How to Make Holiday Hires More Productive


How to Make Holiday Hires More Productive

It’s time to staff up for the holidays!

Yes, it’s hot out there. But contact center managers know that winter is around the corner and what these holidays mean in their business: call volume spikes.

Therefore, you need to hire, onboard, and train new agents now so they’re ready to go when customers come calling.

In today’s tight labor market, though, that’s a lot easier said than done.

Companies were looking to hire more than 940,000 seasonal workers in 2021 according to executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That’s the highest number ever recorded since they started tracking seasonal hiring in 2012.

Today, there are two open positions for every one person looking for work in the U.S. Finding new employees is difficult but hiring people with extensive contact center experience is almost impossible.

But customers aren’t willing to deal with long hold times and incessant forwarding just because you’re running with an inexperienced staff. At the same time, agents are under more pressure to provide friendly, informed, efficient service to demanding customers.

If you want to walk into the holidays with a capable and confident contact center team, you need to make sure your training programs – for both new and experienced employees – are up to the task.

Start Off Strong

Onboarding new agents can take weeks, and that’s just to get them on the phone. It takes a lot longer for them to master your company’s product details and process requirements.

Unfortunately, with high turnover and long hiring cycles, managers don’t have time to spare. Plus, new employees can’t consume and retain vast amounts of information during weeks spent in classrooms or online sessions. The tendency to firehose people with information is one of the big reasons just 12% of U.S. workers believe their employer does a good job onboarding new hires.

Get people comfortable with the fundamentals so they can confidently answer a customer call.

It’s no wonder so many employees exit just days into starting a new job. Some people accepted the position to explore a potential career path with your company. Others just needed seasonal work to collect a paycheck. Regardless of motivation, people expect to be supported so they feel confident in their ability to do their jobs well.

Rather than overloading people when they walk through the door, break apart your training plan into smaller, manageable chunks.

For example, provide information covering basic job stuff, like IT logins, dress code, schedules, etc., before Day 1 so people feel set up for success.

To get people on the phones fast, focus training on the essentials first. This includes compliance rules, required systems, safety topics, and basic conversation skills.

Don’t attempt to cover the more complicated stuff, such as product details or customer service practices, right away. Get people comfortable with the fundamentals so they can confidently answer a customer call.

Fit Training Between Calls

Seasonal agents come to your organization from different backgrounds and with varying levels of experience.

Some already know your brand and products well. Others have never heard of you before getting the job. Some have probably worked in roles that required telephone or chat-based customer interaction, so it would be a waste of time (not to mention boring) for them to sit through a Customer Service 101 class.

Use the first few days of training to help new agents master the basics (and check all of the compliance boxes). Then, deliver a personalized training program to further accelerate their development, maximize their engagement, and reduce the strain on your already understaffed operation.

Once agents are on the phone, it’s next-to-impossible to pull them away for lengthy classroom sessions or online courses. That’s why they get firehosed with information up front – the training team doesn’t know when they’ll be able to reach them in the future.

Instead, use microlearning to fit training into the moments that agents have available between calls. These bite-sized training sessions focus on individual topics and can be completed in less than five minutes.

For example, a leading Canadian telecommunications provider delivered microlearning sessions to their 1,100 agents to improve their customer service. 95% of agents logged in for training three times per week without disrupting the operation. Plus, the fun, fast training provided a boost to employee engagement and the overall workplace culture.

Personalize Development

Microlearning allows you to fit training into the daily workflow in a simple, nondisruptive way. This means agents continue building knowledge after onboarding, quickly closing any gaps as they settle into their new roles.

Microlearning also helps you adapt training to individual agent needs. Rather than require everyone to complete the same courses, you can push just the right content to the right person based on their individual knowledge gaps. This means seasonal agents get better, faster.

Consider a customer service example. With a traditional approach – online or in the classroom – every agent is required to complete the exact same training.

In this case, they may sit through a 45-minute course covering every possible customer service topic, from proper greetings to building rapport to handling upset callers. It doesn’t matter if the agent has five minutes or five years of customer service experience.

For people who don’t need the redundant training to do their jobs, this is a waste of time and money. It’s also boring and potentially demotivating to the agent whose knowledge is not being respected.

By building a right-fit onboarding and training strategy, you’ll be ready to develop confident, capable agents…

With microlearning, the 45-minute customer service course is broken down into smaller, more easily consumed pieces. Building Rapport and Handling Upset Callers become separate topics that are pushed to the people who need them instead of being forced onto everyone. The microlearning program adapts to each agent as they improve over time, maximizing the time spent training.

Microlearning also includes a wider range of content options. Agents may be asked to watch a video during one shift and respond to a series of scenario questions the next day to practice what they learned. This approach can also be used with seasoned agents to reinforce critical information related to new products or changing processes.

Making the Job Fun

Being a contact center agent is a tough job. People don’t usually call because they’re completely happy with your products and services. Something is wrong. Something is complicated. They need help, and your agent is the first/last solution. This reality plus nonstop high call volumes makes it a stressful job and puts people at high risk of burnout (when burnout is already at an all-time high).

Gamification is a simple-yet-powerful way to add a dose of fun into your agents’ busy shifts. It’s also proven to increase engagement, improve knowledge, and reduce stress.

Game mechanics like points and badges help new agents keep track of their progress as they work through their training. Leaderboards add a layer of friendly competition, especially in environments where employees already engage in regular contests. The points earned by answering questions correctly during training can also be turned into tangible rewards, such as gift cards and company swag. This is a powerful way to show appreciation for your agents’ hard work and dedication to improving their performance.

By applying motivational tools like gamification, you can also increase the sense of community within your contact center. This is especially important for remote workers, who may struggle to build relationships with their peers online.

Competing in quick, casual gameplay as part of agents’ daily training makes work a social activity for every generation – from Gen X to Z. It also gives employees more control over their experience. Some people may check their spot on the leaderboard every day while others are more interested in earning rewards.

Be purposeful with your gamification strategy and select tactics that fit your workplace culture. Otherwise, you could turn people off and accidentally create new engagement problems.

Get Started Today

It may seem premature to plan for Black Friday on Labor Day, but you’ll need that time to recruit, hire and train your seasonal staff for the holidays.

By building a right-fit onboarding and training strategy, you’ll be ready to develop confident, capable agents without disrupting contact center operations. You’ll also provide a quality employee experience that retains great workers through the holiday season and beyond.

JD Dillon

JD Dillon has worked in operations and talent development for 20+ years with some of the world’s most dynamic companies, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. As Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, JD builds technology, content and services that enable frontline workers to do their best work every day.