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Customer Services Training: Leading From the Front


Call centreTimely, relevant and high quality staff training is essential if an organisation is to meet its vision of customer service delivery, says David Allenstein.

Despite years of research highlighting the benefits of corporate training programmes, the majority of organisations still regard investment in staff training as a necessary evil – often doing little more than complying with government led requirements for staff development, and making the job of the trainer far more complicated than it needs to be.

Indeed if the industry is to redress the levels of staff turnover and reduce the stress placed on trainers, organisations must reverse their attitude to training. Rather than grudgingly allocating budget to the bottom of the organisation, training must be a director led process that acts as the central point for disseminating information and building corporate culture.

It is by combining senior management involvement with bespoke qualifications that specifically reflect company attitudes and goals that organisations can attain quantifiable value from training investment.

"Whilst most call centre operators enjoy a good induction, many organisations will spend no more than £150 a year to provide on-going training."

David Allenstein, managing director, Best Practice Training & Development Ltd

High levels of staff attrition combined with inadequate investment in training and skills are fundamentally undermining the delivery of the customer service vision. If organisations truly want to drive up customer value and deliver improvements to the bottom line, they need a board level commitment to call centre staff career development that ensures corporate messaging and branding is entrenched in every aspect of service delivery.

It is only by taking the lead in creating high quality, motivated and relevant service, that senior management can ensure the customer focused corporate vision is being achieved.

For the past decade, organisations across every vertical market have been at pains to emphasise their commitment to customer service. Significant investments have been made in CRM solutions in a bid to drive up customer retention and increase customer value.

Yet throughout this process, investment in customer facing staff has hardly changed. Whilst most call centre operators enjoy a good induction process, many organisations will spend no more than £150 a year to provide on going operator training. Is it any wonder that call centre levels of staff attrition are amongst the highest in any sector?

According to a report from ContactBabel, agent retention rates have decreased for the fourth year, running to 23% - with 43% of contact centres reporting a problem with staff turnover.

Yet the cost of call centre staff attrition is significant. With average new agent salaries breaking the £14,000 mark for the first time in 2006, recruitment costs are increasing. Furthermore, as the report comments, low retention rates impact negatively upon customer satisfaction levels and first call resolution rates, as well as being a very significant cost to the business. In addition, only 13% of departing staff go to a competitor’s contact centre, creating an industry wide drain of skills.

People first
Acceptance of high levels of staff attrition is ridiculous. A good call centre operator is highly productive and motivated, successfully meeting customer needs and adding value through cross-selling and up-selling. But it takes a good six months for these individuals to become truly effective. With tenure rates dropping, organisations are rarely retaining their most valuable and efficient staff.

"Acceptance of high levels of staff attrition is ridiculous. Organisations are rarely retaining their most valuable and efficient staff."

Instead they are enduring a constant, expensive cycle of recruitment. Too often top operators are promoted to team leader positions without the right training or skills to undertake the role, reducing job satisfaction and undermining team morale, leading to further staff churn.

Of course, the industry recognises that training has a role to play in reducing staff attrition. Yet whilst many companies are investing in government funded qualifications such as NVQs, in too many cases the training policies are ad hoc. Furthermore, organisations are struggling with the complexities of government funding which restricts training to the under 25s or those with less than Level 2 qualifications, making it difficult to deliver consistent, call centre wide training policies.

In addition, whilst standard contact centre qualifications - such as NVQs - provide a good opportunity to demonstrate commitment to staff development there are limitations associated with generic standards. These courses do not reflect the attitudes and policies of each organisation; indeed, staff may actually have to undertake different ways of working to match the external qualification requirements.

Breaking the chain
Timely, relevant and high quality staff training is essential if an organisation is to meet its vision of customer service delivery. Well trained staff are not only be better motivated and committed but support the customer intelligent organisation, fulfilling their own potential and transforming the quality of service delivery.

Yet this can only be achieved if training evolves from today’s tactical approach towards one that is embedded within corporate processes. A coherent training strategy has to be driven by a board level directive to ensure messages truly reflect the corporate vision of customer service.

To achieve this vision, organisations need to understand current levels of customer intelligence; namely how well messages are communicated, problems solved and customer issues addressed. Only a board level review to determine gaps in understanding and delivery can effectively assess the extent to which brand values are being communicated to the customer.

David Allenstein is the managing director of Best Practice Training & Development Ltd.


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