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Tips for Training Outsourced Agents

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The magic of an ICMI event reminds us that many of the diverse challenges that make up the contact center ecosystem are tightly intertwined. What started as a singularly-focused presentation I lead about the measurement of customer feedback during May's #CCExpo, quickly evolved into a broad-brush stroke painting of how the effective training of our front-line agents will resolve today's customer care challenges. Training agents is mission critical in the customer service industry, whether your agents are in-house, offshore, onshore, nearshore, or outsourced.

Training Outsourced Customer Service Agents

Tip #1: Train often, consistently, and for the right things.

Training for outsourced agents should be specific, consistent and frequent.  A "set it and forget it" approach just won't cut it--training needs to be an ongoing philosophy that covers soft skills, cultural differences, and brand voice. My co-presenter last month, Michael Furman, reminded us that contact center agents must know how to speak with customers. The ability to listen and quickly digest information and then convert it into responses that help customers feel confident their problem will be resolved is crucial. This sort of skillset will not come from reading off a script--scripts only work if everyone involved is reading off a script, and as we know, customers don't.

Skills such as active listening and engaging with upset customers are the initial building blocks to agent success. The most important soft skill we can train on is how to be resourceful. Equipping our agents with the information they need to know and where and how to look for the right answers will empower their ability to find a solution. Most importantly, we need to teach them what to do with that information once they find it.

Traditional training techniques exercise a lot of repetition. Call centers that attempt to fit as much information about every possible scenario into the process are sometimes ineffective-when certain situations don't occur frequently enough, the agent does not acquire a new skill, and the technique is forgotten.

The call center environment is continuously evolving. Some tools now exist for agents to use to resolve a variety of problems at any given time and to provide customers with a pleasant experience. Training agents to use these tools, and to be resourceful in unexpected and unforeseen environments, rather than training for every possible issue is the best practice.

Tip #2: Train international agents on the ways of the U.S.

There is an associated stigma with nearshore and offshore call centers. Some companies have concerns that international agents won't have the same level of skills that U.S. agents do, that the agents won't speak the desired language well, or that they reside in a dangerous area. In fact, these agents are just as, if not more, qualified than U.S. agents. The rigorous and consistent training they endure on available tools as well as their language capabilities (speaking two or three languages) gives them a competitive edge.

That's not to say there isn't a learning curve. International agents need to be trained on some additional soft skills such as customer profiles and consumer demographics, general U.S. culture and nuances, and the brand voice of the company they will be representing. Concerning customer experience, nearshore and outsourced agents, especially at Callzilla, are incredibly well trained.

Tip #3: Make "brand voice" a top priority.

Agent training on soft skills and culture is the responsibility of the call center. By the time a client comes to us to train on brand voice, products and policies, there is a minimum expectation that our agents already possess call center experience, soft skills and the ability to know how to communicate with customers. Training agents on how to understand a company's voice-whether they are a dedicated or a shared agent or not-should be the top priority for companies when they are engaging with an outsourced contact center.

Another crucial element is in-person training. Training is always more successful and more meaningful when it takes place on-site and when the team outside the U.S. can engage directly with the companies' training staff. With an initial onboarding visit, and with recurring with follow-up calls and video conferences, companies can expect to see a training ROI.

At Callzilla, we see that this training is most beneficial not as a one-off exercise, but instead as a consistent and frequent approach that already has a weekly or monthly component to it. When agents can discuss updates, stressful situations, or scenarios that were never considered in the training environment, the whole team is better for it. They can ask questions and view those problems together to find the best approach.

Tip #4: Practice empathy and understanding.

No matter who is training the agent - whether it is their call center of employment or the brand or company they are working on behalf of - the true training focus should be on what it's like to be in the customer's shoes. Understanding what the customer has been through, or experienced before they've talked to the agents, and learning how to be as sensitive as possible to solve the problem is the goal. Ultimately, you should train outsourced agents to be reflective of your own company, as well as for the client.

When training outsourced agents, it's crucial to emphasize soft skills, train for situation management and de-emphasize rote learning.