Off Center
 
Sending a new agent straight onto the phones following just a couple weeks of classroom training is the equivalent of sending an aspiring boxer to fight Mike Tyson following just a couple weeks with a punching bag.

In both cases, the rookie is going to get knocked out, and their ear chewed off.

Nevertheless, many call centers continue to throw their new-hires into the customer contact ring well before the reps are ready to do battle – then act surprised that their average rep mortality rate is less than two months. These centers have fooled themselves into thinking that a week or two of lectures, role-plays and e-learning exercises is enough to prepare new agents for the unique demands and challenges that come with the frontline territory.

In contrast, most world-class call centers I’ve worked with have built a “transition training” component into their new-hire training program, thus enabling rookie reps to ease into a life of chaos and panic on the phones rather than diving straight into things.



What Is “Transition Training”?

Transition training entails having trainees handle basic calls in a controlled environment after they have woken up from classroom and other types of didactic training. In some centers, new-hires may enter the transition training bay after one week in the classroom; in other centers, they may not enter the bay until after they’ve completed two or three weeks of classroom instruction. Once agents enter the bay, they are routed a small number of calls that – based on the number dialed and/or the IVR menu option selected – should be relatively easy to handle.

Smart call centers ensure that there are plenty of supervisors or team leads on hand in the transition training bay in case a call turns out to be complex or a trainee turns out to be terrified. Where a typical agent-to-supervisor ratio on the official phone floor of a call center is 15:1 or 20:1, the agent-to-supervisor ratio in an effective transition training bay should be in the 3:1 to 5:1 range. Many small call centers that don’t have the luxury of a large number of supervisory staff to assist trainees often turn to their top agents to lend a hand in the transition training bay. Such an approach is great for building peer camaraderie, and for helping experienced agents learn to be bossy.

In most call centers, trainees return to the classroom following the first transition training period (which may last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks). This enables them to close performance gaps uncovered while in action, and to learn new skills and information that will allow them handle more complex call types – which they will get to do during the second transition training period. By the time they complete the second period of hands-on practice, most agents will be ready to graduate to the official phone floor or, if they have shown a particularly high level of talent, to be stolen from the call center by Sales or Marketing.   



It’s a Win-Win-W… It’s a LOT of Wins

With a carefully implemented transition training program in place, everybody wins: New agents’ gain more confidence and lose fewer lunches; veteran agents (who assist in the training bay) enjoy a vast sense of empowerment and superiority; and the call center as a whole saves a ton of money by reducing early turnover and the number of body bags needed on the phone floor.


If your call center uses a transition training component as part of its new-hire training process (or if you’ve ever helped implement such an initiative), feel free to share some of your experiences in the comment box below. If your call center does NOT do transition training, feel free to share some photos of your trainees crying their first day on the phones.

8/11/2011 10:55:07 pm

You've touched on one of my "hot buttons" here Greg. I really think this is sound advice for many industries. Too often, companies are in a rush to "fill an opening" and just throw the newbie into the fire after a little bit of cursory training. A few days later they're lamenting the fact that they can't find people that will stay with their company.
Great job!

Lee

P.S.: ..."ear chewed off"...LOL

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8/11/2011 11:18:18 pm

Well, I'm nothing if not a button-toucher, Lee. (And yes, I am aware of how wrong that sounds.)

Yup, pushing trainees into a position prior to proper preparation is preposterous.

So is all that alliteration.

Thanks for your input!

Best,

Greg

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JR Harenburgh
8/11/2011 11:21:24 pm

Like the Tyson analogy, especially after seeing him in the "Hangover" movie with the pet tiger!

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8/11/2011 11:26:49 pm

Yes, the only way Iron Mike was allowed to have a pet was if he chose one that could eat him if he tried to bite it.

Have a great weekend, JR!

Regards,

Greg

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Kim
8/11/2011 11:37:39 pm

Absolutely correct. We saw huge benefit when we finally implemented this training strategy. Not only in reduced turnover but in productivity, too.

Thanks for all the great advice AND the humor. = )

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8/12/2011 12:04:35 am

Glad to hear about your center's success with transition training, Kim. It's always nice to learn that the stuff I write about actually works sometimes. ;)

Thanks for your comment, and kind words!

Best,

Greg

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Jill
8/12/2011 12:24:00 am

You nailed it! When we created and launched a transition program, it made the process much less overwhelming for the new reps. Teach, practice, reinforce...pretty simple concept, but one that is underrated. It also gave the managers a chance to see what they could do as coaches since it forced them to focus on overall performance instead of just AHT, or the latest QA score.

