Managing a call center involves countless variables.
You’re monitoring call volume, staff availability, escalated tickets, key call center metrics, and more. It’s both chaotic and rewarding. Challenging enough to keep you on your toes, but hopefully running smoothly enough that both your customers and call center agents are happy.
There’s one thing that’s sure to tip that balance in the wrong direction: when your support agents aren’t equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be effective.
That’s why building out a reliable call center training program is so important.
Why call centers need great agent training programs
Starting a job with no training is like playing a sport without knowing the rules. You don’t know what to expect and you’re trying to figure stuff out on the fly. You may learn the game eventually, but it’ll take time and painful mistakes.
Starting a job with limited training is like memorizing the rulebook for a sport you’ve never played. You have an idea of what to expect, but when you’re put on the field, you don’t actually have any of the skills you need to perform well. At best, you’re hesitant and unsure.
Can some people thrive in those environments? Absolutely. We call them superheroes, and highly recommend you reward them!
But for us more normal humans, there’s a better approach: designing a thoughtful, custom, and ongoing training program for your call center agents.
Solid new-hire training is essential because it gives your team members a foundation to build upon. It preps them with the skills they’ll need to help your customers. It also encourages your team members to stick around longer.
94% of employees say they’re more likely to stick with their current roles if their employer invests in their growth and development.
But your customers and your products will evolve, so you’ll never be able to anticipate everything a customer service agent needs to know. That’s why your team also needs continuous training throughout the course of the year.
As you invest in ongoing training for your call center managers and agents, the benefits proliferate:
1. Training creates a better customer experience
Training your support team lessens the gap between your high and low performers.
Some people are just incredible at helping customers. While a natural inclination towards empathy, critical thinking, and clear communication may be part of it, experience is often the biggest factor that sets these folks apart.
These call center agents have been there and done that. They know how to connect with customers, even in the midst of challenging circumstances. Watching them interact with customers is like watching a phenomenal improv actor — nothing rattles them.
Other members of your team aren’t there yet. That doesn’t mean they can’t ever get there, it just means these folks need the right call center training to provide the knowledge and support they need to achieve excellence.
2. Training leads to higher job satisfaction
There’s a direct correlation between offering development opportunities and employee engagement. In fact, 79% of employees who have a formal development program feel more engaged.
That’s partly because it takes away some of the stress and anxiety caused by starting a new job. Michael Phelps didn’t start out swimming 100 meters. Let your call center agents hang out in the kiddie pool before throwing them right in the deep end.
But that’s not all. Training your call center agents is vital because it makes it clear you care about them and their success. You’re investing in each employee as an individual. They’ll notice, and they’ll be happier about it. And happier employees make happier customers.
3. Training makes your team more efficient
Efficiency is one of those catch-all reasons to improve anything in a business (and for good reason!).
Training inevitably feels like it takes a long time. But because it results in faster onboarding, reduces knowledge gaps, and improves employee retention, you’re saving time in the long run.
A well-trained call center team is able to handle their work much faster, leaving more time for other strategic work that also helps customers (like improving your knowledge base).
It’s a cat-alyst for so much more.
How to create the best call center training program for your team
The good news is that creating a call center training program doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to take huge amounts of time.
Often, the best way to start developing any training is just to start (but finish reading this post first and you’ll be better off).
It’s okay to start with the bare bones. Even if your first call center agent training doesn’t fully fulfill the brief, it’s better to add and iterate as you go than to wait until the stars align for a perfect training session.
These are the key steps to getting a call center training program started for your call center:
- Set goals to define success.
- Create an outline.
- Choose teaching methods.
- Develop training materials.
- Solicit feedback and iterate.
Let’s paw our way through each step.
Set goals to define success for call center agent training
Without goals, you’ll never know if your call center training has hit the mark. At the end of key stages — like newly hired agents — and at regular intervals, you’ll want to evaluate whether your training is effective and where it can be improved.
Exemplary goals for call center training programs include:
- Help new hires reach certain KPIs within three months. Maybe that means an average handling time of six minutes and an internal quality score of 85%.
- Maintain a <5% rate of escalated tickets. A goal like this can be a great indicator of how skilled your frontline call center agents are.
- Deliver key product training refreshers at least every 90 days. Humans are forgetful creatures (cats are too). A regular training cadence keeps critical info fresh in your agents’ minds.
When setting goals, it’s important to aim for something achievable, especially if your goals are tied to your agents’ performance or customer satisfaction.
For example, 63% of support agents say it’s difficult to balance speed and quality when serving customers. That’s a challenge every support team faces, and you’ll need to keep it (and similar challenges) in mind as you choose targets.
The best call center training programs do more than just transfer knowledge. They also:
- Create support networks by fostering relationships between team members;
- Inspire creativity for those times when call center agents need to handle issues not explicitly covered in training;
- Build confidence and resilience that your team members can weather tough circumstances and still deliver great experiences.
