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Preparing Customer Care Agents to Meet Customer Convenience

Improving the customer experience is a high priority for most contact centers. As customers become more demanding about receiving service and support at their convenience, the challenge becomes how to develop customer care that delivers without increasing costs unnecessarily.

A big part of answering that challenge is dependent on contact center agent training. As delivery models converge, offering more options and better-tailored solutions to companies that aim to meet specific requirements for customer segments, the training must reflect those differences.

For example, suppose your company has a bricks and mortar contact center for standard calls, but escalates calls requiring expertise to work at home agents (WAHA) with the required skill sets. Depending on the structure of your WAHA operation, training can become the sticking point for elevating the customer experience.

Incorporating Work at Home Agents with Bricks and Mortar

There are essentially two models for incorporating work at home agents into your call center. One is Hub and Spoke, where agents are brought into the physical contact center for training, updates, and evaluation. This process puts more load on the existing classroom training and onboarding processes in place at your physical contact center. While it can be a great way to build a “team” environment between those working internally and externally, it can also be unnecessarily costly.

The second is the True Virtual Model where agents are trained from home, online in an e-learning environment representative of how they’ll work every day. It avoids the geographic constraints of the Hub and Spoke model — usually a radius of 50 miles or less — as the agents must be located within driving distance to the center. The virtual approach removes those restrictions, but the “hands-off” aspect often presents concerns about control for managers used to a bricks and mortar environment. Although with a comprehensive and secure online environment, it’s often true that management has more insights into work at home agents than they do to onsite agents at a station in the next room.

As the business environment moves faster and companies become more proactive in improving customer experiences, it becomes necessary to shift the way we think about training, as well as delivery options for contact centers. It’s becoming beneficial to create distributed customer care models that provide the right level of expertise in the most effective ways possible—whether near shore, offshore, onshore, or WAHA. A distributed model can also drive economies of scale by incorporating proven practices from one option into another.

The Evolution of Training for Customer Care

The true virtual model can offer new ways of addressing training for the physical location model. For example, the evolution of interactive e-learning courses with a combination of self-paced and live instructor options can facilitate training across all of your contact center agents at much lower costs than the traditional classroom format. This means that the need for speed and proactive skills evolution can happen just in time for new product launches, answering unforeseen issues, or onboarding additional agents.

Research shows that a new agent can be taking live calls after 5 weeks of online training with the same competency of agents who spend 6 weeks in a classroom setting. The ability to replay courses, simulations, and other interactive modules plays a dramatic role in the internalization of new skills that agents need to develop high proficiency at customer care. The benefits extend to refreshing skills and adding new ones as market needs change.

The questions every contact center operations manager must start asking are how can I create the right blend of delivery options to deliver the best experiences for my customers? And, what can we learn from each approach that will improve the others? Serving customers at their convenience requires speed that doesn’t overlook the development of quality agent skill sets.