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Designing the Best Call Center for Your Business

Designing the Best Call Center for Your Business examines all key aspects of opening and expanding a live agent call center. In this sample chapter, "Training and Retention," learn about how to train call center agents and keep them motivated and loyal. Topics covered in this chapter include skill sets, customer service and sales training for agents, retention, agent career development and incentive programs.


Excerpted with permission from CMP, a division of Elsevier. "Designing the Best Call Center for Your Business, 2nd Edition" by Brendan Read. Copyright 2005. For more information about this title and other similar books, visit


Training and Retention

The Radclyffe Group's president, Elizabeth Ahearn, reports that call centers typically spend 80 percent of new hire training time on product training, 10 percent on call center systems training, and the remainder on hard and soft skills.

Instead, they should devote 50 percent to hard and soft skills training (Ahearn calls it "interaction training"), 35 percent to product, and 15 percent on systems. Companies would generate greater customer and employee satisfaction and agent retention if they changed their priorities, she asserts.

Every customer satisfaction survey she's done cites speed of issue resolution at the top of the list. Product knowledge and technology training rank far down the list.

New Hire Training Techniques

Call centers must pay special attention to new-hire training. This process makes or breaks agents. Following are some good methods.

Breaking Up Training
Teach and train agents in one or two skills or call types at a single time, letting them get comfortable performing one skill before training them on another. You can route calls to an agent based on his or her existing ability to handle a particular call type.

In rare situations, the new agent may simply ask for a senior agent or supervisor to assist with the call. This technique also quickly weeds out uninterested agents as soon as they get a taste of the job.

"With this method, information retention rates are higher, agents feel greater achievement satisfaction, and you get agents on the phone quicker, which is important when turnover is high," says Rebecca Gibson, manager of education services with Incoming Calls Management Institute (ICMI)."Why pay to train agents for the full [training period] if some are going to leave right away?"

Use of Simulations
Gibson sees a place for computer-based simulations in new-hire training. She says it's better for agents to experience a simulation after a classroom lesson rather than the old model of supervisors standing behind them. Information retention is higher as agents learn more.

"A pattern of three classroom days, two simulation days, and three more classroom days enables agents to get the lessons, try out what they've learned and come back with the results of the trial and error, and train again based on what they've done," explains Gibson.

Soft Skills for Collections
Sounds like a contradiction? Not really. Call centers now seek collections agents with excellent customer service skills and who know how to touch late payers with the velvet glove.

"We're finding that with collections there is a greater importance on soft skills," says Teresa Setting, Kelly Services' vice president of marketing. "The agents must be trained to empathize with customers. But they must also make certain that they get that promise to pay."

Apprentice-Styled Training
Adults also learn by doing, says Anne Nickerson of The Call Center Coach. Nickerson recommends apprentice-type training where agents get to listen in on calls but only begin taking a few calls, easing into parts of the call alongside the senior agent or coach.

Apprentice-type training is quicker than classroom-only or having agents in training bays with higher supervisor-to-agent ratios. "The apprenticeship reduces the anxiety and stress agents often feel on calls," she says. "That will improve performance and retention."

Integration of Skills and Product Training
Teach agents product and service information concurrently with techniques for handling calls and contacts.

"People don't learn how to apply knowledge just by listening to lectures," says Nickerson. "They learn by being taught what they're going to apply on the job."

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