Embrace Active Learning (And 7 More Call Center Training Tips)

Your call center is the front line of your company. If your call center agents aren’t making a good impression, you’re going to lose customers. Fast.

So your call center training needs to be on point.

But that’s not easy. Call center training best practices shift all the time. That’s especially true when training technologies improve. Today’s customer service agents need to contend with problems that just didn’t exist before.

To help you improve your own call center training, we’ve gathered some of the best tips from around the internet.

Here’s how to make sure your call centers are killing it:

1. Teach Empathy (Signals)

Effective customer service agents of any type need to be empathetic. And that’s not something you can teach. You have to hire for it.

But you can teach your call center agents effective ways to signal their empathy.

There are many ways to do this. Call Centre Helper has a great list of 18 empathy statements to use in your call center training. You may notice that they have a lot of things in common:

  • They’re helpful
  • They express gratitude
  • They emphasize respect
  • They focus on solving problems quickly

If your call center agents can do those things, you’ll have a great customer service team.

Of course, just teaching these phrases and concepts in training isn’t enough. Your team needs to actually use them. Which means you’ll need good scripts as well as practice.

(We’ll get to both of those shortly.)

2. Focus on Positivity

Positive language and tone are often communicated along with empathy. But it’s worth bringing them up on their own, too, because they’re so powerful.

Customer service agents are often put in difficult situations. Customers call when they’re angry, disappointed, or frustrated. And poor customer service only amplifies those feelings.

So when customers get in touch with an agent that can turn them around with positive language, tone, and (most importantly) action, they’ll have a much better experience.

Maintaining positivity can be hard. Which is one reason why regular coaching can valuable as a form of ongoing training. Coaches can help provide perspective on interactions and remind customer service agents not to take things personally.

It’s worth addressing in training and repeating throughout the employee lifecycle.

3. Communicate Agent Authority

How much power do your agents have? What sorts of decisions can they make? You should have the answers to those questions and be able to communicate them clearly.

In general, it’s better to give your customer service agents more authority where you can. That helps them solve problems more quickly.

No matter how much authority they have, though, it’s important that they know exactly what they can and can’t do.

Can they give customer discounts? Or accept product returns? What about making changes to customer accounts or doing favors for callers?

In an article for CustomerThink, Bob Thompson writes about Ritz Carlton, which gives employees authority to spend up to $2,000 per incident to solve customer issues. That’s incredible and shows you just how far some companies will go to please their customers.

You don’t have to go that far. But the more authority you give, the better your customer service will be.

Don’t skip over this one. Seriously. Give your agents the authority to make your customers happy. There may be a few times when they step over the line of what you find acceptable. But for the most part, they’ll do a much better job.

4. Active Learning

Roleplaying is on many lists of call center training best practices. And sometimes it works well. But it has some drawbacks.

So trainers have come up with alternative methods of roleplaying.

Here are two of them:

Simulation Training

New call center training tools are available all the time, and simulation training is becoming a popular method.

In short, simulation training takes practice out of the training room and into a more realistic environment. Call center trainees take calls from trainers, but talk to them over the phone instead of face-to-face.

Compared to traditional roleplaying, simulation training offers a more realistic environment, less pressure, and paced learning.

And that means trainers can offer more useful feedback.

In short, it’s better in every way.

And with the rise of text and instant-message customer support, roleplaying has to adapt.

If you’re not convinced that simulation training is better than roleplaying, just take a look at the research. A 2008 study by Murthy et al. found that simulation training outperformed traditional roleplaying both in measures of call speed and accuracy.

Experiential Learning

Jeff Toister recommends David Kolb’s experiential learning.

There are four parts to the method:

  1. Ensure participants have concrete experience in this situation
  2. Reflective observation
  3. Abstract conceptualization
  4. Active experimentation

This type of learning helps people learn and put new ideas into practice quickly. And much more effectively than simply hearing them in a lecture.

The point is to take the pressure off while still giving learners the chance to practice their skills and experience difficult situations.

No matter what you decide to boost your call center roleplaying, make sure that it fits the needs of your call center agents.

5. Effective Feedback

This point centers more on trainers than it does trainees. And that might mean holding a training for your trainers. Which seems a bit over the top. But it’s worth it.

Why?

You might think that giving feedback is easy. Or that you’re good at it. Unfortunately, you’re probably wrong. Giving effective feedback that’s both positive and actionable is remarkably difficult.

