How to Improve the Abilities & Results of Your Contact Agents

Any relationship expert will tell you that one of the key factors to a strong relationship is communication. Similarly, the key driver for an agent’s improved results is communication in the form of feedback. When contact agents enter into an agreement to join an organization, it should be perceived in the guise of a relationship and the best way for that relationship to flourish is maintaining a constructive, open dialogue between the agent and the company. Both parties should express their needs and wants at the very beginning, and both parties should then do their best to actively meet those expectations so that they can effectively co-exist together.

Relationships are hard to quantify, as it relates to results, but an agent’s production can easily be made measurable. We can’t always assume that an individual is performing well based on face value, so when it comes to assessing the skills of our contact agents we have to look deeper than what’s on the surface. Every member of personnel in a leadership position has their own idea of what a good contact agent is. For example, individuals with no behavioral issues yet have a attendance record are not ideal candidates for good contact agents, because one of the most important traits an agent needs to have is dependability.  To discover the true breakdown of what makes a good contact agent we have to look at all the pieces individually.

For starters, let’s look at the basics: it’s vital that contact agents be present mentally and physically, have an attention to detail and an overall positive outlook for their responsibilities. So how do we get someone to that level? Regrettably, there is no a straight forward answer to this question. However, the journey to achieving effective agents begins with the aforementioned feedback from your company’s leadership team. If one were to look at other areas of business, such as retail, you will notice that there are a good amount of metric driven functions from a day-to-day stand point.contact agents at work

Each individual is expected to be the subject matter experts of their respective role, whether they’re on the phones driving customer service or rearranging a planogram for next day retail sales. Now, let’s look at the metrics that are tied to that. You have the amount of calls taken per day and, in retail, the number of items pulled and stocked on store shelves. Going a step further in dissecting each of these duties, you now have the quality of the phone calls to monitor in your call center vs. the cleanliness of the store aisles at the retail store. As contact agents are involved in each practice, they have to know several things in order to effectively advance their efforts.  They need to be comfortable asking questions like, “Am I doing this right? And if I’m not, what can I change so that I can do better?”

While you observe the contact agents tasks, it is best to practice touch point recognition with each individual agent. This is can be used as an behavior reinforcement tool for encouraging positive behavior and dissuading negative behavior. Negative reinforcement should naturally be handled a touch more delicately, so those are best saved for one-on-one sessions. However, positive recognition, say for completing the agenda of a high call queue, can be something as private as a high five or as public as an email message blasted out to the entire team that highlights certain individuals. These practices may seem small to those of us in leadership, but performing these acts of recognition will do wonders for the contact agents’ self-esteem and their overall outlook of the company as a whole. Group feedback is vital as well for reaching a mass of agents, giving the agents a template in which to provide their own feedback. By addressing your agents’ concerns and queries, it allows them to perform better as both as individuals and the group as a whole which, in turn, helps produce success for the organization.

Not every relationship is perfect, just like not every agent is the right fit for a company. But exploring all areas for growth potential will help the cultivation of an effective and prosperous work dynamic between employer and employee. Though a company’s policies and process may be set in stone, being receptive to your own needs as well as  the needs of your contact agents will always be the  penchant for growth.

Dealing with The Growing Demand for Faster Social Customer Service Response Time

Customers’ using social media to interact with brands has changed not only how we conduct customer service, but also how we do business in general.  The number of consumers that engage with companies through social media grows daily.  According to research from JD Power, an estimated 67% of consumers have used social media sites for […]

5 Ways to Reduce Abandonment Rates

From talk time to handle time and quality scores, every call center is accountable for the metrics they produce. Another metric that’s just as important is the abandonment rate. Abandoned calls are very influential as they reflect how prepared a call center is to manage the volume of inbound and outbound calls. Some may say that the answer to dealing with abandonment rates is to just have a large number of agents at all times. Doing this is only placing a band-aid on a much bigger issue. Instead, let’s look at a few helpful ways to help reduce abandonment rates as they occur.

Tip # 1 Staff Accordingly

Every call center operative knows that abandonment rates are the percentage of inbound phone calls filtered to a call center.  The abandonment, or dropped calls if you will, occur when the customer releases the line prior to speaking with an agent. Having your staffing model already outlined in regards to how many agents are currently logged in as Abandonment Rateswell as their hours of individual operation will assist in gauging the full length of the volume before it arrives.

