Friday, July 22, 2011


Providing training not only enhances knowledge and skills, it also motivates employees, many of whom have come to expect a good provision of training. ‘From the employee’s perspective, training is no longer seen as simply a benefit. It is rather a prerequisite that will allow them to evolve and get a better salary in the future.’
At one pre-employment training programme a endees did not feel confident that they had the skills required by employers. They were also uncertain about the nature of the jobs but this was substantially dispelled after they had visited a call centre. Furthermore, on completion of the course the trainees said that they were more confident and empowered, and were motivated to seek a job.
Training of employees is not only useful in the development of skills, making the person more productive, it is also a signal from the employer that they have an interest in the employee. ‘Human resource incentives are of four types: ongoing training, employment security, pay level and electronic performance monitoring. Ongoing training indicates a firm’s commitment to employee development’.
In many cases the response to training provision by employees was encouraging and one adviser said, ‘I have permission to do my course work in work hours when we’re not busy, which is good. They want you to do training! They are pushing us towards training courses all the time, it’s really good for the staff, everyone feels supported’ .
Other advisers commented: ‘I’ve worked my way up from reservations. The courses and opportunities are there – they will push you if you want to be pushed.’ ‘I’ve put my name down for all the courses – I’ve done them all now.’ ‘The training in my PDP has motivated me to be team leader – its very useful’.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


The duration of training depends significantly upon the industry and the employer. The greatest emphasis on training tends to occur during induction with a fall off after this, which is replaced with on-the-job training and coaching. It would appear in some cases that, ‘Whilst organizations recognize that induction is essential, ongoing training is o en viewed as a luxury’.
In general, there would appear to be a positive correlation between the degree of job complexity and industry regulation, and the length of induction training. For jobs requiring low skills levels, induction periods were relatively short, but for those that were more complex the training period was considerably longer.
The average duration of induction training in the UK during 2003 was 36 days; however, this significantly decreased during 2004 to 21 days. Undoubtedly the upfront costs of training will have been reduced as a result of the shorter duration; however, the long-term costs would appear to have increased. The reduced length of induction appears to have contributed to decreases in customer satisfaction and first-contact resolution, and increases in call abandonment and staff attrition during the same period. It is a matter of judgement about the trade-off between the costs of training and the costs of employees not functioning well. Yet, using the word ‘cost’ is rather misleading; training should be considered an ‘investment’ not a cost!
With regard to ongoing training, agents receive approximately 3 weeks of training per year; however, those in outsourcing tend to receive the least. Much of this training is in the form of coaching, with agents receiving approximately 20 minutes per day, which equates to four hours/day in a team of 12 for a team leader. ‘Public services team leaders are said to spend most of their time in coaching – which we believe should be the main role of team leaders.’
Also, team leaders in small contact centres tend to spend almost twice as much time coaching as those in large organizations: 1.9 hours/agent versus 1 hour/agent. This may be due to more paperwork and administration in larger centres. Smaller contact centres tend to have fewer agents per team leader, which may mean that they are able to offer more coaching. Alternatively, it may be that because the agents receive less induction training they are more in need of it when they are in a fully operational role.
Furthermore, ‘99 per cent of people working in call centres today have undergone formal training for their current jobs’. In addition, 90 per cent of employers had a written training plan and 87 per cent possessed an annual training budget. Most training is delivered in-house and 69 per cent of organizations use on-the-job training and 69 per cent use coaching.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


It is not just a case of providing training and development opportunities within an organization: employees need to be informed about them and the provision needs to be structured to ensure that they have access to the courses. Marketing and promoting training provision informs potential consumers of availability and their benefits. To be successful, it needs to:
  • use a medium or channels that the learners use;
  • use language, tone and style that match those of the learner;
  • make contact when it is timely for the learner. Methods of contacting and informing potential learners include:
  • e-mails;
  • corporate newsletters;
  • website;
  • online booking services;
  • posters;
  • advertisements;
  • sponsoring events;
  • brochures and inserts;
  • learning and development newsletters;
  • trainers informing delegates of other complementary courses;
  • presentations in the workplace;
  • using line managers to communicate training details.
It is a necessity to ensure that training has a high profile in the organization otherwise the benefits it provides may not be noticed or acknowledged. This lack of recognition may then translate into reduced financial resources being made available. Also, a higher profile can lead to greater influence and encourage stronger commitment to training. Successes should be communicated. For example, one manager described the introduction of a BTEC programme: ‘We implemented it throughout customer services, and made a big song and dance about it! It drew attention to training!’

