Off Center
 
I often hear call center managers boast about how extensive their new-hire and continuous training is, but then when I ask them how they formally measure the effectiveness of each method and module delivered, they look at me like I’m drunk or crazy. Often I am both, but that doesn’t make my question any less appropriate or important.   

Developing and delivering training is only half the battle. Call centers need to regularly track training’s impact and success. Doing so not only ensures continuous performance improvement and maximizes the organization’s training investment, it gives call center managers tangible training data they can present at industry events and in publications to make their industry peers feel vastly inferior. And isn’t that the real reason why most of you got into this business in the first place?

Accurately tracking new-hire training effectiveness is not as easy as it sounds, which is why I merely write about top call centers rather than manage one myself. However, in my time snooping around the industry, interviewing experts and analyzing training success, I have seen a host of organizations that do a spot-on job of measuring the impact that training has on immediate and long-term agent performance.

Here are several ways they go about it:

Written training tests. Top call centers develop written tests on training material and administer them… 
  • Before actual training is provided – to measure base-level proficiency prior to training.
  •  Just after training is provided – to measure training comprehension and initial skill/knowledge absorption.
  • Weeks or even months after the training has been provided – to measure the impact of daily headset shocks and customer insults on long-term memory.

On-the-job training assessments. These are focused performance evaluations designed to measure the application of specific skills and knowledge that agents totally ignored during training. As with written tests, many call centers first conduct such assessments (via role-play or simulation exercises) prior to delivering training to gauge skill level before instruction. Soon after training has been delivered, the real on-the-job assessments are carried out – sometimes via role-play/simulations, but usually while agents are panicking on actual calls.

Specific assessments are also conducted periodically well after training has been completed – not just to gauge how well agents have retained and are applying the skills/knowledge in question, but also because many supervisors are sadistic and like to see even their most experienced agents tremble.


Agent feedback. Measuring training success isn’t all about post-training tests and assessment scores. How agents themselves feel about the training received is critical, too – or at least you should make them think that. Soliciting agent feedback after training can shed ample light on why certain elements of training fail while others fail worse.

The best call centers ask agents about: Which training programs and delivery methods they found most impactful and engaging; which programs/methods they found superfluous; and which ones made them throw up a little in their own mouth. Agent input is captured and tracked to help spot common trends in training effectiveness and common problems that detract from agent development – mostly the latter. 


Customer feedback. Customers’ comments on post-call satisfaction surveys, along with their furious rants captured on call recordings, can also be helpful in highlighting training successes and shortcomings.

Sharp managers pay close attention to customer input in areas for which agents have recently received training. For example, if an agent who has just completed a special module on courteousness/professionalism receives numerous comments from customers about how rude and abrupt the agent was on the call, the manager/supervisor then knows that the training was highly ineffective. However, it could also simply be that the agent in question is a sociopath, in which case he or she should be moved into the IT department immediately.


5/12/2011 10:43:26 pm

Greg,

My infinitely better half is doing some work on this right now. The team she is linked up with have been on a roll in large UK centres for a couple of years now are are pretty good at it.

They balance out the training room synaptic boost with 6-9 months of face to face re-enforcement so people get how it works in situ.

Of course, this might just be a covert Marketing operation to ensure brilliant testimonials...

But it suggests we might be moving beyond WBTM (wham,bam,thankyou mam) training strategies

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5/12/2011 10:54:18 pm

Glad to hear about your better half's success with enhancing training via practical application, Martin. Nothing cheapens agent development more than one-night stands in the classroom.

And by the way, there is nothing wrong with a little covert marketing. In fact, all of the people behind the testimonials on my "About Greg Levin" page are my imaginary friends.

Thanks for your comments!

Greg

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5/13/2011 01:22:01 am

You raise some great points Greg! We've found that part of the issues with training is that many call centers have over 10 applications such as CRMs, ERPs and external databases, that agents
must learn to maneuver through to complete a call. Thus "panic on a call"!

When agents have quick easy access and a unified view of all information (product/policies/customer info)it greatly reduces training time, cost,and panic. New agents take as much as 7 weeks to be fully trained so it would help for call centers to look at their environs and processes as a whole and simplify them as part of their initiatives in keeping their training on track.

Thanks for sharing!

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5/13/2011 01:31:39 am

Hi Greg, I really enjoyed your article. Every time we are about to hire a new employee I think about the training and documents that need to be updated before we get that person in the door. We have started grading reps on their calls and chat sessions but I like your input about asking them what they think about the whole thing. Thanks for the read!

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5/13/2011 01:37:04 am

Glad you liked the post, Daniella, and that you found something that you'll be able to apply in your center.

(See mom, you were wrong -- I AM of SOME use.) ;)

Thanks for your comment, and best of luck with getting your agents up to speed!

-G

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Ryan B.
5/13/2011 02:11:50 am

Loved this post, Greg. I think that sometimes contact center management is a little too worried about getting 'butts in the seats' and they ignore the simple fact that newly hired agents need to be training priority one or else the hire becomes ineffective.

I also liked the fact that you encourage ONGOING training and evaluation. A New Hire aptitude test is great, but finding out how much they have retained and learned on the job is invaluable.

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5/13/2011 02:48:02 am

Thanks for your kind words, Ryan, but give YOURSELF a pat on the back -- it's evident that you GET the people piece of the contact center puzzle.

Rushing new-hires onto the phones only costs the company more in the long run, and causes stressed-out staff to cut themselves when nobody's looking.

Take care!

-G

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