Carrot or Stick: Enhancing Agent Performance the Right Way

call-center-trainingTraining call center associates and customer service reps is a tricky thing. Even new reps with previous call center experience are going to feel some trepidation when learning your way: are they meeting expectations, how are they being judged, is there a razor-thin probationary period?

The training period is usually uncomfortable at best, terrifying at worst. Throwing a new associate out onto calls and listening in or recording the call to subsequent provide feedback is probably an antiquated way of going about it.

And let's be honest— such a process is uncomfortable (if not downright boring) for the trainer, too. Listening in on calls and evaluating a new rep against a checklist that outlines an "ideal" customer interaction isn't realistic. Quite simply, the world rarely operates in an ideal fashion. Every call is different. Your reps must be comfortable and able to seamlessly respond every time he or she needs to go off script.

To build that ability, it could be that your call center training program should take a more holistic approach.

When was the last time you had a scripted conversation with a stranger in a grocery store line?

Never. Not once. So why are you putting such weight on the ability of your reps to talk to complete strangers using a script?

Reps don't need to be taught how to read a flow chart like a systems engineer or a repairman. Person-to-person interactions aren't mechanical. They're intuitive, based in emotive action and reaction and, thus, they're inherently chaotic.

Customer service reps are no less than sales personnel— whether they are ironing out problems, building customer loyalty and trust, or offering new products and services, they are the face of your brand and your organization. Any stiffness on the part of a customer service rep and your company comes across to the customer as inflexible, aloof, or uncaring.

A better approach to training would focus on building your reps' interpersonal skills and confidence in conversation. Instead of sitting down side by side and listening in to their first few calls, then offering feedback according to a checklist, start by building rapport with your new reps. Get to know them as people. Find out how they communicate, then augment their conversational strengths.

If you have a rep who is quiet at first, but warms up and chats a blue streak when you engage her about her hobbies, note that. Then pose to her the following questions:

  1. When we initially started chatting, how did you feel?
  2. At what point did you become comfortable talking with me? What did I do or say that allowed you to open up to me?
  3. How could you apply this to a customer interaction? What would make a customer open up to you?

Formal sales techniques only go so far with so many people.

No two people are going to respond in the same way to the same conversational tactics. You need to realize this and so too do your reps. Techniques like voice matching, use of a set of leading questions, or "killing them with kindness," though critical to a successful call, aren't one-size-fits-all approaches.

The best sales people just intuitively know how to meet customers on their own ground.

Now that's not to say that sales can't be taught, or that reps cannot be trained. Yes, you should be looking to hire reps who have the innate ability to adjust on the fly — it's a true talent. But talent must be shaped. Rare is the savant.

What we're suggesting is merely that training be taken off script. Call center training should not focus on developing automatons — if you wanted automation, you would have invested in one of those robotic call answering systems that so enrage well, er, everybody.

Call center training should instead focus on developing confidence, empathy and investigative skill.

Your reps need to be able to foster conversation, convey a sense of actual regard and esteem for (and to) your customers and draw out information that can be used to both resolve issues to your customers' satisfaction and build additional groundwork for subsequent sales.

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RDI Corporation was founded in 1978 and is headquartered in Blue Ash, Ohio. We provide precise business solutions through a fully integrated outsourcing model and our clients ranged from mid-sized corporations to distinguished Fortune 500 companies.