Thursday, June 30, 2011

RESPONSIBILITY FOR TRAINING


In most medium and large call centres there is a human resource development department that has responsibility for the identification of learning needs, and the design, delivery and evaluation of training. The department should create the strategy and coordinate training activities so that performance is closely linked to organizational objectives. Day-today training and coaching activities will o en be delivered by team leaders and dedicated coaches, if the latter are available. In small organizations there may be no qualified trainers and here the responsibility lies with management and team leaders. The consequence of this is that the training is likely to be less professional and less effective.
According to Dimension Data’s ‘Merchants global contact centre benchmarking report’:
Part of these contact centres’ inability to effectively handle customer inquiries may stem from their inadequate training and lack of quantifiable targets for trainers; only 60 per cent of contact centres set targets for their trainers. Nearly three-fourths of contact centres (74 per cent) designate team leaders to assume full training responsibility with little training in the delivery of training, while just 16 per cent of centres have a dedicated coach responsible for performance through training.
Ultimately, the people responsible for learning are the learners themselves. Most people have a natural curiosity and desire to improve, and learning is a vehicle to make the job easier and more rewarding. However, there may be less motivation to learn if the organization does not encourage this behaviour and provide opportunities for this to happen.


How many trainers are necessary?

The answer to this question depends on which people are regarded as trainers; for instance, are specialist coaches trainers? Certainly, line managers and team leaders are expected to deliver training and o en a major part of their work is to provide coaching, listening to recorded calls, etc. For this reason it is difficult to place a precise figure on the number of trainers needed.
In the UK it has been estimated that the ratio of trainers to trainees is 1:41 and a suggested benchmark ratio of one trainer to 50 employees is appropriate. A ratio of 1:75 might be more appropriate in more stable environments, but not all the trainers are allocated 100 per cent of the time . Although a figure of 1:41 appears appropriate, the Call Centre Association suggested that there was a shortage of trainers with industry experience and that this should be addressed by a specific educational programme.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

CUSTOMER SERVICE AND TRAINING STRATEGY


Customer service has become a ‘global business imperative’ in which industries have successively learnt from one another, with hospitals following banks that followed hotels. Call centres also can learn from other organizations, which have top customer service operations and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company which twice won the US Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award for service, is rightly praised as a role model. Compared to an industry norm of 2.2 per cent of payroll spent on training, the Ritz-Carlton spent 12 per cent, which may partly account for the fact that while the hotel industry has an average annual turnover of 115 per cent, the Ritz-Carlton has 24 per cent. In the UK, CallNorthWest stated that most organizations reported a positive link between training and employee retention.
It is not the content of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel’s training programme that should be learnt from but the fact that there is an ongoing passion and priority given to learning that includes setting aside time each day. It was not just about spending money on training that would ensure customer excellence. Numerous methods could be used that did not cost and he stated, ‘It is simply a matter of changing the management philosophy toward one in which learning is emphasized, defined and reinforced on an ongoing basis. It is a matter of fully recognizing learning as a strategic priority.’ This perspective, ‘The importance of proper training of teleworkers, telemanagers and of those non-teleworkers with whom they deal regularly cannot be over-stressed.’
In the United States, a survey of training by the Yankee Group in 2002 found that 62 per cent of call centre managers believed that training was their highest priority. Moreover, although expressing reservations about the self-reporting of figures, the American Society for Training and DevelopmentState of the Industry Report  stated that customer service agents had 17 per cent, the highest proportion of payroll spent on training of all occupations.
However, the Yankee Group survey found that half of call centres, including large ones, gave a total annual training budget of only $50,000. The analyst commented that:
These low budget estimates indicate that even for large contact centres, training is not yet enough of a high priority to command a large budget, and more education is needed regarding the realistic costs involved with implementing training solutions.
There would appear to be rather contradictory messages about training, with a general recognition that it is valuable but there is not always the will to invest sufficient resources in developing knowledge and skills. One powerful reason is that the main purpose of contact centres is cost reduction and this inevitably translates to the training budget. Although the industry believes it is strategic in fact it does not have a clear perspective about how learning affects the effectiveness of operations. He said that while executives were exerting pressure to reduce costs, the shop-floor managers know the importance of training and that ‘trained agents are happier and more successful, and they know training works’.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

SUPPORTING ORGANIZATIONAL OBJECTIVES | Structuring Learning and Development

Learning and development are not an end in themselves: their main value is to enable employees to support the achievement of organizational objectives. For this reason the starting point for deciding the content and forms of delivery of training should begin with the organizational vision, mission and objectives, which are incorporated within the learning and development cycle (training cycle) in Figure 1.
A gap analysis should then be conducted to identify which objectives have not been achieved. These should then be systematically analysed to determine which relate to training, and those that are caused by other factors – technology; organizational systems/structures, market forces, etc. Factors that appear to be connected to employee knowledge and skills should then be subjected to a detailed learning needs analysis.
The next stage in the training cycle is the design of a learning strategy and materials. This is followed by the delivery and implementation of learning interventions and, finally, these are evaluated to assess their effectiveness. The circular nature is then completed by relating the findings to the organizational objectives, and so the cycle continues.

