Like death and taxes, we can’t escape the need for new-hire training in the contact center. New reps have to hit the ground running when they start taking calls — it’s just the nature of the job. To a large extent, new-hires operate without a safety net, and many customers are unforgiving if they encounter, “I don’t know.”
New-hire training (NHT) is your prime opportunity to engage new employees, to help them understand the critical nature of their jobs and the mysteries of call center operations, and to help them feel connected to the company and a part of their team.
While it‘s clear that effective training is critical for anew rep to be successful, the inescapable fact is that NHT is a huge drain on resources. It can also represent a hurdle for teams that are in immediate need of a productive team member.
The scope of NHT efficiency and effectiveness is not just measured by what happens in a formal learning environment. It’s more than deciding which topics to cover in new-hire training or how long employees should be in the classroom or the logistics of start dates, training dates and launch dates. To ensure that your NHT program accomplishes its goals with minimum resources, you’ll need to audit the entire process— from the date the job offer is accepted until the employee becomes a productive, contributing team member.
Clarify New-Hire Training Goals
The best place to start evaluating your NHT initiatives is by clarifying your program goals. After all,you won’t be able to tell whether your program is designed effectively if you haven’t hashed out and agreed to a set of defined, high-level goals.
The following three high-level goals can be refined to reflect your unique NHT program priorities. Define what each of these items means within the context of your program.
1. Employees who are competent, confident and capable.
This covers every aspect of the knowledge(including systems, products, customers, processes,procedures, performance expectations) and skills(including sales and service skills, problem solving,flexibility, written and verbal communication skills)required for the employee to be a contributing team member. Most training programs effectively address this goal; although it is helpful to revisit it to make sure there is a clear definition of competent, confident and capable, and that you have the methodology in place to quantitatively measure all three descriptors.
2. Employees who are committed to their jobs and engaged in the company.
In addition to employees needing to know or do certain things, you also want them to feel certain ways. For example, you want them to feel positively about the company and the work that they do. You want them to feel that they are treated fairly and that their work is valued. You want them to be motivated to learn and stretch professionally in ways that benefit the company. While most organizations count this among their priorities,it’s rare to see them map specific new-hire training activities or elements back to this goal.
3. An NHT program that is both effective and efficient.
You have a finite number of resources at your disposal for NHT and are responsible for justifying the resources — time, people,technology — which you devote to it. But indiscriminate training process or content decisions in the name of efficiency are often paid for in decreased effectiveness.
Those who direct the tactical implementation of the training strategy should be well-versed in current research and methods that make learning more efficient without losing effectiveness, such as job aids and performance support tools, content organizers and task re-engineering. It takes time for employees to absorb and practice applying new knowledge and skills, and there are limits to how quickly that cognitive work can take-place. A well-designed program, however, can justify that the program design is the surest,shortest route to the desired goal(s).
Once you have clarified your goals and have gained agreement from all stakeholders(see the following section on forming a cross functional steering committee), you’re ready to audit your current NHT program.
A Checklist for Auditing Efficiency and Effectiveness
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to network with other call center professionals,you know that, in reality, new-hire training for reps ranges from four hours (or less!) to three months (or more!). It depends on the complexity of the reps’ job, how many call types they answer, how easy it is to master system and support tools, how skilled and knowledgeable reps are when they are hired,how proficient they must be when they begin taking calls, and much more.
The best course for determining how long training should be is, first, to clarify exactly new-hire performance requirements and milestones and, second, determine how to get reps there as quickly as possible. Like many business imperatives, it’s simple but not terribly easy.
Analyze your actual results and define your optimal performance
The best way to start your audit is with a classic gap analysis. Ask yourself, to what extent does your current process result in reps who not only know how to do their jobs,but who are connected to the company and passionate about making a contribution? Do you know whether you‘re accomplishing this as quickly and efficiently as possible without quality tradeoffs? Decide what your new hire training should accomplish (the optimal performance) and then create an ongoing methodology to determine what is actually happening (current performance). This is the foundation of a gap analysis that will allow you to compare what you want with what you’re currently getting.
Form a cross functional steering committee to address the high-level requirements
The new-hire period is arguably the most important in the employee life-cycle. It’s the time frame during which new employees learn to do their jobs and become bonded to your organization. Yet, in too many call centers,this process is disjointed and misaligned with each function doing “their part” and handing the employee off to the next step in the process.
As new-hires are passed off from HR to training, and from training to operations,there are several opportunities for disconnects,including:
- Affective — or emotional — aspects of feeling welcomed, valued and connected are ignored as each function just “does their job” without the expectation that they’ll address these issues.
- Messages about expectations and performance requirements are inconsistently communicated and enforced.
- New call center reps don’t know whereto go, don’t know what they’re doing tomorrow and don’t have a high-level picture of what is expected of them from their first day until the day they are expected to be competent and fully contributing. They lose confidence and certainty, putting them at risk for disengagement.
A cross functional steering committee,which includes HR, operations, training and front line representation, can ensure that the functional groups map out this critical period and, as part of an audit, gather data to analyze the following questions:
- What does it mean for an employee in this job to be competent, confident and capable? When do we expect this to happen? And how will we know it has happened?
- What are the milestones from the day they are hired until they reach this point?
- How can we fulfill the three goals of our NHT process? Are there some areas where we are weak?
- Where are the opportunities for disconnects and misalignment?
- Who is involved in the NHT process— from the day candidates accept the position until proficiency — and how can we align and integrate their contributions so that they are consistent and meeting both the cognitive(knowledge and skill instruction) and affective (emotional) needs of our new hires?
