January 30, 2014

Training Agents for the Multichannel Contact Center

James Giese | UWEBC Communications Director

In today's hyper-connected and multichannel world, customers expect to have relevant and personalized conversations through their channel of choice. In the past few years, many contact centers have added at least one new channel to their communication mix. With more channels and more complex customer interactions, hiring and training agents to meet the challenges of today’s contact center is difficult.

Justin Robbins
Justin Robbins, ICMI, discussed training and hiring agents for contact centers. 
Justin Robbins, Training and Development Manager, ICMI, discussed the challenges of hiring and training customer contact center agents during UWEBC’s Customer Service Peer Group Meeting on January 23, 2014.

According to a recent ICMI survey of contact center executives, directors, and managers, nearly 73% said that they’ve added at least one new channel to their contact center mix in the past 12 months. Almost half (49%) claim that more channels are being planned for implementation within the next year. With this type of growth, it is obvious that the contact center agent’s role has become increasingly complex.

The proliferation of messy unstructured data—emails, calls, chats, tweets, video, and  desktop usage—has further complicated matters. Without the right tools and guidance, contact center agents cannot handle the volume of data or lay their hands on appropriate information.

"Contact centers must know how to use customer and agent analytics to anticipate needs and short-circuit problems. If they understand what data are important, businesses can provide a much better multichannel experience," Robbins said.

Robbins presented additional results from the survey which covered every major industry in both the U.S. and abroad. The results illustrate some of the training and hiring challenges for contact centers:

  • Nearly 70% of contact centers are not proactively providing customer information to an agent.
  • Most agents (69%) have to navigate around multiple screens and interfaces in order to locate information.
  • Forty-one percent of agents are still manually keying in customer contact information.

The survey recommended the following tactics for improving contact center agent performance: strengthen the link between agent engagement and customer experience; study ways to improve agent productivity and efficiency through better data; and implement new methods of training and hiring agents.

Robbins recommends that contact centers consider the following when training agents:

Find a balance between formal and informal learning: As digital technology blurs the boundaries between formal and informal learning, companies should consider ways to strike a balance between the two and help ensure that they work in tandem. For instance, embedding learning in everyday work can help formal classroom training become more relevant and more effective.

Embrace new ways to develop skills: Other recent developments are helping training become more relevant, such as social media tools that facilitate collaboration and knowledge sharing, gamification that immerses employees in virtual scenarios, and mobile training delivery.

Technology is the portal to opportunity: According to Robbins, a recent Skillsoft poll found that 90% of CEOs “will either maintain or increase their training budgets” over the next year. The solution might actually be simpler and significantly more cost-effective — even free. Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs host free courses in finance, business, computer programming, and data analysis.

Robbins suggested the following future hiring strategies:

Expand the candidate pool: Given the reported difficulty of finding qualified candidates, companies should consider dropping the notion of finding the "perfect" candidate based on a list of specific skills, education or experience. Instead, businesses should look for candidates with more generalist skills who can easily be developed to perform the job.

Screen talent based on newly emerging data sources: Instead of screening potential candidates based on key words in a resume, companies can exploit new data sources to get fuller and more predictive insights into future performance. Examples of these new data sources are assessments of a candidate’s cultural fit and social media data that reveal a candidate’s interests.

Invest earlier in the talent supply chain: Leading companies are partnering with colleges and universities to review and revise curricula so that relevant skills are acquired as part of their programs. Robbins said that some companies are even setting up open access training programs to ensure that more people have the skills they need.

Member companies can access Robbins' presentation and other meeting materials here.

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