Blog Post

Keeping New Agents Off the Ledge with an Extended Onboarding Initiatives

The contact center industry has historically been one plagued by high employee turnover. Particularly problematic (and expensive) is early agent attrition – new-hires quitting soon after the contact center has spent ample time and resources recruiting, assessing and training them.

While some early attrition can be attributed to poor candidate selection, often rookie reps exit because they get rushed through orientation and initial training then thrown to the customer wolves. Or, in some cases, they receive plenty of coddling and coaching during orientation/training, then wonder where all the love suddenly went once they’ve earned their headset.

To help ease rookie agents into the challenging and dynamic customer care environment, top contact centers have an “extended on-boarding” initiative in place – spreading the transitional phase out over several weeks or months to help foster a strong sense of preparedness and belonging among new staff.

Following are several key components of a successful “Extended On-Boarding” initiative:

“Transition” training. After their trainees complete a couple weeks (or more) of classroom training, many contact centers send them to a special phone bay (or “nesting area”) to take basic calls while being closely monitored and carefully coached by a supervisor (or multiple supervisors, if the training class is particularly large). After a week or so in the bay, trainees may head back to the classroom to work out the kinks and learn more advanced skills before taking live calls again in a highly supportive environment.

“Transition” training, as it has come to be called, not only helps to shorten learning curves by providing plenty of practical experience, it works wonders in raising comfort levels among new hires, who love the extra care and attention they get as they ease their way onto the official phone floor.

Peer mentoring. Effective agent on-boarding doesn’t end with initial training. Top contact centers continue to show new-hires the love after “graduation” by pairing them up with an experienced agent trained to assist and inspire. Having a peer nearby to help rookies through tough calls, peak periods and panic attacks is a surefire way to fend against early attrition and help new-hires thrive in what can be an overwhelmingly fast-paced environment.

In addition to raising the retention and performance levels of new hires, peer mentoring has the added benefit of enhancing engagement among the center’s frontline veterans (which can be infectious), who enjoy sharing their knowledge and taking on more of a leadership role.

Social events. Even with peer mentoring in place, feelings isolation and alienation are common among agents, who must spend most of their time tucked inside a cubicle handling (or waiting to handle) customer contacts. Smart contact centers recognize this, and thus organize frequent events and gatherings aimed at strengthening relationships, elevating morale and making new hires feel like part of a tight-knit team. Examples of such practical social activities include team luncheons, bowling outings and barbeques. During these events, managers and supervisors should introduce and encourage interaction with the center’s newer team members, and inform the newer members if they have any food stuck in their teeth.

Specialized satisfaction surveys for new(ish) employees. Just because this isn’t a common practice doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. Administering an “on-boarding satisfaction” survey to agents after 60 or 90 days on the job enables the contact center to gauge the level of engagement among existing newbies and act quickly on feedback to help prevent early attrition. Agents’ input and suggestions also helps the center to improve the overall on-boarding process to ensure high levels of retention among the next group of new-hires that roll through.

Many managers say that the very act of soliciting such feedback from new-hires helps to increase morale and retention, as it shows that the organization truly values their opinion and is committed to improving hiring, training and other processes aimed at setting them up for success.

 

About the author

Author of Full Contact: Contact Center Practices and Strategies that Make an Impact. He has written hundreds of feature articles, case studies, blog posts and research reports on contact center best practices trends and challenges. He is founder and principal of Off Center, which provides a variety of resources to educate, inspire and entertain contact center professionals. Levin is the former editor of ICMI’s pioneering publication Service Level Newsletter, as well as its highly regarded follow-up journal Call Center Management Review.

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