Tip # 2 Plan Ahead Rather Than Planning Later

In this regard, simply be proactive and not reactive. In relation to staffing, use any past experiences to track trends so that you are prepared for what the next move will be. An example of this is looking at metrics from previous days to know when the volume peaks and when it tapers off. This helps knowing the nature of the call volume ahead of time in order to give you the upper hand.  From here you can work with your supervisory staff on items such as employee attendance as well as breaks and lunches.

Tip # 3 Work With Clients on Forecasting

Call center responsibilities and client expectations go hand in hand. It is important to have a relationship founded on communication. One of the key elements of this is a forecast. A forecast of call volume from a client perspective will also help in planning ahead. Work force management teams will utilize forecasts to equalize the staffing as well as create the necessary schedules for each agent. Having a forecast will help optimize your team compared to the adverse effect of approaching volume with limited coverage.

Tip # 4 Work with supervisors and agents so that they can work with you

There’s no secret that agents and supervisors aren’t a fan of working overtime or, in some cases, down time when available. Where the extended hours can help them from a financial perspective, work life balance is just as important. In conjunction, this also assists the business in moments of staffing needs. Working with your team on applying extended hours or, a substitution of hours on another day can make a world of difference. In a busy call center environment, dedicated agents are more susceptible to doing the additional time. On the other hand, decreased staffing one day to apply staffing on other days that are historically busy can also be beneficial.

Tip # 5 Call Back Resolutions

This last tip is not my all-time favorite, primarily because first call resolution is highly important for call center processes. However, in the event the situation presents itself where volume is too high and there are varied client Abandonment Ratesexpectations, customer calls backs can be utilized. This keeps a commitment to the customer by reaching back to them and it also shows the customer that a company is cognizant of the customer’s concern.  I would keep this as a last resort.

Though every approach is different when dealing with abandonment rates, as long as you build a strategy you will be prepared. Set the expectations within your center, create guidelines for your supervisors, as well as yourself and the rest will structure itself.

Ilou Thompson is the Corporate Trainer and Quality Manager at Stratus Contact Solutions. He has been with the company since July 2014 and has 9 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Ilou worked with ADT Home Security Services where he worked with and developed groups of 30+ agents monthly. Currently, his responsibilities with Stratus include creating training material and agendas for new accounts, training agents on new material, as well as maintaining call quality observations for each account.

Need help staffing your call center, or managing your abandonment rates? Contact Stratus today for a free proposal! 

Developing Call Center Agents to be Effective

Developing call center agents to be effective points of contact in customer service is no easy feat. It can take hours of training, and even re-training, to help an agent perform at the level required for a role within the call center industry. However, the training guidelines listed below will help any training supervisor maintain quality standards among their call center agents.

Developing Call Center Agents to be EffectiveExercise managerial courage

The world of the call center is unique, yet routine. Processes and policies will remain the same for the most part, but one dynamic that will continue to change is the agent. Occasionally, an agent may exhibit an undesirable behavior, which is when it becomes necessary to address the agent. If the behavior is not addressed, the individual may become a hindrance to surrounding agents.

 

A few examples of this include inappropriate dialogue being used on the call center floor or a lack of enthusiasm when handling customer service interactions. Both of these behaviors can drive productivity into the ground and make the workplace environment less than desirable to work in. Fair and firm leadership puts an end to these non-conducive workplace behaviors. It also creates respect for the supervisors, while eliminating any opportunity for subterfuge amongst the agents.

Avoid being derailed

When discussing individual performance with call center agents, the supervisor may experience what is known as projection. This is when the agent displaces unwanted feelings onto others, rather than themselves, otherwise known as ‘the blame game’. While this is happening, the supervisor should remain receptive to the agent’s input regarding other individuals, and try to find any phrases in which the agent explains their behavior. The supervisor can then explain that they are appreciative of the agent’s thoughts, but have observed some behaviors that should be addressed. This kind of statement opens the dialogue for ways that the agent can improve upon their behaviors, while at the same time maintaining an understanding environment.

