25 Surefire Ways to Train Call-Center Agents

Updated: April 30, 2009


Regardless of the hardware and software your call center has, you need to train your agents how to use it. Training is an inescapable fact of life in a call center, and teaching your agents to use hardware is an important part of that training.


1. Make sure your training aligns with your business goals. All of your call-center procedures and metrics should support your business goals, including the training your agents receive. Make sure your trainees understand these goals and how the technology they're learning applies to them.

2. Focus on the tasks, not the technology. A manual is not a textbook, and trying to present technology straight out of the manual is about the worst possible approach. A manual is about the software or hardware. Training is about the job to be done. Your training should focus on what you want the students to be able to accomplish. It should be based on how to use the technology, not all its bells and whistles.

Even users' manuals tend to be built around the structure of the system, which is one of the reasons they're so frustrating. Typically, the user isn't looking for information on, say, file structure. He or she is trying to accomplish something. It is at best time-consuming, and often frustrating trying to relate a category like file structure to the job the user is trying to do.

3. Give an overview. While you shouldn't try to train from the manual, your students need to understand more than how to do X, Y and Z. They need to see how the parts of the technology fit together and how that applies to their responsibilities. For instance, it's usually a good idea to show the trainees the workflow of the processes they'll be implementing, even the pieces that are far removed from the call center. It helps them get a grip on what they're doing and it allows them to make better decisions.

4. Make your training practical. Call-center training is about teaching agents to do specific tasks, not just pass a test. Your classroom should give your trainees as much practical experience as possible. Put them on the phones and computers with instructors or other students and have them actually use the procedures you're teaching them.

5. Focus on outcomes. When a customer calls, your business has a desired outcome. It may be increased sales, or it may be a customer satisfied that his or her problem has been resolved. Whatever that outcome is, it goes well beyond having the call-center agent run through a process or answer a series of questions . When you design a training program, keep that desired outcome in mind. Ask yourself how this module contributes to what you want.

6. Show trainees where to get answers. Even the most comprehensive training course can't cover every feature of your technology. Your trainees will have to learn some content outside of class, and your training should give them the tools to do that.

This goes way beyond pointing out that the manual has an index. You need to give your staff an idea of where they can find information for specific categories. For example, if they have a question when they're on Screen X, tell them to look in Place Y. Likewise, you should tell them who can best answer their questions.

It's also a good idea to warn them about resources they're better off not using. To take an extreme example, Linux comes with a set of documentation called man (for "manual") pages which are sometimes available to people running Linux software. In theory, you can use the man pages to find out what any command does and how it works. This is fine, except for the fact that you need to be a Linux maven to get much out of the man pages. Everyone else should seek answers elsewhere.

7. Don't give your trainees double messages. Don't tell you call-center staff that customer satisfaction is paramount and then score them on how quickly they can wind up a call. This is tricky because every call center has multiple goals and there's often a tension between them. You need to strike a balance and make sure your training reflects that balance.

8. Give agents a customer-centric focus. A call center exists to serve customers. Your training, even on technology, should help your agents focus on the customer as the most important component of the job.

9. Treat your students individually. This includes identifying learning or knowledge gaps and working to correct them. It also means evaluating both the students' abilities and their desire to improve.

10. Train interactively. Successful training is engaging training. One of the effective tools for engaging students is getting them to interact and participate. Ask questions, solicit suggestions and use other techniques to get the students involved in the process.

11. Create a rewards system. Make your students feel that their efforts are important, that they are noticed and that outstanding performance will be recognized by using rewards . Of course, that should follow onto the call-center floor, but the place to begin creating that culture is in your training.

12. Practice makes perfect. Your training should be built around practice. Remember, you're aiming for mastery, which doesn't come without repetition.

13. Mistakes are OK — in training. Your goal is for the students to be competent when they go on the floor, not when they first try the technology. An early focus on perfection inhibits learning. Let your students know that mistakes in class are fine - as long as they learn from them.

14. Watch for opportunities to improve the technology. Your trainees are guinea pigs as well as students. If your students consistently have problems with a particular operation or a procedure, try to figure out a way to improve it. For instance, can you modify the screen to group the information more effectively?

15. Make sure agents understand the underlying business. Give your students the big picture of where the technology fits in the enterprise as a whole.One common problem is that call-center agents will try to neglect the "unimportant" parts of their job. Of course, if the task is really insignificant, the agents shouldn't be doing it. Most of the time what seems to be unimportant to the worker is quite important to someone else.

16. Monitor progress and provide constant feedback. Call it feedback , call it coaching , but whatever you call it, it's important to teaching to mastery.

17. Mix it up to keep it interesting. Don't wait to start the practical training. Ideally, students should get directly involved in simple tasks like logging on or greeting customers within the first hour. Mixing short segments of lecture with short segments of practical experience keeps the students' interest and helps most of them learn faster.

18. Teach ergonomics. Work-related office injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome cost American businesses millions of dollars a year. Much of that can be avoided by teaching your agents proper techniques . That includes everything from how to adjust your office chair to how to use wrist supports.

Use every opportunity, even technical training, to teach good ergonomic principles. This doesn't have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as making sure the students have good posture and keyboard habits - and that they adjust their chairs properly.

And ergonomics isn't just a matter of avoiding injuries. A relaxed, comfortable agent is able to do a better job.

19. Teach relaxation. Similarly, take a minute to teach or reinforce relaxation techniques. Working in a call center, especially a customer-service center, is stressful. Your agents will be more productive and your customers will have a better experience if you train your agents in relaxation techniques.

20. Cross train when possible. Training agents on more than one job makes them more useful and helps keep them interested. It also helps their understanding of their primary job and the company.

21. Pay attention to exceptions. Exceptional circumstances will make or break your customers' response to your call center - and your company. In addition to the basic procedures, your training should cover what to do in unusual situations. It also helps to study the records of actual calls to identify the exceptions that turn up.

22. Provide cheat sheets. Boil down the most important procedures into something the agents can post at their workspace. Don't expect your agents to remember long lists of codes or other information. Write it out for them. Make the sheets short, snappy and to the point. Manuals are fine, but don't expect your agents to thumb through them on the phone to find out how to do something.

23. Make sure they've got copies of the manual. Cheat sheets aside, all your trainees should get a copy of the user's manual or the equivalent to keep by their side in the call center. They may never need it, but it's better for them to have it and not need it than need it and have to go hunting for it.

24. Issue highlighters and post-it notes. Trainees are probably going to want to mark things in the handouts and documentation. Encourage this. It helps them remember and find things later.

25. Training is forever. Don't stop training when the agent goes live on the floor. Training should include regular refresher sessions.

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