- What are the experiences of our recent new-hires? What is the perspective of the supervisors who manage the recent new-hires? Consider a survey or brief interviews to gather data focused around your three NHT goals.
Set meaningful and measurable objectives, milestones and measurements for NHT
You may have a second-level evaluation or test to verify formal classroom or online learning, but how do you measure the results of informal learning or other indicators to ensure that your NHT goals are being met?One method is to document your NHT objectives and corresponding measurements (seethe example above). This exercise requires everyone involved in the NHT process — HR,training, operations, supervisors and managers,call center reps — to contribute input toward clarifying exactly what is expected from a new-hire; i.e., what performance looks like and how you will know if the new-hire has achieved it. Be sure to share this with your new-hires as they start training, and ask them to track their own readiness and progress at regular intervals. For instance, consider this conversation: “It’s important to all of us that you’re successful here. We want to make sure that you’re clear on what we expect from you and when. The new-hire period extends from today through the next three months, and we’ve established milestones and measurements along the way so that you can feel confident that you’re on track. We’ve set up a process to ensure that you’re successful and which will support you every step of the way.We’re partners in your progress during the next 90 days, so it’s also up to you to track your progress and let us know if there’s anything standing in your way, or if you need additional help. “
Consider the “intangibles”That the new-hire period Should foster
One of the goals of NHT is to produce call center reps who are committed to their jobs and engaged in the company. While your classroom training probably covers the required knowledge and skills instruction,what about the intangibles, such as a sense of belonging, commitment to fulfilling the company’s mission, an obligation to their team and a dedication to customer service? The following are ideas to build the intangibles into your NHT program:
- Set up weekly meetings between the supervisor and new-hire during the NHT period to increase their connection.Provide supervisors with examples of questions they can ask to steer the conversation toward the intangibles(e.g., “Do you feel connected to the goals of the team?“ “What has been tough for you during your orientation period?”).
- Survey new reps during the NHT period to gauge their confidence and commitment.
- Coordinate ”meet-and-greets“ or other informal events for new reps to get to know each other, their colleagues and their managers.
- Create targeted messages (e.g., emails,classroom agenda items) highlighting examples of call center employees fulfilling the company mission and demonstrating their dedication to customer service.
Demonstrate how performance is measured from Day One
New employees often spend their first weeks and months wading through mounds of information — processes, procedures,terminology, people, facts and concepts —trying to make sense of it all and understand how it fits together. We are sympathetic to their “information overload,” so we hold off on the non-essentials or the things they don’t absolutely have to know before taking calls.Unfortunately, this delays their exposure to performance measurement until it’s practically an afterthought.
Instead, make sure that performance management is at the forefront of an NHT program by giving new-hires an overview of how their performance will be measured before any knowledge or skills content is introduced. Get them familiar with the terminology and processes including:
- The monitoring form and quality requirements
- Other performance requirements, how they are calculated and why they are important
- The stat board and/or other individual performance reports they’ll receive
- The performance management process(e.g., when they will be evaluated, by whom and when)
Thread references to these measurements throughout their NHT program. For instance,during customer service modules, ask new hires to rate sample calls using the monitoring form. Ask them to interpret your stat reports and suggest how a fictional employee might improve. Test them on their understanding of how their performance is measured and how measurements are calculated.
Also, measuring performance during the NHT period will help to acclimate new reps to the measurement-driven call center environment and set expectations early on about the types of performance feedback they’ll be receiving. Schedule weekly meetings with a trainer or supervisor to discuss how they are progressing and review a written NHT scorecard that compares their performance against the performance requirements (including attendance and adherence) during the training period.
Carefully analyze content before moving it online
In the rush to increase training efficiency,you might be tempted to move classroom content into an online format. If you choose the right content, this can be a boon to both productivity and efficiency. But if you don’t approach these decisions wisely, it can also undermine your training objectives. As you evaluate your classroom content, ask:
- Does the content change often? Outdated content is a poor representation of your training quality,and if you don’t have the resources to update your online content, it’s not always worth doing.
- Do you have the resources and talent to produce engaging and interesting online content? If you simply convert your static PowerPoint presentations to an online page-turner format, you leave behind the one element that made the content tolerable — the power of an engaging presenter. Well-produced, instructionally sound e-learning can be highly effective, but simply moving “eh”content to an online format can make it even more “eh.”
- Can you verify understanding and recall? Since online content is self-paced, the ability to adequately test understanding and recall becomes even more important. Determine what employees need to know or do as a result of the training and build in the functionality to test and track proficiency.
Unfortunately, an evaluation of your new hire training program isn’t as easy as moving your content online or implementing supporting technology, although those can help and may be part of a solution to address inefficiencies or ineffectiveness uncovered in your gap analysis. It’s as simple — and as tough —as bringing together the right people to question and analyze every aspect of your process.While not a sure route to shortening formal instruction or slashing your training budget,auditing the effectiveness and efficiency of your new-hire training program is the path toward a program that supports company objectives, a critical element of surviving in today’s increasingly challenging business environment.
NHT Objective and Measurement Example
New employees will handle each of the five call types with a satisfactory rating in a role-play before they may take calls unassisted.
A role-play is conducted by the classroom trainer, supervisor or quality analyst, using approved call-type scripts. The role-plays will be evaluated by a representative from the quality team using a standard monitoring form. A satisfactory rating is a score of 80% or higher on foundational items.
The objective must be completed by the end of the30-day evaluation period. Trainees who do not pass on the first try are given feedback and allowed to review their materials before trying again.
Rebecca Gibson is a workplace learning and performance consultant and Principal of Learning Currents.
– Reprinted with permission from Contact Center Pipeline, www.contactcenterpipeline.com