Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Preparing New Agents for Customer Service Success

By: Sean Hawkins and Brooks Webb

When hiring new agents, how quickly the agent can begin making a meaningful contribution is always a concern. After training, it is not logical to assume an agent is ready to begin taking phone calls. Unfortunately, managers may look at call volume, handle times and other similar metrics in making a decision to prematurely put new hires in contact with customers.


As individuals are different, we cannot assume a new hire is ready to assist customers just based on previous experiences we’ve had with other new hires.  It is important for managers to view each agent separately and begin identifying their individual needs. I have discovered that this is best done prior to bringing them in to the call center. With each new training class, I set aside time to sit in and monitor the agents. I look at how engaged they are, how quickly they grasp the material, and I keep track of the questions they ask. All of this helps create a plan that is unique to each agent before they enter the call center.


It must be noted, there is a standard plan I use when new agents are introduced to the floor. It is designed to be flexible and easily tailored to the needs of the agent. This is important as it allows the agent to learn at a pace that is best for them without feeling the pressure of trying to “keep up”.  Furthermore, it puts the agent in the best position to succeed and ensures the customer is being assisted by well trained and well equipped agents.


To ensure newly hired agents are getting off to the best possible start, try to concentrate on the following three areas:


Proper Staffing: When starting in support, allow the agent time to focus on Emails rather than Chat or Phone queues. This allows them time to review needed resources, and seek out assistance from peers or managers if necessary. In addition, this removes some of the angst felt when rushed onto the phones without thorough preparation.
 

Real-time Monitoring: Proper monitoring is the key to any new agent’s success. This should be frequent and consistent. When monitoring, observe the preparedness of the agent. Is the agent ready to assist when the interaction starts, or must the customer wait? How efficient is the agent? Evaluate their workflow to discover if there are any deficiencies in how the agent works. Minor changes here, can lead to better interactions for the agent and the customer.

Monitor a new hire for at least 30 minutes a day during their first month on the floor. This gives the agent insight into what the leadership team is looking for, and offers a chance to provide feedback on creating a great customer experience.
 

Timely Feedback/Coaching: Feedback should be given as swiftly as possible. To delay only reinforces bad habits and behaviors that may lead to bad customer experiences. Feedback is designed to help improve agents. Therefore, I would suggest keeping the tone positive. Rather than detailing what was done wrong, accentuate the positives and give suggestions on how to improve in those areas that are lacking. Also, seek input from the agent. They should be as invested in the process as you are. When they see you are eager to hear their opinions, it will only cause them to do better going forward.




Sean is a Customer Experience, Contact Center and Help desk manager with over 12 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

In 2011, his team was awarded the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" for Small to Medium-Sized Centers. Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins












Brooks Webb is the Manager of the Premier Support team at iContact, where his team handles all second level support inquiries, including Billing Support, Level 2 Technical Support, and Support for all Top Level Managed Accounts. Follow Brooks on Twitter @WBrooksWebb
 

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