Your Call Center is Web-Enabled, But What About Your Agents?

Your Call Center is Web-Enabled, But What About Your Agents?

By Penny Reynolds and Pamela Trickey

Your call center is not just about handling phone calls. Today, customers demand the option to mix and match alternate communication channels based on type of contact, situation, and personal preference.

Many companies are making investments to “Web-enable” their call centers, in terms of implementing the latest in technology, but very often they forget to enable the most critical part of the operation – the front-line staff.

As multimedia contact volume grows, your front-line agents must be prepared to handle transactions in whatever media choice the customer selects. But more than just technology will be needed to transform your telephone agents into “net reps” or “cyber agents.” As your contact mix changes, and technology is implemented, it’s critical that you also implement a comprehensive hiring, training, and performance measurement plan to ensure your staff is equipped to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations.

As you migrate your call center operation to respond to Internet contacts, you must find or create the ideal agent to support these Web interactions. And you’ll need to provide an environment that fosters their professional growth as well as one that responds to the evolving needs of your customers.

In this two-part series we’ll take a look at the four-stage process of “Web-enabling” your front-line staff, starting with needs assessment and then front line training.

Step 1: Needs assessment

In performing the initial needs assessment, it’s important to consider the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively handle Web transactions. Web-enabled agents must be able to respond professionally to a variety of interactions including e-mail messages, text chat sessions, instant messaging, co-browsing, and online forums.

We asked a group of call center executives what characteristics they felt were important in this new realm of multimedia responsibilities. In their opinion, supporting Web interactions will mean hiring staff who:

–Are adept at using technology
–Can learn quickly and adapt easily to a rapidly changing environment
–Have outstanding verbal and written communication skills
–Can comprehend, capture, and interpret essential customer information
–Pay attention to detail and quality
–Analyze the components of a problem and develop logical solutions
–Reduce complex issues to workable solutions
–Work smarter to prioritize and execute tasks with efficient use of resources

While all the above characteristics are certainly desirable, they might just as well describe attributes needed for an industrial engineer, college professor, or even a U.S. senator! In other words, they’re not really specific enough to the task at hand to define what you may be looking for in finding ideal front-line personnel. Let’s take a look at how we might specifically define some of these characteristics to relate to Web agent’s role we have in mind:

Attribute

Knowledge

Skills

Adept at using technology

Internet browsers
Search engines
E-mail
Attachments
File formats
Text chat
Instant messaging
On-line forums
Contact management software
Knowledge bases

Proficient with search tools and browsers; skilled with e-mail attributes to include attaching files to correspondence and utilizing tracking and management features; experience using contact management software and knowledge bases to search for customer information and problem resolutions

Written communication

Grammar
Netiquette – network ettiquette
Emoticons – written symbols to show feelings
Flaming – on-line personal attacks

Fast and accurate typing; ability to create grammatically correct responses with no spelling errors; knowing how and what to write when using Web communication; recognize signals of a disgruntled customer and respond without flaming; appropriate use of acronyms and symbols

In assessing your training needs, first define the knowledge and skills necessary. Beware of generalities in defining your goals. Instead, assemble a team that can come up with clear knowledge components and measurable skills that are needed. Once these are defined, you’re ready to determine which of these your staff has now, and what the gaps are that you’ll need to address in your training program.

Step 2: Assembling the Web-enabled workforce

Based on the ideal attributes listed above, what’s the job description for today’s Web rep? Where will you find these candidates and how can you ensure a good motivational fit for your center?

First, don’t make the mistake in assuming that agents who perform well on the phone can translate those skills to communicate using the written word. Not all of your agents will be qualified to handle these new communication channels. Some may be stellar performers over the telephone, but may not have the writing or reading comprehension skills required to handle the inquiries that arrive via the Web. So you may have to go out and search for them.

If you determine that your best option for finding Web-savvy agents is to recruit rather than train existing staff, the Internet offers instant access to a market of staggering proportions.

Four reasons to use the Internet to recruit candidates:

–Better candidates – On-line job seekers are at the very least, technologically literate.
–Immediate communication – Job posters and seekers can submit openings/ resumes instantly.
–Convenience of 24/7 access – Posting/searching can be done anytime day or night.
–Lower cost – On-line job postings for 30 days can be less expensive than newspaper ads for one day!

How can you launch a successful recruiting campaign using the Internet? The initial step in recruiting candidates is to post your job opening on your company’s Website. You should have a “Career” or “Job Opportunities” link directly from your home page. By directing potential candidates to your Website, you could also conduct screening and qualifying surveys using a Web-based application form to see if their skills and experience match your profile.

Next, look into posting services. These are Websites that allow companies to post job openings for a fee. There are many generic job boards available such as monster.com, but since you are seeking call center candidates, you will want to research industry specific Websites such as callcentercareers.com or callcenterops.com.

Now that you have access to a pool of potential candidates, how do you go about selecting the ideal agent? As you try to match the ideal candidate with your job description, you are basically looking for two characteristics: “can do” and “will do.” The “can do” capabilities of problem solving, decision-making, and analyzing information are critical baseline characteristics. But in addition to those, make sure you look for the “will do” traits of motivational fit, quality orientation, and job interests. The latter characteristics are likely to be the better predictors of a long-term successful match of employee to the job at hand.

We all know that the call center industry is unique. Many tools on the market today can help you test candidates specifically for this unique industry, such as pre-screening tools and call center simulators. The multimedia test from Employment Technologies Corp. gives potential candidates simulated calls from customers. Another tool is the CallCenter HIRE Assessment from FurstPerson that helps predict the motivational fit and mental ability compared to your call center job.

In Part 2 we’ll discuss training Web reps and how to go about evaluating their performance.

Penny Reynolds and Pamela Trickey are co-founders and senior partners with The Call Center School, a Nashville, TN-based consulting and education company.

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