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Special training required for call center environment
'Owning call' is important
Customer service training is a crucial — but sometimes forgotten — piece of the training needed to prepare call center employees for the demands of the job, says Judith Brown, president of Chicago-based Brown Healthcare Consulting.
"There's a particular emphasis on training for this environment," says Brown, who worked for health care organizations as a call center director and vice president of consumer, corporate and government relations, among other positions, before becoming a consultant.
"All you've got in the call center environment is your voice," she points out. "You don't have facial expressions, so you learn to smile with your voice." One of the telephone training tools she has worked with in the past, Brown notes, advised putting a mirror in the cubicle so representatives could see themselves as they talked to customers.
"If you're smiling, the tone of your voice actually changes," she says. "If someone is looking at you across a counter, you tend to do that naturally, but if you don't see the person, it's not as natural."
Call center representatives need to know what to say during the periods of silence when, for example, the software system is moving slowly or the screen freezes, Brown explains. "Those things do happen."
Similarly, if a caller is angry, or crying, she adds, "the only thing you have is your voice. You can't put a hand on the person's shoulder. You have to find another way to be empathetic."
In such cases, her advice is not to rush such callers along, but rather to allow them "time to get it out of their system." The representative, Brown advises, might say something like, "I understand you're upset. Let me see what I can do to get you scheduled."
"Owning the call" is very important, she says. One of the things customers hate is getting transferred, so if that has already happened once, the representative should keep the call no matter what, Brown says. "If you can't answer [the question], take down the information, research the issue, and then get back to the person — when you say you will."
Teaching call center representatives to take responsibility in this way is not only good customer service, she notes. "It empowers your rep. A lot of times they feel there's nothing they can do, so the more tools you can give them to satisfy the customer, the better."
In addition to the customer service component, Brown lists these other types of call center training:
Call monitoring is key
Another facet of call center training is a product of what managers learn from monitoring calls, Brown says. Without this crucial component, she contends, it's not possible to truly measure a representative's effectiveness.
"You can look at the average length of a call or how many appointments are scheduled, or how many compliments [a rep] receives, but then the environment becomes polarized," Brown notes. "You hear about the really, really good stuff or the really, really bad."
Tell employees when they're hired that calls will be monitored, that it's meant to be a positive thing, a coaching tool, and realize that it's also a good way to let people know they're doing a great job, she suggests.
"To be able to say, 'You had a really tough call on Monday and you handled it well' is very confidence-building," Brown says.
Call monitoring processes, she adds, range from having a supervisor sit and listen in on calls when time allows, to recording all calls and listening to a certain number of them, to the more sophisticated systems in which representatives also are able to flag calls that they would like to have recorded.
One of the things about call center training that she learned the hard way, Brown says, was the value of doing it in sections, and allowing staff to absorb and use what they have learned before moving on to the next phase.
"We used to keep people off the phones for six to eight weeks before we put them on," she adds. "When we got to the point where we had a full-time trainer — someone who was a professional trainer — one of the things she did was cut the training into pieces. I highly recommend this."
With that method, Brown explains, representatives are on the phones after two weeks of basic training. "They're not on all calls, but some, and then they get pulled off the floor and do training for two more weeks."
"So they're doing three things, and then we pull them, and then they're doing three more things, and [eventually] they're doing 10 different things," she says. "They get to apply more quickly what they have learned and then reinforce it."