Training structure

It is important to have a systematic approach to contact centre training that reflects organizational objectives.All organizations should have a learning framework so that they can finish the sentence, ‘We train our people because. . .’. He suggested that the final part of the sentence might be, ‘ customer experience is our highest priority’.

Granered also suggested that the learning structure should reflect the organizational culture it supports and he developed a model that consisted of three concentric circles. The innermost circle was titled ‘The starting point’, which addressed the learning the agent receives on the first day, including company information and what is required to be successful.
The next circle, outwards, is ‘What the employees need to learn next’, which involves systems learning, product learning and an elective. Contact centres are based on a systems approach and this is what the agent should learn. This includes the computer systems, customer relationship management system, trouble ticketing system, etc. It should also include job aids, processes, rules and other things that support the agent. Product learning involves the development of understanding about the products and services the organization offers. The ‘elective’ acknowledges the fact that most employees do not consider that the agent role is a job for life. Encouraging them to develop new skills will enhance motivation and retention.
The outer circle is called, ‘Cultural awareness and communication skills’ and involves a number of so skills that are used to interact with the customer. These include developing self-awareness through cross-cultural training, customer culture, and organizational culture.
Granered described his systems approach as a method that assessed needs, tracked progress and measured outcomes. He recommended that the Kirkpatrick evaluation model should be used and that a learning management system be introduced to track what learning occurs, including e-learning, to ensure that programmes are actually studied.
A more detailed structure for positioning learning and development within the operational framework can be found in Figure 2. It begins with a consideration of the organizational objectives, market and anticipated workload. When these have been clarified the logical workflow can be mapped and then systems and technology used to ensure that all types of enquiry can be handled efficiently and effectively.

 
Figure 2: Positioning learning and development within the operational framework
With information about demand and the systems in place it is then possible to begin recruitment and selection, which should match the required staffing levels. While the estimates of employee numbers can be projected with reasonable accuracy it is only when operations start in earnest that it is possible to refine operations so that they run smoothly and efficiently.
Induction for most call centres is the most intensive period of training. This provides new recruits with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to undertake work responsibilities in a professional manner. Ongoing learning and development, and team and manager training, can be structured around operational requirements. These should be integrated within a performance management framework that can then target specific training needs.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

STRESS | Call Center General findings


Two-thirds of call centre staff reported experiencing stress. Stress is not only caused by the need for agents to present a positive image; it can also be caused by workload. The Tayloristic principles applied in call centres frequently result in repetitive and stressful work that can lead to ‘burnout’. Indeed,  call centre where the average call duration was said to be 32 seconds. If the agents were working all the time, this would equate to over 800 calls per shit!
Stress and emotional exhaustion can be caused by a number of factors including job autonomy, length of tenure, degree of self-monitoring and work hours. In addition, role overload, role conflict, workload and work pressure have been found to increase stress.
When people suffer undue stress and emotional exhaustion the characteristics they demonstrate are o en tiredness, low energy and lack of demonstrable emotion. People experiencing emotional exhaustion depersonalize their interactions with others, which can lead to negative scoring of their work performance with the potential to create a vicious circle where increased stress leads to further stress.
Possibly the worst example of exploitation is the practice of a ‘sacrificial HR policy’. This requires advisers to invest high degrees of energy into calls and when they become emotionally exhausted they are encouraged to leave and are replaced by ‘fresh’ new hires.

General findings

Drawing from the preceding discussions a number of observations can be summarized about training and development within contact centres:
  • The segmentation of provision into a mass-production model, the hybrid mass-customization model, and the professional service model will tend to create a stronger emphasis on training for the higher value professional service model.
  • There is an inherent tension between ensuring and standardizing the quality of the interaction which requires formalized scripts and protocol and providing a skilled and satisfying job.
  • A reduction in induction training would appear to be increasing the levels of customer dissatisfaction. It may also lead to increased turnover of staff although other labour market opportunities may also be contributing to this factor.
  • The growing use of video and e-mail contact may introduce new training requirements.
  • The continual introduction of new technologies will mean that there will be ongoing training required in hard skills. So skills will be less affected but will still remain important.
  • First-time resolution of calls means that advisers generally need a greater level of knowledge about the organization.
  • There is a tension between the value of qualifications to the individual and organizations that o en recruit on the basis of attitude.
  • The provision of qualification options is growing as the industry matures.
  • More staff are becoming involved with selling, requiring new skills.
  • Employees are encouraged to relate to the main organization or client through visits, branding and clients providing training.
  • Training reduces employee turnover.
  • Operational scheduling requirements impact on the organization of training.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

THE CUSTOMER SERVICE IMPERATIVE


Call centres are increasingly the focal point of an organization’s communication strategy and so are o en the main contact with the customer. Thus, the agents’ roles are very important and are the ‘best set of tools for influencing customer decisions and shaping opinions’. Sturdy placed even greater emphasis on the importance of the interaction and stated, ‘Customer service has now become a global business “imperative”.’
In face-to-face operations an organization is able to embody its image through a variety of elements including d├ęcor, packaging, signage, staff uniform and store layout. A contact centre does not possess these options and the only way to transmit a brand is through the quality of the communication with the customer. The manner in which employees appear, sound and behave ‘are themselves part of the product’.
The customer’s perception of the quality of the interaction is strongly influenced by a combination of two factors: 
1) Did the customer achieve the outcome he or she desired or, indeed, a be er outcome? 
2) Was the communication process with the CSR as friendly and encouraging as possible?

