As the primary liaison between companies and their customers, contact center agents play an essential role in creating brand loyalty and delivering a positive customer experiences. However, high agent turnover rates make it difficult for organizations to maintain much continuity in their operations.
According to the Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC), the average annual turnover rate for contact center agents in the U.S. ranges from 30 percent to 45 percent, which is more than double the average for all occupations in the U.S. In a survey by the global consulting firm Mercer, agents cited the repetitive work and lack of career advancement opportunities as major contributors to turnover.
Managers and supervisors say turnover is the No. 1 challenge to contact center operations. The inability to retain workers leads to staffing problems, diminished morale and reduced productivity, while also creating a variety of direct and indirect costs. The McKinsey & Company consulting firm estimates that every new agent hire costs $10,000 to $20,000 in training, direct recruiting costs and lost productivity during ramp up.
Training and development programs can entice valuable employees to stay on the job. In addition to creating career advancement possibilities, training allows employees to improve their skills and become more comfortable and confident in their ability to handle challenges.
Training is particularly important for new hires. A Cornell University study suggests that new contact center agents should receive a minimum of two weeks’ training, although ongoing training for up to 16 weeks may be needed to reach proficiency.
A well-designed training program should provide employees with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to perform effectively. It all starts with ensuring they have a solid understanding of your business. Customers expect agents to be able to answer their questions without having to put them on hold or transfer them to another agent. Hold time and transfers are among the most-often cited sources of customer irritation.
Agents must be comfortable handling contacts through a variety of channels such as phone, chat, email and text. They also need a solid understanding of your contact center software, including the tools needed to track customer requests, issues and complaints and where to find the resources to address them.
Dealing with angry or upset customers can be tricky. That’s why it’s important to give new agents specific, real-world examples of problem-resolution skills. One way to do this is with a database or an intranet with FAQs and case studies that illustrate how other agents have successfully addressed common issues and complaints. This could also be a repository for technical support documents as well as contact information for top performers who can be conferenced in for assistance.
Basic phone etiquette is an often-overlooked skill. Workshops and critiques of recorded calls can help agents understand the importance of answering phones promptly and politely, speaking clearly, and maintaining a positive attitude. Scripts provide an important framework, but agents should treat them as guidelines and talking points rather than rigid speeches that must be followed word for word.
Rather than a one-time event, training should be an ongoing process. Many of today’s contact center platforms enabling real-time agent training. For example, instant messaging integrated into the system enables agents to message a manager or a high-performing colleague for immediate guidance while on a call. Coaching features enable supervisors to silently monitor calls and prompt the agent to deliver appropriate responses — all without the customer being aware.