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8/12/2011 12:29:29 am

Thanks, Jill. And kudos to you and your call center team for embracing this most effective (and affordable) training tactic.

Yes, anything that gets managers focusing less on AHT and more on agents is huge!

Wishing you continued success.

-Greg

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Melissa Kovacevic
8/13/2011 11:08:12 pm

Excellent post, Greg. You always have such great insight into the day to day challenges of Contact Centers. I often see this goal of hiring and training in haste result in more problems for the Supervisors trying to Coach people who haven't been given the proper opportunities to learn and experience. The end result is phones answered quickly alright, by people who use the hold button much too often because they don't know what to do. Companies who spend the time to make sure agents are properly trained using the transition you've described will see results.

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8/14/2011 12:21:17 am

Thanks very much for the praise, Melissa -- I'll be sure to pass your positive comments on to my ghostwriter.

I've read your excellent blog and other articles in the past, and it's evident that you "get" the intricacies and unique challenges of call center management and, in particular, agent development.

My hat's off to you for continuing to fight the good fight!

(Anybody reading this who struggles with agent hiring, training, coaching and engagement should not hesitate to contact Melissa!)

Best,

Greg

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Melissa Kovacevic
8/15/2011 01:52:41 am

Greg, I'm truly honored by your recommendation. Thank you!

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Carol
9/7/2016 04:32:38 pm

I just stumbled across your website. I hope you still exist, are an active site, still advise. Today was one of this worse days in a call center for. My brain began to implode, and a triggered legit Migraine came on. This was after 6 weeks training, 2 weeks on phones, and for some unGodly reason being held to the EXACT SAME metric standards as those there for some years. This brain implode/migraine came after getting group emails of all's metrics, getting group warning emails about TERRIBLE half-times/other metrics. My entire brain is just throbbing... I'm trying to grasp, LOGICALLY, how in the world could you, would you place that type of insane pressure, standard on new hires, who have been on the phones for ONLY 2 weeks!? God bless! Why would you set them up for, merciless, strain by giving industry standard Coachings for metrics that they LOGICALLY shouldn't be reaching yet, just by the sure nature of the beast/learning curve. I mean. It's like me actually requiring/saying to a heart patient, "Look here buddy, it's been a little over 2 weeks since your quadruple bypass surgery. I need for you to get your heart beats per minute in check, okay? I need you to write down how you plan to do that in the next few days, um-kay?" I'm typing this venting fiasco from my phone in hopes of stress relief, I suppose, and to keep bringing my brain back to normal. Having said that, have you written somewhere about addressing this antiquated, asinine practice? This is just one area that needs revamping in call centers for newbies. More support, available on hands support or better resources and actually feeling valued or treated the same way they treated a new hire on the first day they welcomed you... that feeling has left the building, but that's another can of worms (smile). I thank you for listening. And, my head is feeling a bit better by doing this. Take care!

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Carol
9/7/2016 04:44:03 pm

***EDITED TYPOS, SO SORRY**I just stumbled across your website. I hope you still exist, are an active site, still advise. Today was one of the worse days in a call center for me. My brain began to implode, and a triggered, legit Migraine came on. This was after 6 weeks training, 2 weeks on phones, and for some unGodly reason being held to the EXACT SAME metric standards as those there for some years. This brain implode/migraine came after getting group emails of all's metrics, getting group warning emails about TERRIBLE hold-times/other metrics. My entire brain is just throbbing... I'm trying to grasp, LOGICALLY, how in the world could you, would you place that type of insane pressure, standard on new hires, who have been on the phones for ONLY 2 weeks!? God bless! Why would you set them up for, merciless, strain by giving industry, standard Coachings for metrics that they LOGICALLY shouldn't be reaching yet, just by the sure nature of the beast/learning curve. I mean. It's like me actually requiring/saying to a heart patient, "Look here buddy, it's been a little over 2 weeks since your quadruple bypass surgery. I need for you to get your heart beats per minute in check, okay? I need you to write down how you plan to do that in the next few days, um-kay?" I'm typing this venting fiasco from my phone in hopes of stress relief, I suppose, and to keep bringing my brain back to normal. Having said that, have you written somewhere about addressing this antiquated, asinine practice? This is just one area that needs revamping in call centers for newbies. More support, available on hands support, or better resources, and actually feeling valued or treated the same way they treated a new hire on the first day they welcomed you... that feeling has left the building, but that's another can of worms (smile). I thank you for listening. And, my head is feeling a bit better by doing this. Take care!

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