Call center training and other ways to occupy agents during off-peak hours

Donna Fluss provides suggestions for a call center manager looking to increase productivity with call center training during off-peak hours in this tip.

Do you have any suggestions for work that call center agents can do at their desks during off-peak hours? Our agents are working on inbound calls only in a secure area where they are not allowed to have even paper or pens at their work areas. I am new here, but I don't think employees sleeping at their desks is a best practice.
You're right, not only is it not a best practice for agents to sleep at their desks, it's a worst practice that often has a negative impact on customers and the perception of the enterprise. In an increasing number of call centers, concern for data and physical security has resulted in the elimination of paper and writing devices (pens or PCs) at agent workstations. However, there are a variety of ways for agents to be productive during off-peak hours even when they are unable to write. Here are a few suggestions, which will yield quantifiable benefits for both agents and the enterprise.

* Call center cross-training: Cross-train your staff to perform non-call center activities, generally referred to as "back-office" work, during periods when the call volume is low. An increasing amount of back-office work, such as application processing, is fully automated and requires only access to the processing system. Call center training expands agents' skill set, provides a change of pace for call center agents and increases productivity.

* Online courses/e-learning programs: Establish/develop a library of online e-learning courses that agents can access to improve their knowledge, expand their skill set, or fulfill their development/career plan requirements.

* Knowledge reinforcement/coaching: During low volume periods when calls are slow, agents (particularly new call center agents) can use the quiet time to review online training and product materials. This helps build job knowledge and generally improves the quality of calls. If agents have performance development opportunities, such as low quality scores, or high average handle times, etc., low volume periods are ideal for pairing them with call center training agents who can help improve their skills. This is an effective way to teach subtle, efficient communication/call management techniques and provide coaching and support. It is also a great way to recognize outstanding performers.

* Assign agents to call center initiatives: The call center is a dynamic environment where constant change is the rule rather than the exception. New products and changes to policies and procedures are routinely introduced. You can establish agent initiatives, such as updating on-line training materials, procedure guides, or quality criteria, to ensure that all materials are accurate and current. Additionally, agents can be assigned to become subject matter experts (SMEs) for a particular call center initiative. SMEs are valuable "go-to" resources, and can conduct informal up-training sessions to address questions from other agents.

Solicit ideas from agents: Agents are amazingly resourceful in coming up with creative, innovative and cost-saving ideas. Take advantage of off-peak hours to conduct brainstorming sessions with agents to gather their suggestions for effectively using low-volume time, ideas for improvements, or recommendations for call center initiatives to improve performance and morale.

* Hold team meetings: If call volume is low, use the time to build camaraderie by holding team meetings.

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