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


The main purpose of categorizing learning provision and constructing diagrams based on this provision is so that it can be understood more clearly and therefore properly managed and directed. It is possible to categorize call centre training along a number of dimensions: general training (handling difficult customers, IT training); sector-specific training (work procedures, telephone sales techniques); and firm-specific training (product knowledge, firm knowledge) (Sieben and de Grip, 2004). Another approach is to classify learning as on-the-job and off-the-job, as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: On-the-job and off-the-job learning
Monitoring colleagues
Computer-based learning
Work-based learning
Monitoring colleagues
Computer-based learning
Work-based learning
Learning and development can also be classified into what Granered called ‘training modalities’. These were:
  • classroom-based training;
  • e-learning;
  • learning by doing;
  • coaching.
Whichever modality is chosen the most important consideration is that, ‘We are trying to create the most effective transfer of knowledge with the greatest amount of impact, at the lowest cost’.


The use of e-learning would appear to be growing and approximately half of contact centres use web-based learning. The reasons for this growth are:
  • It provides a single learning experience that is common to all learners.
  • It can be transmitted to each participant.
  • It is interactive and involves the learner.
  • It can be self-paced and go at the speed of the learner.
  • Once produced it can be cheaply disseminated.
  • It can be targeted at specific needs.
  • Learning can be assessed online.
  • It can be used to confirm that people have completed compulsory training, eg health and safety.
  • It can assess and target specific learning needs.
  • It can be carried out at the learner’s work desk.
  • It can be studied during quiet call periods.
  • It can be used to simulate the customer transaction. There are, however, limitations to e-learning too:
  • Classroom-based learning is still considered to be more interesting and appealing to learners 
  • It is expensive to produce.
  • It is not viable for small training needs, with classroom-based learning or other forms being cheaper.
  • With the quality of computer games, many e-learning materials are considered inferior and boring.
  • It is not as portable as print-based materials.
  • There is no social interaction.
  • Many of the skills such as speaking cannot be accurately developed.
  • The content is not always appropriate.
  • It is poorly suited to so skills training.
E-learning presents a number of advantages and disadvantages for the individual and the organization. To manage this to best effect many organizations have instituted a policy of blended learning in which the benefits of more traditional forms of learning and those of e-learning are combined to best effect.

Informal learning

Most contact centres emphasize the development of teams to reduce the negative aspects of individual working and use the physical architecture of the building and workstations clustered in pods to build camaraderie. Close proximity enables agents to consult with each other during and after calls to share information and experience.
The social nature of call centres is also encouraged during breaks. Even here, agents share stories about work experiences and thus create a constructive cultural environment and an informal individual and collective memory system. In effect, this informal communication builds up communities of practice and these support networks complement the on-screen information.
Operators also develop their own improvised forms of personal information systems that are used for learning and gathering information. These files and personal notes are used to record and store information that is not generally available or easy to locate through the formal systems.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A SKILLED OCCUPATION | Call Centre Training

