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2 Small Changes That Cut One Contact Center’s Agent Ramp-up Time by 75%

If you’ve ever baked a pie, scrambled eggs, or cooked steak, you know that the slightest tweak in your method (or ingredients) can produce dramatically better results. Well, Stephanie––a Training Manager at a call center––recently discovered the same is true for training new agents. By making just two modifications, her new call center agents were able to confidently do their new jobs in a fraction of the time it normally took.

Traditional Training = Reasonable Results

Last year, Stephanie’s training curriculum consisted of two weeks in the classroom and one week on the floor with close supervision. Stephanie noticed that even after three weeks of training, her new agents were still very timid when it came to helping customers over the phone.

Right out of training, new agents followed the same pattern for each call they picked up:

  1. Put the customer on hold
  2. Look for somebody close by who wasn’t busy
  3. Ask that person what to do
  4. If that person didn’t know, the agent looked for somebody else

Stephanie observed that, while the three weeks of classroom training was helping new agents feel comfortable with the systems, the classroom training didn’t help new agents become proficient at responding to customers. It seemed to take another 45 days of “on-the-job training” to reach an ideal level of proficiency.

While that isn’t very long when compared to industry standards, Stephanie decided to tweak the training curriculum so that new agents were proficient sooner.

Here’s how she did it.

Two Changes to the Curriculum

Since new agents learned the most during “on-the-job training,” Stephanie rewrote the classroom training curriculum to include scenarios that agents would experience while on the floor. To do this effectively, she focused on doing two things.

1: Building the right support materials

Stephanie is a realist. She knows that even if the new training curriculum included dozens of realistic scenarios, the new agents could never remember everything they practiced. So, her first effort was to redo the documentation so that new agents would have something they could reference after classroom training was over.

Stephanie used ScreenSteps to re-write and reformat her call flows, if/then decision trees, and step-by-step instructions. Her changes to the documentation made it easier for agents to scan by gradually revealing pertinent information as call agents needed it. Her formatting allowed for the documentation to be comprehensive, yet simple to reference during a call.

Below is an example of what that kind of documentation might look like.

New Hire Training

With good documentation, the agents didn’t have to memorize everything. They just needed to remember how to find (and use) the call flows, if/then decision trees, and step-by-step instructions.

2: Improving training activities

Instead of extending her three-week training program, Stephanie focused on changing what the new agents did during the two-week classroom time .

On the first day, Stephanie gave them an overview of the contact center’s systems. Then, beginning on day two, she focused purely on running the new agents through dozens of questions and scenarios while teaching them how to use her ScreenSteps documentation to respond.

For example, she would ask them to “find an Opportunity in Salesforce.” If they didn’t know how to do that, she showed them how to find the help article that explained how. Gradually, Stephanie’s scenarios got more challenging and more involved. Each time, the new agents were expected to search ScreenSteps for the answer and read the article. They would then talk about the procedure as a class to make sure everyone was on the same page.

New call center agent training

Stephanie’s classroom training replicated what happened when new agents hit the floor, and she taught them how to use her documentation to respond. Then, on week three, the new agents were on the phones with a supervisor close by. Each time they received a question or a request, they would search the ScreenSteps knowledge base to find the appropriate answer.

By the end of week three, new agents had gone through dozens of scenarios and learned how to use the documentation to respond while on a call with a customer.

Want to learn more? Join Jonathan DeVore and Stephanie Beal for session 604 at ICMI Contact Center Connections, October 28-30 in Chicago. 

Ramp-up Time Was Cut By 75%

After Stephanie improved the resources that call agents would use after training and included more “on-the-job” experiences during the classroom training, her newly hired agents started their jobs with more confidence and a higher level of proficiency. Stephanie’s boss said that the most recent class to graduate from her training curriculum had the “BEST performance that this call center has seen from any new hire training class in the last year.”

And the metrics backed that up. Stephanie reports:

“New agents were able to handle any type of call right out of training. After about 30 days, they were pretty much experts. Handle time is down, talk time is down, hold time is down––the metrics across the board are a lot better than they were previously. It’s been a fantastic experience.”

After only 15 days of being hired, new agents were able to handle any call. Before Stephanie made the changes, new agents were shuddering when they received complex phone calls even after 60 days of being on the job.

All in all, Stephanie’s new curriculum reduced the average agent’s time-to-complete-proficiency by 75%. Not only did that decrease the number of interruptions created by new agents during the day, but it reduced the stress new agents felt as they started answering phone calls.

It’s Time to Change Your New-Hire Training

For years, several instructional designers have been promoting the approach Stephanie implemented to train her new agents. Her experience proved that the approach actually works!

Dr. Robert O. Brinkerhoff did a study in 2006 (included in this book ) that demonstrated the tremendous impact of developing post-training support materials. And Cathy Moore recently published a book that goes into great detail on why you should (and how you can) incorporate scenario-based activities into training sessions.

If you’re struggling to get new hires to a high level of proficiency in a shorter amount of time, it’s time for you to revisit your training curriculum. Studies have shown, and Stephanie’s experience has demonstrated, that a few small tweaks can lead to dramatically better results.