I know this may sound strange coming from a principal of a company that provides call center training around the globe. However, my colleagues and I truly believe 100% in the following statement: Call center training, by itself, doesn’t work. I have spent more than a few years of my career on both sides of the training playing field, as both a purchaser of training for customer service and leadership development and as a provider of training in those same arenas. That experience has taught me a lot of things, including an important lesson that a one-size-fits-all approach to improving call center performance is not and will never be effective on a long-term basis. Training call center agents in a set of soft skills does very little to actually increase customer satisfaction and customer loyalty scores. In virtually every situation where I have purchased or provided training for call center agents as a stand-alone component, the initiative has had sporadic results at best. Even programs that presented and appeared outstanding as a package on paper ultimately produced less than sterling results. Here are three things for you to consider as you think about and plan your call center training: 1. Call center training creates real, positive impact for call center agents only when it occurs holistically within the context of their job. If I am a call center agent, soft skills training for me is entrenched in my thinking only if it is facilitated in a scenario in which I can apply the learned skills in the context of my product, process and system skills … and actually in the context of the products, processes and systems themselves. Let’s take this one step further. Call center training is effective only if it is bundled together with a meaningful assessment of the company’s products, processes and systems so that improvements can be made holistically within the overall call center system itself. In other words, the only way that call center training really works is within the framework of an overall change in approach on the part of organizational customer service toward the customer. Such a change in approach includes a mind shift change for the company, not just for the call center agent. 2. Call center training is effective for call center agents only when it occurs in the world of their specific touchpoints with customers, not in the world of canned training. Flashy games and exercises with entertainment appeal are great, but learning becomes entrenched only when it is real to the call center agent. That means taking whatever detours from the training materials as are necessary to work through the kinds of problems, issues, challenges and struggles call center agents experience on a regular basis. It means providing facilitators who have taken the time to get to know the call center operations, the management and supervisors, the culture and environment, the critical mass of customer profiles and a feel for the call center agents’ daily challenges and experiences. It means using actual, recorded calls as examples during training and role-plays. The training facilitators must be highly conversant in the common language of the organization and the call center to drive the skills home. It is not enough to slap the company name on the title page of a training book and then force learners to step out of the actual world in which they work every day to grasp learning principles that are not taught in a way that makes any sense in their own reality. Off the shelf is rarely on the mark when it comes to real behavior change … the kind that moves the needle on performance improvement over the long haul. 3. Call center training is effective for call center agents only when it is reinforced consistently on the job from the first day they return to their environment. That means coaching and calibration. Effective coaching is a special skill of its own. To some it comes naturally, and to others it must be learned. Either way, call center supervisors, team leaders and quality assurance personnel need to have special training in the area of coaching the specific skills that the agents have just been taught. Call center agents who have acquired new skills don’t just need regurgitated training facts. They need direction and guidance on how exactly to apply the new skills in different scenarios with different customers. That is where calibration enters the picture. Calibration answers questions like these:
- How do these new skills apply to me and where I am currently in my growth as a call center agent?
- How do these new skills align with different kinds of customer issues that I face on a daily basis and in different kinds of formats and scenarios?
- How does my approach with customers need to change as a result of the call center training?
Clearly there are all kinds of details and nuances that must be built into any call center training initiative in order to position the call center agents for success in their particular environment, but I think you get the point. To really create a difference in the performance of call center agents, there is a particular set of skills, methods, techniques, and even more important, attitudes and behaviors that need to be learned, then reinforced through consistent coaching and calibration on the call center floor. It just can’t (and won’t) magically happen as a result of an off-the-shelf standardized call center training program that isn’t real to the call center agents.