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You only get one chance to make a good first impression. This adage has a double meaning in the world of contact centres, both for customers and the welcoming and training of new call centre agents. A quality integration prepares agents to succeed and can build loyalty to an organisation. To do this though, onboarding programs for contact centre agents need to be engaging and informative to help them gain confidence and know-how as quickly as possible.
Onboarding of new contact centre agents includes each step from arrival to their complete integration. Running successful onboarding may seem like a routine activity but it’s crucial to building stable and functional teams for the long term. In addition, it’s the first experience new contact centre agents have at an organisation. A 2021 UK study by Wildgoose showed that 63% of those starting a new job felt elements of the onboarding were insufficient. A startling 34% said they weren’t made aware of their core responsibilities and numerous answers pointed to problems building bonds and not feeling part of a team. If conducted properly though, Glassdoor found that onboarding can improve a company’s retention rate by 82%. Whereas in the current job market a negative onboarding experience can drive new agents back out of the contact centre, or even the profession. How can organisations build a solid integration strategy to prepare agents for their role, acclimatise them to company culture and reduce turnover and the associated costs?
New agents often need to get their bearings quickly. A warm welcome breaks down barriers and introduces teammates who can offer help and support. It’s an excellent place to start the onboarding of new contact centre agents. Workplace relationships can be complex and figuring out who to confide in, or not as the case may be, can help manage stress levels.
Serving customers before learning anything about a company or its customers just doesn’t make sense. At a minimum, onboarding should be an introduction to the company’s history, values, products and common customer queries. Getting lost in the planning and delivering of detailed onboarding programmes for contact centre agents without first giving a context in which to apply the new knowledge makes learning much more difficult. General company knowledge should come before focusing on specific cases.
Understanding the implications of certain principles like brand image, loyalty and customer satisfaction that help manage customer relations on an individual level, from a business point of view is almost as important as knowing security rules and how to manage personal information. This places a large responsibility on supervisors to appraise the onboarding of new contact centre agents, engage them in the process or even design a new programme. Without a well-devised integration in the company, where everyone understands their role, including supporting team members, a new agent can be left feeling bewildered, without an understanding of what is expected of them.
Supervisors also need to take on the role of reassuring mentors, especially as agents are coached while taking calls. This could take the form of a more intensive version of quality management using call recording or call whispering to help guide and give feedback. However, for the first few calls, a new agent will always benefit from having someone sitting right next to them if possible, someone they can literally turn to even if it is just for a smile of encouragement. This is where onboarding takes a turn towards coaching, positive reinforcement and kind feedback which can make a big difference in keeping stress levels down. In this context wrap-up time becomes a debriefing, highlighting the positives and suggesting ways to improve.
Suggesting how to improve is important. Listening to the calls of more experienced colleagues can help give clear examples of good practices. Hearing examples of common bad practices can also help by highlighting bad habits to avoid. This can be given a lighthearted feel by a couple of examples of hilarious interactions that didn’t go to plan, everyone makes mistakes and sometimes things are out of your control.
Contact centre agents can often work in isolation, which may leave new hires feeling lonely and unsure of where to turn for help after onboarding has ended. A mentoring program can reassure newcomers, continuing the social integration and helping them learn about less formal aspects of the job, making them feel a part of company culture. Mentors can also share their experience, answer agents’ questions or give advice about the different processes and specific challenges of the job.
A supervisor can also play the role of a mentor instead of a more experienced agent. This can also make the transition to longer-term coaching easier as supervisors are the driving force in the learning process for new agents, as well as for the rest of their team. The complex needs of customers mean that new agents can’t be expected to understand and deal with the full spectrum of queries immediately. Routing provides an excellent way for supervisors to control the type of requests reaching an agent and as confidence rises new skills can be learnt and added to skill management-based routing rules. This is an ongoing process which helps create an environment of continued professional development and greater job satisfaction.
The process of development has to go at the right pace for the individual though, starting with less complex low priority tasks and working up as each skill is mastered. Supervisors and agents should trust each other and make decisions about progression together. Although feelings and human relations in a team should inform decision making, tracking performance indicators such as average handling time, first call resolution and net promoter score can also indicate the maturity level of an agent.
It’s easy to assume that once a contact centre agent has reached the team’s average performance levels that onboarding is complete. The reality is quite different. As in any constantly evolving profession, initial training should transition into coaching and professional development with ongoing supervision. Promoting a supportive team environment helps not only new agents as they continue to integrate but also addresses agent wellbeing. Even with good performance results, new recruits should be put into less demanding areas that allow them to learn on the job without overwhelming them while their ability to cope with stress is assessed. Longer-term, during the coaching phase, there is plenty of scope for up-skilling, like specialised training with a focus on soft skills or stress and conflict management.
In order for contact centre agents to develop there are some common scenarios that need rethinking:
Finally, for contact centres, conducting surveys after several weeks or months is a good way to get feedback on onboarding programs and follow up with new contact centre agents. This can highlight areas for improvement and continue support for new agents by finding out what areas they are struggling with so additional training can be suggested.
Developing a quality onboarding for contact centre agents sets the tone for a better agent and customer experience. It should address the well-being of the employee, create a feeling of belonging within the company, engage them in their tasks and build a bond between the agent and the supervisor. The Odigo Academy works to onboard contact centre agents with the skills they need to adapt quickly to Contact Centre as a Service (CCaaS) solutions and build expert customer service skills. To learn more, contact one of our experts.
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