down shirt.”)?

Sometimes managers assume that new employees will “just figure out” important information to do their jobs successfully. The truth is that most employees, at any level, want to be led. On the first day, supervisors or managers should set an agenda that leads new employees down a path to success. Later on, when call center reps are performing tasks independently, they’ll have the confidence and know-how to do the job well.

Additionally, managers want to set clear parameters for attendance, schedule adherence, quality of work, and other policies, as well as being very clear about what happens when employees don’t meet those expectations. If an employee shows up 30 minutes late for training on the first day, that may be noted and even excused. If the employee comes in on time the following day but is then late the next three days, the manager has to make a decision.

If the late start isn’t acceptable, the manager has to explain why: “We want you to be here on time so that you can be successful. When you are late, you are missing valuable information that you need to do your job.” Fellow new-hires will soon see the parameters in action and will know that they need to follow suit.

Build rapport

When 30 new-hires start on the same day, it is easy to think of them en masse. But it is equally important to remember that they are individuals, with individual strengths, challenges, likes and dislikes. Contact center supervisors can start building rapport with new-hires by sending a personalized welcome email and assigning mentors who can serve as go-to resources for questions. Mentors can come in to meet new-hires before a break or before lunchtime. In this way, new employees are building relationships with people at work before they even set foot on the floor. Doing so helps new-hires feel connected to colleagues from the first day.

With the seeds of rapport planted on the first day, mentors or supervisors can continue to build rapport by sharing lunch or a cup of coffee with employees. When doing this, managers should pay close attention to details and show courtesy. Do not just assume that the company’s cafeteria or preferred lunch spot will be a place the employee may want to visit. Instead, ask them what they like to eat or where they might feel comfortable going.

Use this time to learn about how employees like to spend their free time—what kind of music they like to listen to, if they follow a specific sports team, if they spend time playing Xbox or running marathons. When supervisors take a sincere interest in what is important to their employees, it builds rapport and makes employees feel valued. The rapport grows into a bond of trust, which creates positive employee experiences and makes employees want to stay with a company longer.

Engagement must continue beyond the first few days. Managers who know their employees will be better suited to assist them as a mentor and in development discussions. Outside of work, there may be opportunities for getting new employees involved in social and community events, such as company-sanctioned non-profit initiatives.

These things make people feel important and part of the team, and foster better engagement. When employees are engaged, they feel valued. They feel as if they have a voice in the company, and when they have an idea for improving a process or a product, they feel empowered to share it. These employees feel comfortable engaging in “What if…?” conversations with their supervisors and mentors.

An Investment Up Front Will Reap Ongoing Rewards

These four best practices—get a head start, be prepared, set expectations and build rapport—apply to new senior leaders, as well. The tasks involved in training them may be different, but the same processes and rules apply. Trainers and supervisors should be prepared. They should spell out expectations for new-hires in their sessions, regardless of their titles or levels.

After 20 or 50 times conducting similar training with classrooms of new faces, it is easy to slip into patterns and think, “They’ll pick it up.” But those new-hires deserve the same training as that first class received. They deserve the same attention and care, the same feeling of welcome, the same delineation of expectations.

When managers make those investments in their new-hires—when they work to build rapport from the minute a contact center employee accepts an offer, take time to prepare and set an appropriate tone—they reap the rewards. Employees have a clearer understanding of what is expected of them and are set up for success. They feel welcomed at work. And they are on the path toward becoming fully engaged in their careers. All of these factors help to reduce turnover rates and build contact centers that nurture and keep their most important assets: their people.

John-Loughlin-headshot

John Loughlin brings nearly 30 years of proven experience in operations, audit, contact centers and customer experience to HighPoint. As a Vice President of Operations, John oversees some of HighPoint’s largest service contracts and focuses on identifying opportunities using data and delivering innovative solutions for increased performance and efficiency in the contact center. At HighPoint, John has managed data from 50 million citizen interactions and has no shortage of ideas that feed his “not settling for mediocrity” mantra. Before joining HighPoint, John served as the Vice President of Customer and Brand Experience with HSBC. John designed and delivered a voice of the customer program for a $30 billion credit card consumer and retail private label portfolio and managed the employee engagement program on a 10,000-employee organization. John has a Bachelors in Criminal Justice from Fairmont State University. John is also a certified Six Sigma Green Belt.
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