Training Wheels


Training Wheels

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  December 11, 2012

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2012 issue of CUSTOMER

As a new manager many years ago, I asked a former supervisor how I could motivate employees that didn’t seem to be on fire for telecom journalism. Her answer, if recall correctly, was: You can’t.

To some extent she was correct. Some people just seem to have an inherent, or more likely learned, quality that pushes them to want to achieve – others, not so much.

Obviously, hiring on people with this first quality and the proper experience can be extremely beneficial to a company as it looks to expand or fill in its workforce. The rub is that it can be difficult to identify, attract and then retain individuals with both the drive and the skills to get the job done.

However, even those employees that don’t immediately stand out from the crowd may have a lot to offer if provided with a little guidance and motivation. In fact, even the most motivated employees can run out of steam if they’re not given the proper direction and care.

The bottom line is that we’re all people, and people tend to thrive on constructive feedback, recognition and rewards. All of that is especially important in contact center and other customer-facing environments in which we expect our employees to provide a high level of customer care. It would seem to be an obvious conclusion that a happy employee is far more likely to want to help an organization keep or create a happy customer.

I recently spoke with Paul Vaillancourt, senior vice president of contact center operations at contact center outfit, about how it goes about identifying and hiring. Finding the right employees is especially important for a company like, given its workforce consists of work-at-home individuals who help companies like Comcast (News - Alert), Office Depot, Office Max, Staples and Symantec address their customers’ tech questions.

In line with that model, does all of its job candidate screening online, which Vaillancourt says enables the company to quickly filter applicant pools from tens of thousands down to a couple hundred, and with very little cost or resources spent.

The company’s process, which relies on tests rather than resume reviews, immediately rules out people who don’t come near to qualifying for the job, he says. The initial test is a five-question multiple choice one; if candidates get four correct answers, they move on to take a five-question, timed essay test. Vaillancourt explains that applicants are told they have an hour to complete the test, but that is actually looking for people who can complete the job effectively in around a half hour. The company also tests candidates’ ability to do research by getting them to solve problems and puzzles. Then, it does a non-technical review to assess candidates’ personal skills. Vaillancourt says the attrition rate for agents who have been trained is low (in the low teens annually).

Speaking of agent retention, the Manpower article in this issue of CUSTOMER offers tips on how to motivate contact center agents from Generation Y.

The article notes that people from Generation Y are very self reliant, but that they also tend to be collaborative and want to always to moving forward. That said, Manpower urges contact center operators to provide these individuals with continuous feedback and coaching, strong work/life balance, and ongoing development and growth that encourages individuals to stay in their positions while preparing for new roles within the organization.

While we’re on the topic of contact centers and agent training and productivity, I wanted to mention the findings of a recent Aberdeen (News - Alert) report, which was sponsored by Knowlagent. The paper indicates that contact centers “that weave in intraday management programs as part of an existing workforce management effort show marked improvement in agent productivity and overall performance.” According to the paper, even the best contact centers “can better manage idle time with more agile staffing practices and by automatically directing agents to work on secondary tasks such as training and coaching during this time.”

Aberdeen goes on to report that 48 percent of companies with contact center work force management initiatives cite unpredictable customer traffic as their top challenge. And it says that users of automated intraday management solutions outperform nonusers with greater year-over-year improvement in customer satisfaction (12.7 percent versus 5.8 percent) and for key measures such as AHT and FCR.

"A key take away for contact center leaders is that agent idle time is inevitable but it can be used,” says Matt McConnell, president and CEO for Knowlagent. “Rather than let it go as a missed opportunity, see it as a chance to develop your agents’ skills and improve overall productivity. This report shows that when used with workforce optimization strategies, contact centers can employ idle time as a resource for providing agents with relevant training content that helps them improve their knowledge, skills and overall performance."

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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