The COVID-19 pandemic did disrupt the old normal of grabbing coffee and rushing into the office. Today it’s more like hitting the alarm and running to your work desk to log in to take calls.
The pandemic did teach us new ways of adapting to the changing circumstances, and it taught most of us that what we do at work can be done in the comfort of our own homes.
The pandemic has evolved the mindset of the call center agents. They have chosen companies that offer remote or hybrid work environments, which has left call centers that require agents to work from a brick-and-mortar office to pay a premium to attract and retain talent.
Agent Attention, Respect
Call center training has also changed as agents are sensitive to the training provided during orientation and who rightly insist on being shown attention and respect.
I recall four trainees this year telling me that they left previous call center positions that paid more due to the poor quality of training offered.
One trainee mentioned that the training was supposed to be from 8 am to 5 pm. But the trainer stopped teaching the class at 3 pm because they were too tired and unorganized, jumping from one topic to the other without completing the first topic.
Another trainee mentioned that she left because she was given just three days of training and then placed on the phone to assist callers with processing healthcare applications. She did it for the first week and found herself unable to assist callers with understanding questions on the application.
But when she asked for assistance via chat, her team leads, supervisors, and trainer ignored her for over an hour before replying to her messages. She felt frustrated and then applied to our call center.
To circumvent this challenge, change what gets delivered, engage different learning styles, review content constantly, bring in other trainers, and ask agents and call center leadership to get involved in training.
I recall a trainee telling me that she saw and or heard from her supervisor just once in the three months of training. I believe this practice needs to be different, so each week of training, the leadership team either presents training materials or checks in with the class. It makes the class feel connected with leadership and helps the leadership teams build rapport.
Call center agents also want ongoing training and feedback with the remote or hybrid work environment present. Out of sight should never be out of mind.
I find that some folks are comfortable and get set in their ways, but others want to keep improving. And when they find themselves stagnating in a role that doesn’t invest in their development, they decide to move on.
Keeping up with Processes, Information
Further, call center processes and information change, and the call center training must keep up with these changes for the training to be relevant to the job.
I recall an agent telling me that they were taught in training in a previous job to do things in a certain way.
But when they moved to the floor, they saw processes performed in a different system, and during mentoring, their mentor told them to forget everything they learned while in the class.
The agent felt disheartened after discovering that she spent time learning the training material and passing the practice tests only to find out that none of the content prepared her for the calls.
To prevent this from happening, the training teams need to connect with the call center team by listening to calls, watching agents take calls, and identifying training needs from call center leadership, quality assurance (QA), and agents.
When you can help your trainees understand the more definite purpose for their work, other than just a number meeting many numbers, you get committed agents who want to make an impact, one call at a time.
The same goes for agents who don’t find that they contribute to a more significant cause.
Remember, don’t expect people to know that they are making a difference. Spell it out to them, and provide them with stories of how your company has been able to help customers or the community.
The company culture plays another crucial role set by the leadership team. How do leaders react to challenges, communicate with staff, do they offer rewards to encourage positive behaviors, coach, and follow progressive improvement plans for non-performance, to name a few dimensions?
I recall a leader who would get annoyed with agents and abruptly tell them to leave her cubicle if she was under stress. And I remember feeling like a fish out of water when she yelled, “Ask someone else for help. I’m not the only person here who can help.”
No one likes to feel that they are pulling the weight of the entire team while not receiving any incentive for their efforts. So, don’t lose your best players to the competition. Appreciate them not just by a pat on the back but with some more money in their bank accounts.
The pandemic opened the agent’s world to new possibilities such as not being limited to a specific geography, saving time instead of commuting to the office, and saving money on gas and meals. It’s also caused increased competition to find and keep talented agents.
More Ways to Attract, Retain, Talent
If the above ideas I’ve used to help me don’t help you, here are a few more.
- Reduce the steps of applying for a job posting. In today’s fast-paced world of short attention spans, use automation to pull data from a resume or LinkedIn profile.
- If a position pays $15 an hour, don’t have a potential candidate jump through so many pages where they give up halfway. However, if you decide to keep your long-winded application process, choose to pay the applicant for their time to complete an application.
- Reduce the time between interviews, background checks, and getting the agent in a training class. Remember, agents have applied to more than a single position, and whichever one starts first and pays more that’s where they will go. New hires are ghosting more employers on the first day of orientation.
- Sell your company to the potential hire. Help the agent answer the question, “why should I work for your company versus the five competing offers I have?”
- Improve your job posting. Keep it lean by removing the extra generic stuff found on the internet from similar postings, and make it sound fun. Share your company’s vision and mission and how will the potential hire work towards meeting that goal.
- Create a positive, welcoming experience. When a new employee joins a new company, they want to feel they are wanted and how their role can help meet the company’s goals and objectives. For example, all new hires receive a welcome packet via mail containing our non-negotiable items (NNIs) and a few other goodies. We also check in with the new hire to see how things are going and identify any challenges.
- When we were in the office, I would take the new training class around the office to introduce them to the entire call center team and others we would find on the way.
- In the remote setting, it’s a bit challenging, so I try to bring as many new faces and voices as possible into my training class to teach the class about our content and processes.
- We also send out a newsletter introducing the trainees to the call center team. We include the trainee’s name, favorite vacation spots, colors, and television shows in the newsletter. The trainees also have a short blurb about what customer service means to them.
It’s not just a job anymore in today’s call center world. Ongoing training is a requirement, where sometimes the training can be on skill development, such as time management or accountability. Provide resources to assist when life happens, flexible work environment and schedules, and offer professional counseling since mental health is a big concern, especially in call center life, to name a few.