It takes practice, and usually a lot of reading. To get you started, here are five great sources of information on giving effective feedback:

Once you’ve read the basics of how to give feedback, you can start incorporating them into your call center trainings. Use them for experiential learning, and continue to give good feedback after the training is done.

(We’ll talk about continued feedback in a moment.)

Regular Assessment

In addition to providing general feedback on performance, it’s also a good idea to use more direct assessment techniques.

You might use a text-based quiz to test a rep’s knowledge of your products, for example. Or to see how well they know the answers to common questions.

But you can do more than that, too. Modern assessment systems also let you create video quizzes where managers can watch screencasts or webcam recordings.

Continu’s new assessments feature lets you create customizable grading options so you can easily provide the best feedback for your team. And it’s integrated with the rest of your training materials, so there’s no extra setup.

It’s a must for call center training!

6. Job Shadowing (and Recorded Conversations)

Nothing beats real-world experience. And when you’re done with classroom training, having your new customer service agents tag along with experienced members of the team can be invaluable.

With call center training, it’s as simple as adding a trainee as a listener on a more experienced agent’s line. Of course, you won’t know when an agent is about to get a call that’s worth listening to.

Which is why recorded conversations are often more useful than job shadowing. If your calls are recorded, it’s easy to make a file of calls demonstrating great (or poor) customer service.

You can then share that file with your trainees. You don’t have to listen through them all during in-person training. It’s probably a good idea to share at least a couple to show people their value.

But the rest can be delivered digitally, and are great for bite-sized learning.

7. Provide Great Documentation

Customer service agents have a lot to think about. Besides thinking on their feet, they have to remember company policy, work with a script, develop product knowledge, and more.

To help them do their jobs as well as possible, you need to provide great documentation. Everything needs to be clearly laid out and stored somewhere accessible.

One way to make this process easier is to use a system that supports document organization but also makes it easy for employees to communicate about those documents.

There’s no one better to give feedback on your documentation than your agents. You want to make it easier for them to provide that feedback and suggestions for improvement, right?

That’s where an efficient communication system comes in. You may have stored these types of documents on a corporate intranet in the past, but the days of the corporate intranet are waning.

Using a learning platform or similar software solution makes documents easy to find, discuss, and update.

Documentation is never set in stone. It’s constantly changing and evolving as your agents use the concepts and see if they work (or don’t). Developing a culture of continuous learning and improvement around your documentation will help your team stand out for great customer service.

(On a related note, make sure that your call center training guide is also stored on this system. That way your trainers can make updates to it when they come up with new ideas to improve trainings.)

8. Practice Ongoing Training

Too many companies complete training and then never think about it again. Or run trainings once per year.

That’s just not enough.

But holding training events more often than that is costly and takes up a time of time. So what are you to do?

Using effective learning tools means you never have to stop your call center training. You can deliver the right learning materials to the right people at the right time.

That might be a live webinar on occasion. Or bite-sized learning. You could use it for text, video, interactive quizzes, or just about anything else.

And because you can deliver it to your call center employees on an ongoing basis, they can be learning all the time. Reinforcing ideas they already know and learning new best practices.

These systems also enable social learning, where your employees learn from one another when they have questions. And performance management, which requires close contact from managers and trainers.

All of these types of training fall under the umbrella of “ongoing.” And they’ll all help you create and maintain an industry-leading customer call center staff.

And don’t forget to continue giving useful feedback. Short, frequent assessments help managers monitor employee growth.

Be Open to Change

Of course, just because these call center training tips are best practices doesn’t mean that they’ll be the best techniques for you. Be open to change, and ready to adapt to your specific trainees.

Tweak your training to make sure that learners are getting as much out of it as possible. Document the effectiveness of different types of training. Run experiments. Be creative.

And, of course, make sure that you’re tracking your call center metrics to see how well your trainings are working. You may find that a group trained more extensively on empathy signals performs better. Or that a team with a different type of access to documentation was more accurate.

As with anything, keep striving to improve and measure your efforts. If you can do that, your call center trainings—and the quality of your customer service—will continue to improve.

And be sure to check out our new assessments feature! It’s perfect for training call center reps, salespeople, customer support agents, and just about anyone else.

Dann is a content strategy and marketing consultant who helps B2Bs generate demand and leads. He also blogs about strategy and content marketing at www.dannalbright.com.