Your call center agent training program should be tailored to your unique company culture, customer expectations, and your team’s needs.
Create an outline for your call center training program
Once you know what you’d like to achieve, you can start sketching out what the training should look like.
An outline is the bare bones of your training program—the structure you’ll build everything upon. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive. Start by answering some key questions:
- What skills do your call center agents need to be successful?
- What knowledge do they need to have?
- What skill and knowledge gaps exist today?
- Are there any legal or compliance requirements that they need special training on?
- How much time can you devote to training?
- Are there team or company policies that they should know about?
- What existing resources do you have available?
All you need at this stage is a series of bullet points. Cluster those bullets into broader topics, then align those clusters in whatever order makes sense.
For new-hire call center training programs, it’s best to cover the easiest topics first. These topics serve as a foundation, enabling you to build on them over time. Easier topics often follow fairly predictable processes, meaning you’ll be able to equip your team members with enough knowledge to get in your ticketing system and to begin helping customers—and the best learning often comes through doing!
For ongoing and refresher call center training programs, it’s best to prioritize topics based on what’s happening in your support team and in your business. You’ll have plenty of options to pick from.
Consider training on things like product updates, marketing initiatives, and process changes. The analytics from your support quality tool can also help you uncover unending opportunities.
Once you have an outline, you’re ready to add time frames to it. This loose schedule enables you to add milestones throughout your training program, functioning as mini-goals to help your team members chart their progress.
With a rough timeline, you can add milestones throughout as a way to see progress and give people mini-goals that they can reach throughout the process. For example:
- Week 1: Answer 3 calls
- Week 2: Answer 10 calls
- Weeks 3-4: Answer 15 calls
Choose teaching methods
The training method(s) you choose will have a big influence on the shape of your call center training program. Typical teaching methods include:
Held by an instructor, delivered live or as recorded video sessions. These are great for imparting theoretical knowledge — showing how to do something, how something works, or describing the general tone and philosophy you’re aiming for.
Managed by a moderator with trainees, discussions are great for more complex topics. They’re also much more interactive, so you can ask broad questions and see how people respond.
These are perfect at the end of a topic or module, to address any items that weren’t clear.
With either more experienced teammates or as part of a call center agent training group. Both are great ways to tackle challenging topics that would be intimidating individually but work great at bringing people together. This could also involve having newer team members shadow experienced team members.
Mixing and matching different methods makes for the most interactive call center training. Remember, training is a time for your team to learn skills, build relationships, and have some fun throughout the process.
People are more likely to retain knowledge when they apply it quickly, so experimenting with things like scavenger hunts, mock calls, or some lighthearted gamification can be powerful.
Develop call center training materials
Developing training materials is the most time-consuming part of creating a call center training program. This is where you create slides, record videos, plan exercises, and prep handouts.
The format of your materials depends on a lot of factors. If you’re a remote team, you’ll probably rely on a lot of videos, written materials, quizzes, and maybe a wiki or a learning management system. You may use a tool like Trello for self-managed tasks. You might need to create roleplay scripts or product simulations.
Whichever formats you choose, make sure you cover two big areas:
- Your product or service. The most effective way to do this is to make call center agents interact with your product/service as a customer might. This helps them learn about the business and also brings the added bonus of helping create empathy for your customers.
- The skills team members need to succeed. This ranges from learning new tools or technology, to how to hit the right tone, to how to find help when they’re under pressure.
Looking for some inspiration? Consider these exercises to help your team practice essential call center skills:
- Have them answer quizzes at the end of each module for knowledge retention;
- Ask them to provide step-by-step instructions for everyday tasks like laundry or washing dishes for effective communication;
- Have them roleplay a few practice calls with unhappy customers to learn how to demonstrate empathy;
- Make them try to solve problems with a timer to test their ability to focus under pressure;
- Walk through cases that involve complex troubleshooting to train in problem-solving;
- Listen to a meandering explanation of a problem and repeat it in your own words as an example of active listening.
Klaus’ quizzes feature helps you target your teams’ weak spots and track their progress, all on one pawsome platform →
Solicit feedback and iterate
Call center training never ends for customer calls. But that’s not a bad thing for customer service leaders who are well prepared. Even your tenured team members will need regular refreshers and feedback to keep them sharp and further their development.
Many call centers use quality management solutions to assess customer interactions and provide direct feedback. You can also use these tools to aggregate opportunities and identify needs for future call center training—both for individuals and for your entire customer service team.
Offer continuous agent training in call centers
The best call center agent training programs are constantly evolving in response to the needs of their trainees. That means you need to keep on top of performance and build in ways to gather feedback from your call center agents. Take note during 1:1s, consider regular employee surveys, and/or shadow sessions.
As you identify call center training opportunities for your team, take advantage of existing resources that build the specific skills needed to thrive in customer service.
No support team comes fully baked. It’s only through intentional and thoughtful call center agent training that your team can develop a stellar team that consistently wows your customers.