Shuffle the deck every so often

Over time, with any organization, cliques can begin to develop. This happens even more so within the call center; agents work in the same spot for most of the day, which undoubtedly fosters strong relationships. As supervisors observe Developing Call Center Agents to be Effective - Shuffle the Deckthese relationships, it is important to take note of what behavior is tolerable and what behavior is not. For instance, if there is a specific group that works well together and performs at a high quality level with minimal issues, it best to keep them together.

On the other hand, there may be a group of agents that only have an interest in doing their assigned tasks, and nothing more. In this case, it may be a good idea to mix a few good agents in with the complacent agents. This will accomplish two things. First, it will allow the supervisor to see how the agents function as a collective group, and second, it will cause a viral effect of increased productivity. When the agents that are exceeding begin to work with those that have difficulty, those good work ethics begin to rub off on the group.  This doesn’t happen overnight, but in the long run, it will be very easy to see an uptick in productivity and performance.

When used effectively, these techniques will separate a leader from a manager; a manager handles processes and functions, but a leader is also able to motivate their employees. Motivation is accomplished by giving honest feedback and positive encouragement; with the right mix of those factors, any supervisor will be doing more for their agent’s character and their business than they may even realize.

Ilou Thompson is the Corporate Trainer and Quality Manager at Stratus Contact Solutions. He has been with the company since July 2014 and has 9 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Ilou worked with ADT Home Security Services where he worked with and developed groups of 30+ agents monthly. Currently, his responsibilities with Stratus include creating training material and agendas for new accounts, training agents on new material, as well as maintaining call quality observations for each account.

5 Training Methods to Improve Call Center Agent Performance

Call center agents experience a wide variety of things during a typical day of servicing customers. These experiences give the individual new-found knowledge, allowing them to grow as an agent. Because I was once a call center agent, I was able to do just this, which has helped me in training newer agents. I try to pass on knowledge, tips, and tricks to each individual, so that they can succeed in their role. Below, I have put together a list of five tips that I try to instill during training, in order to improve call center agent performance:

Tip # 1- Know where you stand with quality

Perception plays a key role in every job and the call center is no different. Therefore, it is important for the agent to 5 training methods to improve call center agent performance - Qualityknow what level of quality they are providing in their role. An agent may think that they are doing a fantastic job, when in actuality there could be a few areas that need improvement. I urge agents to ensure that they meet with their supervisor for quality reviews on either a biweekly or a monthly basis. These reviews bring light to the areas of their role that need improvement, as well as the areas that the agent is excelling at. Getting negative critiques can be tough at times, but not receiving feedback at all is far worse.

Tip # 2- It’s not the customer…It’s you

With each training segment, I like to dedicate a small portion of time to emotional triggers. These are phrases or actions from the customer, or the agent, that can take a call from being great to being horrible. The main focus of this activity is figuring out which of these triggers can be controlled and which ones cannot. For instance, an agent experiencing computer lag due to a system issue cannot be controlled. However, the agent’s attitude and how they explain things to the customer is 100% controllable.

Tip#3- Focus on the task at hand

As customers begin to warm up to an agent’s personality, repeat customers are created that demand to only speak with specific agents. Because of this, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in dialogue that may veer off-topic. I advise agents that it is great to establish a customer-agent connection, but they have to remember that they are there to service customers in a timely manner, so that all other customer interactions can be handled.

Tip # 4- Set personal goals

As agents receive their performance metrics, it is a good idea to raise the bar, in terms of personal goals. This triggers 5 training methods to improve call center agent’s performance - Personal Goalsself-motivation within the agent, which improves performance, as well as productivity. When an agent and their
supervisor examine statistics such as calls per hour or their quality score, the agent should always be encouraged to have the mindset they did great this time, but to question how they can they do even better the next time. Emphasizing that the agent should never settle for mediocrity will always drive great performance. In some cases, incentives can be tied into this, which will motivate not only those being incentivized, but others who are witnessing this reward for performance.

Tip #5- Be present in mind and body

Attendance is important with any job. However, in a call center, it is important not only for the agent to “show up” physically, but also to bring their skills and ambition to the role. There is a lot of information being received, as well as given out in each customer service interaction, making it crucial for the agent be “present” while on the clock. When an organization is on the rise, supervisors look for leaders that can help to grow the organization for success. For an agent to be considered, I advise them to monitor, along with their work ethics and productivity, their attendance.

