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.