Friday, February 10, 2017

When It Comes To Onboarding New Agents, Avoid the Sink or Swim Approach

By: Sean Hawkins



Sink or swim suggests one succeeds or fails by their own effort. Tell me, is this the approach you’d take when on-boarding new agents? I hope not! Yet, when it comes to on-boarding, a flawed approach results in a sink or swim approach.  If you find yourself hurried to fill seats, by quickly on-boarding new staff, you may doing them a huge disservice. In an ideal world, you’d utilize proper forecasting to determine when additional staff is needed. This alone would help avoid the rush to the floor. I would always tell floor managers “If you need agents now, you’ve acted too late.” Don’t exacerbate your problem by expediting training. I have always used a 6 week on-boarding model. Depending on the team, product or employer, this could be increased but, it would never be less than 6 weeks. There was no scientific data, or exhaustive research that brought me to this. It was the result of trial and error, along with lots of feedback from the agents. Ultimately, it was the performance of new agents that helped me make my decision. I recall the first time I entered the contact center many years ago. I spent 8 hours training and the next day, I was expected to be proficient enough to handle any call that I answered. I was not prepared. I had not been given sufficient time to retain the training material, nor had I been thoroughly introduced to the numerous applications needed to do the job. To say I was frustrated is an understatement! I doubted myself and soon grew frustrated. Before long, I was dreading the next call! I simply wanted to get the customer off the phone. I was not ready. That was not fair to me, or the customer. A lot has changed since then. I am no longer tasked with taking calls. However, there’s not been a week that has gone by that I haven’t interacted with a customer in some fashion. For one, I enjoy the front line. Interacting with customers is a thrill. Also, I remain connected to the agents. I am aware of their challenges more intimately. This helps when it comes to on-boarding. New team members should not feel afraid to come to the floor. With a successful plan in place to equip them with the right resources, people and processes, they can be set up for success. There is more than one way to do this. My approach may not work for everyone. However, after many years in the industry, and spending time speaking to a host of leaders and experts, the one thing in common that all good on-boarding programs have, is time. Giving new hires the time to become acclimated to the wonderful chaos of the contact center is key. The six weeks of on-boarding I've incorporated is divided into two weeks in three key areas: Training  This is the foundation in which you will continue to build on. A well trained agent will have a better understanding of their role. Not to mention, they will recognize the importance their role has on the customer and the organization. They will develop the skills necessary to succeed and exhibit a can-do attitude from the confidence of knowing their responsibilities. Elaine Carr, Manager of Training & Development at ICMI, wrote an outstanding article on agent training, 10 Best Practices for Agent Training. In it, she offers great tips to ensure agent training is a successful. Nesting  Arriving to the floor can be intimidating. New staff not only need to learn their job and get acclimated to processes and procedures in place, they must also get familiar with other staff and fit into a team environment. Seating them with all new staff is not ideal, as they will feel isolated. Instead, I assign newer staff a seat near the more experienced staff who have shown a propensity to assist others. These are likely agents operating at a higher performance. At the same time, am mindful of the new agent’s personality. I want them in an area where they will be best engaged by the team. I want their natural dispositions to shine. Email Support  I’ve always utilized email as the jumping off point for new agents. For one, the response time is higher therefore, there is less pressure on them than in a real time interaction of chat, social or phone. Additionally, the agent can spend time researching the issue and resolution, receiving feedback from peers or manager, and getting their responses vetted.  After completing the on-boarding phase, I allow the new agent to spend 2 hours per shadowing the top performing agents on the floor. This is done for the first month following the on-boarding phase.



Currently the Manager of Support and Product at Framework Homeownership, I have over 15 years of progressive call center leadership and experience in the public, private and government sectors.

I have led or consulted contact centers of various sizes across numerous industries and environments including sales, BPO, and SaaS to name a few. Additionally, I’ve implemented new technology and products, while maintaining award-winning contact centers.


Connect with Sean on LinkedIn and Twitter.


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