In short, approaching each customer service interaction with a good attitude, their best effort, and a certain level of self-motivation will guide each agent towards a higher performance level.

Ilou Thompson is the Corporate Trainer and Quality Manager at Stratus Contact Solutions. He has been with the company since July 2014 and has 9 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Ilou worked with ADT Home Security Services where he worked with and developed groups of 30+ agents monthly. Currently, his responsibilities with Stratus include creating training material and agendas for new accounts, training agents on new material, as well as maintaining call quality observations for each account.

How to Motivate Your Contact Center Agents

We all know that motivated agents work better and harder.  But how do we ensure our agents are always motivated? According to a recent SHRM Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey, only 69% of employees feel they are consistently putting all their effort into their work. If you’ve tried a variety of incentives but are still seeing the negative side effects of low motivation, you’re not alone. By gaining a better understanding of what motivates people, you will make yourself a more effective manager and help you to get the most out of those agents who work for you. Here are a few basic techniques that you can try in order to keep your contact center agents motivated and to maintain overall productivity:

Make their Job FUN
An exciting work environment will make agents eager to come in to work.  At Stratus, we encourage all employees to participate in dress-up days where agents may wear the gear of a favorite sports team during playoffs, or participate in crazy hat or sock days during customer service week.  These kinds of things will put smiles on the faces of your coworkers and help your agents to maintain positive, upbeat attitudes. Motivate

Make them feel APPRECIATED
It is extremely important to recognize agents for doing good work and encouraging those who may not be performing up to expectations by providing helpful coaching and feedback.  An agent who feels valued and empowered is much more likely to work hard and do what is expected than one who feels neglected. If you see an agent go the extra mile for a customer, or you notice that an agent has been exceedingly consistent in their good service, let them know that you have noticed and appreciate their efforts.  A simple thank you or showing your appreciation for an employee’s hard work can make all the difference in the world.  Everyone likes to be recognized for doing an outstanding job.

Encouraging feedback shows agents you respect them and value their opinion.  Encourage them to share ideas with you. Find out what sorts of rewards or team contests they would enjoy most.  Try to implement suggestions where feasible. Coach agents on specific challenges and address any difficult issues they face. Remember that no matter our job position, we all like to be rewarded or praised for doing it well.

Make the Job Easier with TRAINING
Training is very important and an excellent motivator. It’s also a great way to show agents you respect what they do. Remember that your agents have a very difficult task of keeping customers happy, and any tools you can give them to make their job easier will be greatly appreciated. Training keeps agents up to date and focuses on the job at hand.  If agents are given quality training that covers the topics and issues they can expect to face, then they become more effective at their jobs and will, to a certain extent, motivate themselves to perform at a higher level using the skills learned during training.

Teamwork Thumbs UpReward for a JOB WELL DONE!
Rewarding employees for achievement is a far more effective way to reinforce shared commitment than punishing them for failure. Contact Center agents always enjoy receiving rewards when they hit contact center goals or go above and beyond the call of duty for a customer.  When someone does a good job it’s important to recognize their achievements. Offering bonus incentives gives the agents something to strive for and also shows you will commend good work.  When they see the positive and immediate results of what they do, they do it better; faster; more often.

With these tips, you can effectively keep your contact center agents happy and they will in turn provide great customer service to your customers!

Reducing Contact Center Agent Attrition

Agent attrition can be one of the most costly changes affecting the contact center environment. With an average turnover rate of 30% for contact centers, managers must take preemptive measures to reduce agent attrition.

So – how can you reduce attrition in your contact center?

Before you can improve attrition, you have to first understand what causes it. Ask yourself this: Are agents getting the training and coaching that they need to feel confident answering questions from customers? Do they have the right knowledge and skills to perform the job? Do agents have a good relationship with their supervisors? Is there a clear career path for agents?

In addition to interacting with customers and keeping them satisfied, contact center agents have many other off-phone responsibilities, including going through training and coaching that enables them to perform their job to the best of their ability.

Unfortunately, finding the time to train, coach and communicate with agents’ remains a challenge for many centers. Without proper training and job preparation, many agents become frustrated and end up walking out the door not long after they receive their first few paychecks.

