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What I’ve seen in most call centers is that trainers come up through the line.  The start as agents move to leads to supervisors and then to trainers.  This gives them a good background in what happens on the phones and how to talk about the technical aspects of the job.

However, few have any formal background in training and development and I’m usually surprised that they have not reached out to the training community to find out what’s going on.

 Other than reading my book, I always suggest that they start by getting involved in the major training and performance improvement associations to try and find resources and a mentor.  It’s helpful to find associations with good local chapters that you can be part of at a very minimal cost.  The two I suggest that everyone starts with are the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD.org) and the International Society of Performance Improvement (ISPI.org). 

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There is a lot of talk about whether talk time is a valid or useful measure in call centers.  There are good and not so good arguments on both sides.  However, in a training environment, talk time can provide some useful information.  Here’s how..

As agents become more confidence and competent there speed naturally picks up.  You can see it and hear on every call.  They navigate screens faster.  They know where to find information.  They give better advice.  They talk more naturally and fluently.  The calls of experienced agents will be faster than the calls of inexperienced agents.

During training, what I like to do is put talk times on a quality run chart.  On a control chart .   Then I look at the normal distribution of call times from experienced agents and set both upper and lower control limits.  When new agent’s talk times fit within these limits, I’m no longer concerned about talk time.  Some agents will have much higher talk times.  To me this indicates that there are areas they haven’t mastered and are therefore too slow.  A little analysis and observation can help spot these.

The trickier ones are those who are too fast.  This can mean agents may be skipping things they don’t know well or even things like blind transfers.  Again, a little watching and listening should reveal these. 

By identifying the outliers on the control chart, you can be much more focused with your coaching.

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I got sent this little video with the Drifters signing White Christmas.  Simply for some holiday cheer.  Relax and enjoy.

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A lot business complain that people entering the workforce simply aren’t read to go to work.  It’s a basic as knowing what to wear and how to show up on time.  There are also some issues about basic language and computer skills.

 The solution is a good partnership with a local 2 year college.  Many of them have work readiness programs and/or are willing to partner with a business to provide this type of training.  I’ve seen this done both pre and post hire.

 Sometimes on a pre-hire basis I’ve seen companies send employees for a week or so of training and then if they successfully complete the training, they are reimbursed the day they start work. 

 Another funding mechanism is to look at the grants and programs offered on a state level for just this type of training.  One good model is the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership. 

I’d be intereste in knowing about other programs offered in other states.

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I think there is a significant difference between the way people actually learn and the way they are taught.  It’s actually an interesting way to start a session to ask participants to:  Think of something you’re good at.  How did you really learn to become good at that?

There’s a lot of practice, experience, coaching and even a few breakthrough moments where something unique happens.  So the idea would then be to build training that matches these descriptions.  However, the traditional way is to start by thinking about everything you need to know and do and then line up a series of courses starting with building blocks and finally ending with application.  The two paths end up being very different.

 In the design of training, people are pretty good at identifying the “what”, but are less good at determining the “when” and “how.”  The “how” tends to be more around what delivery mechanism to use rather than “how” you actually learn that skill. 

I’m very interested in stories about how people actually learned to do what they do well.  Please add yours to the comments.

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I think one of the most interesting parts of international training is when you deal with other country’s understanding of American culture.  It’s actually rather funny.  They tend to get about 75% right and the rest is rather funny.  I remember dealing with collections in India.  In their training, they referred to people who refused to pay as credit criminals.  I had to tell them that fraud is a crime but just owing money isn’t.  We don’t have debtor prisons.  They also thought that American’s can’t wait to get on social security and live the good life.  I’d be interested in any other funny stories like this.

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