Through a process of ‘emotional contagion’ people are inclined to be ‘infected’ or ‘catch’ the feelings of others. To encourage this positive atmosphere agents are frequently required to ‘smile down the telephone’. If an employee displays positive behaviour this can result in feelings of wellbeing in the customer; likewise, negative behaviour can produce negative impressions.
For these reasons, organizations wish to control the interaction that occurs between their frontline staff and the customers so that the outcome is favourable. To do this they specify the attitude required, o en provide scripts for the conversation and restrict the degree of flexibility the employee has. Therefore, many of these interactions involve a high level of personal involvement, or ‘emotional labour’.
In many industries, eg car manufacture, a highly positive attitude is not considered important by employers as long as the work is undertaken satisfactorily. This is not the case for service workers who interact directly with the customer in retail, hospitality, call centres, etc. They have to present a positive image, which requires believing in or pretending to enjoy what they are doing.
Unfortunately, much as we may desire it, being happy and jolly all the time is not natural for most of us. Moreover, expressing emotions that are not felt or suppressing emotions that are felt can cause emotional dissonance and increase the possibility of stress and burnout 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

SUPPORTING REGENERATION THROUGH TRAINING AND DEVELOPMENT


Calls centres in Britain, France, Spain, the United States and many other nations have been relocated to other countries that possess suitable language skills and offer cheaper labour costs, eg India, Algeria, South America and the Philippines.
At national levels agencies are competing to attract inward investment and incentives include taxation-free periods, grants and subsidies, and support at organizational levels. Non-governmental organizations have also been successful in positively communicating the skills and financial benefits of offshoring, eg Nasscom in India.
Promotional material from Trade New Zealand highlights an advanced telecommunications infrastructure; support from the local government; well developed language skills; and a well educated and low-cost workforce. A Call Centre A raction Initiative encourages the development of an infrastructure of call centre consultants and training providers to deliver advice and support. In addition, Work and Income New Zealand also provides support for relocating companies through the supply of training course.
In England, support for inward investment is also provided at regional levels as a means of boosting local economies. Regional Development Agencies such as North West RDA funded the development of CallNorthWest and Yorkshire Forward funded The Yorkshire and Humberside Call Centre Network to provide the supportive infrastructure for the industry.
One means by which regeneration agencies provide support is through education and training initiatives, which are considered to be a very important strategy in providing potential employees. This is because some incoming employers believe certain groups do not possess the necessary skills. To address this agencies have funded pre-employment training courses thus creating an employee supply line.
These pre-employment programmes can be relatively expensive and given the high rates of employee turnover it is important to select suitable candidates. To add to these challenges, one employer was still reluctant to recruit programme participants because it believed the trainees might not have the required levels of skills. Therefore, it is important that development agencies carefully direct their funding. ‘We need to make sure that the money we spend on training these people isn’t wasted’.
The objective of regeneration agencies is to improve the economy and get people into employment. Pre-employment training is one means of achieving this but it would sometimes appear to be of a variable standard. Belt and Richardson noted a mismatch between training providers and call centre employers regarding skills requirements. They recommend that training providers avoid playing the ‘numbers game’ of ge ing people into employment and instead focus on long-term employment sustainability.
The links between trainers involved with pre-employment training and employers would sometimes appear to be inadequate. One piece of research noted:
[There is a] general lack of engagement between trainers and employers. In fact, in one of the case study training programmes, none of the trainers had even set foot inside a call centre. Meaningful and ongoing dialogue between trainers and employers on skills issues was infrequent or nonexistent in all but one of the case studies. Unsurprisingly, this situation seriously restricted the ability of the initiatives to meet employers’ skill needs.
Although most regions and countries consider the introduction of new jobs positively there are some critics. Call centres have been described by Belt as being mainly ‘careerless’. She referred to the TUC and stated that employers were ‘accused of providing large numbers of part-time, low-skilled, highly repetitive, pressurized and dead-end jobs’. She also concluded that because call centre jobs tended to be located in old industrial areas there was a developing production of geographic inequality.
To achieve the best outcomes inward investment agencies and call centres need to work cooperatively together and develop their relationship. For example, in a list of ‘top tips’ employment agency Adecco  recommended that contact centres, ‘Assess initiatives, such as pre-employment training as a way of demonstrating commitment to the local area and building links with potential employees of the future.’
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