The truth is that when agents don’t have the training and coaching they need, their performance suffers. Poor performing agents are less satisfied with their jobs and ultimately more likely to leave your company. And every time an agent leaves, it means big bucks for your company. By incorporating the following recommendations, you can help reduce attrition within your contact center.

Hire Agents That Are a Good Fit & Improve New Hire Trainingcontact-center-supervisor
When hiring, consider personality, communication skills, cultural fit, team-oriented attitudes and the skills of the applicant. Be sure to clearly define job roles, common tasks and performance expectations so your applicant will know what is expected of them, and can opt out of the job if it is not a good fit.

Hiring the right agents for the job and then providing those agents with the necessary training and coaching they need to do their jobs well, will lead to a more satisfied, engaged and effective agent workforce overall, which ultimately leads to more satisfied customers.

Increase Training & Communications
Providing proper training and having a good communication system in place is the key to any successful business.  It is important that each agent go through the same thorough training with adequate time to acquire the necessary knowledge to successfully complete their job duties, to become acculturated with the company’s values and to build a good working relationship with colleagues.

Give Agents Responsibilities to Motivate Them
Attrition is a major problem and coming out with an apt solution is a tough task to accomplish.  To succeed in reducing attrition companies need to understand and focus on the areas that motivate and de-motivate employees first and then focus on the remaining areas that require immediate attention.  While many believe that pay and benefits have the most significant impact on attrition, companies should be careful to not make the mistake of ignoring other variables as well.

Give them responsibilities right away, that way, they’ll understand the importance of their position.  It is important that employees feel like part of the team, and understand what the business is striving for and the part that they have to play in making it happen.  It is important that the agents have clearly defined expectations, that they receive feedback based on these expectations and that they know who to talk with when they have an issue or concern.

Implement Supervisor-Agent Coaching Programs
Management must be visible. It is essential that your team sees you, whether walking the floor to supervise their work or just checking to see how they are doing.  This will also help in increasing your team’s motivation.  Management teams should embrace a coaching culture and encourage collaboration among contact center agents. Agents who are coached with constructive feedback, provided with valuable insights and given personal attention are more effective and are also more likely to enjoy their work. Also, when agents can rely on their colleagues for support and guidance, they will be more likely to feel like they are a part of the team and will stay with the company longer.

Let Agents Know They’re Valued
Enhance recognition and implement a rewards program for agents. This will enhance motivation and help agents to build collective moral and engagement with their work. However, it is imperative that when it comes to incentives, be sure to follow through and deliver on the promises and commitments that you made. Broken promises will lead to mistrust and dissatisfied agents.

You can also increase job satisfaction and performance with opportunities for agents to learn new skills and new technologies. Not only will they stay with your team longer, they will be more competent and confident performing their work-related duties.

Promote Agent Career Paths
Offer continuous opportunities for promotion. Most open positions within call centers are filled by promoting internal candidates. By continuously offering opportunities for promotion, agents are incentivized to work harder at their job. It is important to also be sure to promote top performers. Agents who feel that excellence leads to career progress and better opportunities will be more engaged with their work and with your company.

customer-experience

In conclusion, it is on call center managers and supervisors to train agents effectively so that agents will be properly prepared to meet customer needs, as well as the overall job expectations required of them. Following the aforementioned tips will help create better communications in the work place, enhance your training curriculum and management, and retain your hired agents more effectively.

Ultimately, create a happier work environment for your agents, so that they in turn can provide amazing service for your customers, and reduce the risks of agent attrition for your business.

 

Lu Gutierrez is the Director of Human Resources at Stratus Contact Solutions. She has been with the company since 1997 and has over 30 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Lu worked with a variety of telecom companies through mergers and acquisitions, including WorldCom, Metromedia, and LDS. Currently, her responsibilities include employee recruitment, payroll, benefits and employee relations for all of Stratus.  

Training Contact Center Agents for Maximum Success

In this day and age, there are an increasing number of customers that expect a certain level of digital communication from their service providers; these channels of digital communication include everything from email to social media. Companies have to ensure that their agents are able to respond to this new way of communication as promptly and effectively as possible. A quick turnaround, along with knowledgeable and friendly agents that provide resolution for customer issues, not only makes an organization stand out, but also makes it more marketable.Training Contact Center Agents - Digital Channels

Some may think that training agents to understand these concepts is tricky, but in the end, the agents come to understand and appreciate the growing need for their particular skill set. For example, consider what individuals think when the phrase “call center” is mentioned. Some may associate it with the phrase “the one trick pony”, where you have goods and services in a building with a group of individuals that answers phone calls and nothing more. What they fail to realize is that a call center agent is a multi-skilled individual. One of the methods that I use in training to represent that fact is sparking a group discussion.

