Broadly speaking, the onboarding program is a human resources practice that helps new employees to learn the ropes, so that they don’t have to struggle when they go live as agents on the call center floor.
One way is to get them to listen to actual calls to see how real agents handle them. Now the problem with this approach is that everyone has his/her own and often unique style of functioning (it is part of what makes us all stand out as individuals), and so the way live agents handle calls may not exactly be the way trainees might – they might have better ideas.
For instance, if you an irate caller who is yelling on the phone and shouting profanities, the standard practice in most call centers is to ask them politely to be civil. If the caller persists, the agent is within his/her rights to terminate the call and mark it as ‘usage of unparliamentary language by the caller’. What if your trainee has more patience and empathy? He/she wouldn’t terminate the call, but wait patiently for the caller to finish (it can’t go on forever) without interrupting the latter, and then suggest a solution. Wouldn’t that actually be better for your company? There are plenty of other instances where your trainees might handle a situation differently – so telling them ‘this is how it is done’ may not exactly be the best idea.
A Chinese proverb goes something like this – tell them and they are likely to forget, show them and they may or may not remember, but get them involved and they understand. Your trainees need to be handling live calls. Of course it is inevitable that they will get it wrong. In such a case, you need to have a backup – the calls are to be transferred to a senior agent if necessary. You could also call back the caller and ask him/her for feedback. It is easier for people to give their assessment when you ask them how good it was, with the best experience at five stars and the poorest at a one star / no star rating.
A record of everything is to be maintained, even trainees successfully handling calls, and entered into a matrix along with the feedback, which can also be in numerical form (such as the number of stars received on the rating) and then evaluated at the end of the onboarding program. This would determine which trainees get to be promoted as agents.
How long should a good onboarding program be?
There are no hard and fast rules, since this depends on what kind of customers and products/services you handle, but generally speaking, a rule of thumb would be some 2-4 weeks of learning, followed by another 4-6 weeks of continued learning + experience handling live calls. It could be as short as 1 month, it could take as long as three months. Keep in mind that anything above this might lead to your trainees becoming disillusioned, wondering if they are ever going to become agents.
Some other useful tips are
- Get your manager to welcome them on their first day – This gives them the impression that they are important to the company.
- The training room must be a dedicated one – It must never be something which can be taken over by say, senior managers/directors for an emergency last-minute meeting. Also ensure that it is well-lit and airy. Too congested and cramped a training room actually makes trainees feel like they are likely to suffocate at your company, figuratively speaking. This is a psychological effect.
- Personalize training/onboarding material – Doing this helps induce a sense of belonging. It doesn’t take a lot of money to have the trainee’s name printed on a folder using a Dymo label – these still hold their charm, even though they have been in existence for decades.
- Ensure that the training material is up to date – On the same note, don’t bore them to death with truckloads of company history. Your organization’s financials might not be of any particular interest to them, even though you may be trying to make a point about its growth over the years.
- Use a buddy/mentor system – No trainee might feel alone if he/she has a ‘buddy’ (all you need to do is team up your trainees into pairs). Having a mentor is of great help when they have questions on the floor – which in all likelihood will happen, it seems improbable that they wouldn’t have any questions at all in a new environment, when they start taking calls during the onboarding program. You most definitely wouldn’t a trainee to quit because he/she couldn’t get help figuring out what needed to be done.
Remember, you need to make it a ‘fun’ period, so that they do their best and long to be on the floor as agents. Feel free to include learning games in the process.