Consider the Optimum Strategy for Your Contact Center Staff
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
At one time call centers handled calls and nothing else. They had one channel. That was it. Now most call centers handle more than just telephone calls. They’ve become multichannel. Contact center is a better name for them.
Along with phone calls—which is still the predominant channel at many operations—we’re now seeing text chat, web support and assisted browsing, email response, and a multitude of social media platforms to monitor and engage. In addition to these is a possibility of handling two older channels: mail and fax.
Although there may be some overlap, each channel requires a separate set of skills, which means supplying channel-specific training. Do you want to cross train all contact center agents so that any employee can handle any contact, regardless of the channel and when needed?
Or do you want specialists that excel in one area? Or is a mixture of both approaches the best strategy for your operation?
Here are some considerations about cross channel training:
Contact center specialists, such as telephone agents or text chat representatives, handle communications through one channel and one channel only.
Because they specialize in that channel, they excel at it and can serve customers with greater effectiveness, proficiency, and speed. A specialist will be more efficient in their channel than a generalist.
This is ideal for some operations, and its ideal for some agents. These employees relish consistency and find comfort in knowing what they will do at work each day, each week, and each month.
For them, they counter the repetition of their work by embracing the unexpected variety from one call to the next or one text to the next.
For agents who like a variety of tasks, specializing in one channel is a horrific prospect. If you don’t offer a way to counter their boredom, they’ll leave as soon as a more suitable job becomes available.
Contact center generalists receive instruction on how to handle communication on each channel your operation offers. This means that every employee receives cross channel training. They relish the opportunity to learn and master each channel.
They have a flexible mindset and see benefits of enjoying a varied workday.
Having a contact center staffed with generalists provides the most responsive configuration, with any agent able to handle any channel at any time.
This is ideal for time-critical communications that don’t tolerate interaction delays, such as the telephone, text chat, and web support. (Having a delayed response with email, social media, mail, and fax isn’t an issue, providing they’re handled in a reasonable time.)
Selective Cross Training
The discussion between contact center specialists and generalists, however, isn’t an exclusive one. You can have a mixture of both. You can even have partial cross channel training where an agent receives training on some channels but not all.
For agents who want to handle the same type of communication, let them specialize. Don’t force them away from something they like into something they don’t want to do by cross channel training them.
All that will do is taking a successful agent who happily serves you well in one channel and turning them into a disillusioned employee who seeks a different job.
Other agents, however, will clamor for the opportunity to receive training on and handle every communication channel you offer. And they’ll be the first in line to explore opportunities with new channels.
There’s a middle ground, however, where agents may want to and benefit from receiving cross channel training on specific channels with similar skill sets.
One example might be the text chat and email channels, which both need quick and accurate typing skills. But they may shudder at the idea of talking on the phone. Conversely a phone agent may also enjoy text chat, as both have back-and-forth interaction with the contact.
In these cases, let agents select which channels they want to receive training on. Be sure, however, that cross channel training is optional and not expected. Embrace those employees who want to remain one-channel experts.
Cross Channel Implementation
Regardless of the degree of cross channel training in your contact center, there are two implementation strategies for your cross-trained agents.
One possibility is with agents assigned to a particular channel for the day, with the understanding that you may reassign them to another channel as traffic warrants. This switch may be for an hour or two or for the rest of the day. Regardless, staff always begins the day on a scheduled channel.
The other approach is a universal distribution of contacts, with any customer communication going to any agent regardless of the channel. This makes scheduling the easiest and offers the most responsiveness to customers, but it may come at the cost of optimum efficiency.
If your call center handles other communication channels, or is thinking about it, consider how you want to approach it. You can adopt a specialist mindset, pursue a generalist tactic, or embrace a mixture of the two.
The point is to consider the cross channel training strategy that’s ideal for your operation, your customers, and your staff. Balance their needs to provide the best outcome for all stakeholders.
Read more in Peter’s Sticky series, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.