Training Contact Center Agents - Teamwork

Rather than facilitating the common text book response of “we are a team”, I allow the agents to learn that on their own, first hand. I do this by advocating for round-table discussions; these discussions often bring out helpful knowledge and tips that each individual may have learned from past experiences. In order to conduct this kind of group activity, I usually start out by verbally painting the back drop of survival. Agents are divided into two groups and are given the scenario of being stranded on a desert island. They are then advised to collectively list ten items they would need to survive, along with their level of importance for each item and why. I then ask them if they “have what it takes to survive the harsh conditions?” The results range from comical to serious. Nevertheless, when this activity is conducted, agents begin to realize the importance of everyone meshing together, along with the skills that each individual possesses. In some cases, I actually leave the group discussion having learned something from the agents.

As different steps and procedures are learned for their job roles, it is always interesting to see the agents relate their experiences in the contact center back to the survival scenario. They realize that while one person may have selected an item that seems odd, there will always be another person that finds a reason for its usefulness.

Training Contact Center Agents

I explain that each agent has been selected to join Stratus Contact Solutions with a particular bracket of skills and style. However, it is beneficial for them to absorb knowledge from as many procedures as possible to ensure maximum success.

In short, agents in a multi-channel contact center already possess the skills to be multi-talented. By building on the skills they have and gaining newly acquired ones, each agent is transformed into a powerful rolling force in the call center world.

 

 

Ilou Thompson is the Corporate Trainer and Quality Manager at Stratus Contact Solutions. He has been with the company since July 2014 and has 9 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Ilou worked with ADT Home Security Services where he worked with and developed groups of 30+ agents monthly. Currently, his responsibilities with Stratus include creating training material and agendas for new accounts, training agents on new material, as well as maintaining call quality observations for each account.

How to Recruit (and Keep) the Best Contact Center Agents

With a new year now underway, it’s time for companies to review and ramp up their process for finding, selecting and retaining qualified agents. It is a known fact that contact centers and other customer service employees are critical to the success of any company, so it’s important that you recruit the right agent.

Before beginning the hiring process, it is crucial to know exactly the type of agent that is needed. How to identify these individuals is the key to an effective recruiting process. Here are a handful of the must-have characteristics and underlining traits for any good contact center agent:

  • Communication skills (both verbal and written): First and foremost, an agent should be someone who is able to communicate effectively. Our Stratus contact center agents answer hundreds of calls per week and are required to track those calls by documenting the nature and resolution of each call performed. This makes it imperative that all agents are able to listen and communicate with a wide variety of callers, on a variety of issues and provide quality customer service.
  • Dependability: Specific traits that underline dependability within the call center include the ability to be punctual and reliable. Agents are expected to be where they promise to be on time, showing that they can follow through on commitments, etc.
  • Multi-tasking Skills: Agents must be able to answer a call and annotate a tracking system, all while figuring out the best resolution.
  • Analytical Skills: A contact center agent must be a problem solver. One must have the ability to break down a problem and find the best solution in a timely fashion.
  • Detailed Oriented: Having an attention to detail is a must for any agent in the contact center because one wrong, misused or missing word or step in the call tracking process can snowball into a big problem. Poor documentation could lead to duplicate work and repeat callers, making those calls a little tougher to handle.
  • High Integrity: Agents with strong integrity will be less likely to try to mislead or trick potential customers. Traits to look for include demonstration of ethical behavior when confronted with choices that place self-interest over the interest of others.
  • Confidence: A good agent should also be confident but not cocky. By being confident in their own abilities, agents will be able to perform better under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.

By utilizing certain steps, call centers can significantly improve the recruiting process for their organization. Only once the most desired employee traits have been identified, should your organization begin the actual interview process for potential call center agents.

During this interview process, honesty is the best policy. Be clear to potential hires about exactly what is expected of agents and be as open as possible about company policies. This will help to decrease risk of disgruntled agents down the road and, by correlation, help in retaining trained agents and lowering the staffing turnover rate.