Thankfully, not everyone considers the negative views expressed above as a full and accurate picture of call centres. Some researchers said, ‘We would resist the use of the term “deskilling” in a call centre context’. They maintained that this was because interactive service work was different to that of white collar work, eg banking. A second reason is that emotional labour and social competencies are not easily placed within the traditional mental/manual categories.
A third argument is that contact centres are not homogenized and require different levels of skills and competencies depending upon the business model that operates. In standardized high-volume contact centres a wide range of skills may not be needed but this is not the case where a higher level of customer service and interactivity is required.
Although there is a public perception that jobs in call centres are relatively easy, in reality a mixture of abilities, attitudes, characteristics and skills are needed. Research in the UK noted the failure to acknowledge the skills of contact centre advisers. In Ireland, a similar vie ‘Agent work is a complex blend of knowing, sensing and rule applying. As discussed, agents use a complex, largely unacknowledged set of personal skills.’
Identifying what a customer wants is not always an easy task and, indeed, sometimes even the customer is not always clear about his or her own expectations. One adviser said that, ‘It is like diagnosing the disease without seeing the patient’. Thus, to achieve a satisfactory resolution to the call, the adviser has to develop and apply a considerable level of knowledge and expertise eg, when handling a difficult caller or identifying a technical fault. It is skills like these that can only be developed as a result of experience and knowledge.
One reason for this failure to recognize the skills, knowledge and attitudes of advisers is that they are not always immediately obvious. Between explicit knowledge, which is systematic and formalized, and tacit knowledge ie, internalized skills, understanding, etc, which are hidden and difficult to describe and which a person may not easily articulate. Significantly, he described how explicit knowledge becomes tacit to such an extent that an individual might become unaware of using it and find it almost impossible to communicate. When agents were asked to describe how they approached specific problems they were unable to explain, stating, ‘You feel it’, ‘You know so’, ‘I just knew it’.
It would appear that employees gradually absorb conscious competence so that eventually it becomes unconscious competence. Explained:
Through experience and their participation in a ‘community of operators’ they develop a set of diagnostic skills which over time become instrumentalized, that is to say, tacit. This enables them to think quickly, ‘on their feet’, and serve customers speedily. Over time, operators learn to dwell in these skills, feel them as extensions of their own body and thus gradually become subsidiarily aware of them, which enables operators to focus on the task at hand.
If an organization can internalize skills and make them tacit and hidden these then become very difficult for competitors to copy and this provides a competitive advantage to the holder. For example, ‘The historic HR practices of the Bell system had created a highly skilled workforce with tremendous tacit knowledge of the customers, the telecommunications infrastructure, and the use of information systems’.
Given this difficulty in expressing the hidden skills of advisers it is not surprising that training manuals, etc find difficulty in comprehensively describing all the skills:
Quality service requires that workers rely on inner arsenals of affective and interpersonal skills, capabilities which cannot be successfully codified, standardized or dissected into discrete components and set forth in a company handbook.
While it may be difficult for organizations to comprehensively formalize tacit knowledge, efforts should be made. If tacit knowledge could be articulated then it would become explicit, allowing it to be communicated to others. The work done by e-skills illustrates a classic attempt to systematize and formalize the skills of those working in contact centres

Monday, July 4, 2011


Contact centres are designed to act as the interface between the customer and the organization and to handle high volumes of calls each day. To do so systematically, economically and with consistent quality, most organizations have tended to incorporate mechanisms that limit the freedom of the operator. This approach tends to standardize processes, language, etc and restrict the scope of the customer service adviser.
With standardization the organization determines the messages it wants communicating to the customer and gets the operator to deliver the words. It has been argued that the use of scripts and information technology has restructured the organization of work to reduce not only the skills of agents but also their need to think. Essentially, ‘The agent is largely constructed as a mouth-piece rather than a brain’.
In Canada the requirement to follow specific protocols in telephone health assessment has been considered to be classical Taylorism in which the nurses’ skills were dissociated from the labour process. ‘This provides evidence of the fragmentation of knowledge and its separation into “parcels” or “bits” which are coordinated through the system’s algorithm-based logic’.
A lots have argued that the systematization of work in call centres has minimized the requirements for skills. For example, some banks would appear to have created a deskilled workforce that does not require qualifications and can be trained in just three weeks. It would appear that the opportunities for skill enhancement are limited and concluded that, ‘Our findings in this area indicate overwhelmingly that the nature of work organization used in call centres acts toconstrain skill development.’ The reduction of skill demands has other implications: ‘This has the result that many formerly semi-professional jobs have been eroded and made redundant, introducing a loss of career, status and opportunity’.
If only a few of the above points of view are correct there would appear to be problems in some call centres. Importantly, it should not fall upon training and human resource professionals to use learning and development as a ‘sticking plaster’ remedy to cover over gaping wounds caused by some organizational policies and methods. Where there are evident shortcomings in the system that training cannot overcome it is the role of HR and other operational managers to argue the case for a redesign of the system. If this cannot be achieved, the lack of insight and vision elsewhere in the organization will be rewarded with lower productivity, less motivation and higher levels of attrition.
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