Always recruit in numbers if possible and never hire one agent at a time. Hiring in groups – preferably in classes of no more than ten agents – allows the new agents to go through the training and induction process together, where they will benefit from learning from one another. This also allows the new agents to bond with one another so that they feel more confident to ‘go live’ on the contact center floor at the same time.

It’s also important to note that the training needs to be fun, interactive and engaging for the agents. Having a group environment where agents can ask questions freely and feel comfortable doing so works best.

Lastly, remember that your customers are looking for a friendly, fast, reliable, and knowledgeable customer experience. Putting in place an effective recruiting process to identify candidates with the right qualities listed above will provide you agents that will not only make a great impact on your contact center, but will also stick around for the long term, as they will come into their jobs with the proper expectations and outlook.

 

Lu Gutierrez is the Director of Human Resources at Stratus Contact Solutions. She has been with the company since 1997 and has over 30 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Lu worked with a variety of telecom companies through mergers and acquisitions, including WorldCom, Metromedia, and LDS. Currently, her responsibilities include employee recruitment, payroll, benefits and employee relations for all of Stratus.  

Training Agents to Balance Between Sales and Service

Customer service agents are seen as the front line representation of a company’s values

and processes. Because of this, it is important for every agent to understand the importance

of balancing company sales quotas with exceptional customer service.

 

Customer service at its core, and true to its name, is simply that — servicing the customer.

As agents are trained on a myriad of systems and processes, emphasis should always be

placed on the root foundation of customer service, which is the customer connection. This

connection is formed when the agent makes the customer feel comfortable enough within

the customer service experience that open dialogue can occur. Open lines of

communication between customer and agent make it much easier to boost sales and

retention rates.

 

Training Agents - Keep Your Customers Happy with EmpathyAfter all, most customer service agents are consumers themselves, so it’s

important to emphasize customer empathy. This is done by asking the

popular question “would you sell to yourself and why”? Simulations are

performed in which agents are treated as owners of their own organization

or brand.

 

Doing this activity allows the group to compare and contrast their customer service skills with one

another. You’d be surprised to see how good each agent is at making sure that the customer is getting the

best service possible. This is simply because the exercise makes each participant view customer service

from the eyes of the consumer, rather than the agent.

 

Training Agents for Sales and Service - Image of Agent in Training

As agents continue their commitment to customer satisfaction, and learn the

importance of their role, it’s important for them to realize that they should

offer opportunities rather than wait for the customers’ initiation. This can be

facilitated by training an agent to utilize active listening. Within the

constructs of this skill, agents are able to implement their response

triggers. These triggers are essential to sales and service practices, as it allows the

branching of rebuttals or for lack of better terms, options.

 

In an era where consumers are saturated with base line service for certain products, a

company that has several different choices and avenues for their brand is more viable than

a company that is fixated on just one particular avenue. As this is explained, they start to

understand the multi-faceted approach that Stratus Contact Solutions utilizes and its

commitment to that end.

 

As interactions are analyzed between customer and agent as it relates to sales and service,

one important thing to keep in mind is that the balance always depends on the nature of

your product or service. This is why it is important for agents to share experiences they’ve

had in previous customer service roles. During this reflection, the group collectively learns

the effectiveness of certain strategies based on the type of product or service being offered.

From that point, quantifiable results can then be looked at during training, which allow

supervisors to assess each agent’s productivity. For instance, when repeat customers

request the same agent or accolades are given within a customer service call, it is easy to

attribute a certain “wow factor” to that particular agent.

 

In the end, customer service agents always have to be proponents for both sales and

service. The balance between the two can sometimes be a latent gift that they might not be

aware of. However, when agents are encouraged to compare experiences and streamline

collective practices, they begin to understand the symbiotic relation between sales and

service.

 

Ilou Thompson is the Corporate Trainer and Quality Manager at Stratus Contact Solutions. He has been with the company since July 2014 and has 9 years of experience in the industry. Previously, Ilou worked with ADT Home Security Services where he worked with and developed groups of 30+ agents monthly. Currently, his responsibilities with Stratus include creating training material and agendas for new accounts, training agents on new material, as well as maintaining call quality observations for each account.