When you ask a manager what they want in an employee, the answer is probably along the lines of, “somebody who knows what to do and does it without mistakes.”

That’s the dream, right?

In fact, if you look at a company’s job listings for hiring new employees, they almost always describe somebody who’s already been doing the job for 10 years.

But hiring employees who are experts isn’t always possible — especially in the call center. In most cases, you need to teach them everything they’ll need to know in order to handle calls proficiently.

So, how do you go about it? First, you build foundational knowledge during onboarding. Then you build off of that foundation with incremental continuous learning.

ScreenSteps — our knowledge base software company — is one way to approach continuous learning. For eight years, I’ve helped companies document their procedures and make those procedures accessible to their employees. That way, they can learn in the workflow.

If you are looking to incorporate continuous learning as part of your training approach, use these five steps to develop a continuous learning strategy for your call center.

Jonathan DeVore

By: Jonathan DeVore on October 19th, 2021

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How to Build a Continuous Learning Plan for Call Center Reps

1. Build a foundation for continuous learning

First, teach reps only what they need to know to begin answering calls.

Many trainers look at classroom training as an opportunity to unload all of the information they have in their heads and have it be absorbed by learners. But this never happens.

In order to learn, learners must have questions. And the fact is that when you get new call center reps in training, they don’t have a lot of questions upfront. They don’t know what they don’t know.

The real goal here is proficiency.

It doesn’t matter if they can remember everything perfectly. It doesn’t matter if they use help guides to complete a task. What matters is that employees handle a call quickly and correctly. The bonus is they are learning as they do these tasks for the first time.

By limiting your agents’ dependency on memorization, you are opening a path to continuous learning. That puts less pressure and stress on your employees.

What information MUST your reps know to handle a call? Focus onboarding on having your new hires master that information. Having a continuous learning culture in your company means they will have an opportunity to build on that knowledge every day.

🔍 Related: How to Organize Your Call Center Program Into 5 Phases

2. Set checkpoints for assessing reps’ skills

As your agents spend more time handling calls, they will continue to become more proficient and master the tasks they learned in their initial training. Set up regular checkpoints with reps to gauge their progress.

For a call center, you can assess where reps are after the first four weeks of taking calls. After handling calls for a few weeks, listen to several calls and identify areas of growth. In these evaluations, you are looking for strengths and areas for improvement.

For example, their technical knowledge may not be on full display during calls, so you may need to go through some exercises to assess their understanding.

How to measure agent progress

During these checkpoint assessments, you are looking to see if your agents are proficient and ready to handle more complex calls. Some notes to consider evaluating include:

  • Where are reps good and where are they struggling?
  • Are they good with technical skills but poor with soft skills?
  • Are they good at following procedures but not good at identifying the purpose of the call?
  • Are they good at building rapport but not very good at following procedures?
  • Are they good at following procedures but not very good at critical thinking?

Develop a rubric or scale so it is clear how everyone is scored. These scores should point to areas that are strengths as well as areas that need improvement. And your rubric doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to cover key growth skills like the scoresheet below.

 

Score

Strength

Growth Opportunity

Technical knowledge

     

Identify the purpose of calls

     

Find right procedures

     

Follow procedures

     

Build rapport

     

Handle stressful situations

     

Critical thinking

     

Controlling the call

     
   

Yes

No

Ready to take on more?

     

Remember: This is more than a scorecard. You’re not necessarily evaluating their KPIs. Right now you’re identifying their strengths and the gaps in their skills and knowledge.

3. Identify which learning assets you need to create

Take those scores from the assessment and figure out which learning assets will help your agents develop their competency.

You have learning assets that your reps may not be taking advantage of — partly because they are really busy and partly because they don’t know about them.

Examples of continuous learning assets

If your reps are lacking in technical knowledge, then find courses in your learning management system (LMS) or videos/presentations in your knowledge base they can go through to learn more.

If your reps are lacking in critical thinking, create quizzes or write up situations that reps will respond to (either written or verbal) by explaining how they would solve/address the situation.

If your reps aren’t able to find the right procedures in the knowledge base, find a job aid with tips on how to perform searches.

If your reps aren’t able to identify the purpose of calls very well, you could find phone recordings that they listen to with exercises. Then they can write down what they would say to identify the purpose of the call.

Are they ready to learn more? If reps are doing well for what they’re currently assigned, are they ready to take on more outside of their current role?

Create assets (like the ones suggested above) to cross-train agents. This will help prepare your call center for an influx of calls or if a different department is short-staffed one day.

🔍 Related: How to Make Call Center Training Less Stressful For Your Agents (4 Tips)

4. Formalize a learning development plan

Now that you know the different skills you are evaluating and have learning assets to support employees, you’ll want to formalize a learning development plan. This phase is about how to go about addressing the agents’ weaknesses.

Using your scorecard, you could set up different levels associated with skill mastery. Each level of proficiency would cover certain continuous learning assets. For example, once an agent masters processing invoices, they can learn more about handling a complex refund transaction.

Whether it is according to levels or specific skills, you can assign the learning assets to your reps and have them complete those assignments during a specified period of time.

An important part of continuous learning is accountability. You may need to allow your agents 30 minutes a day to review learning assets. Track assignment completion and follow up on the learnings.

🔍 Related: ​​What is Time to Proficiency and how does it affect your call center?

5. Repeat your assessment and continue to identify areas of improvement

A key part of continuous learning is in its name — it’s continuous. That means you are always returning to Step 2 to evaluate where your agents are. Repeat your assessment and continue to identify areas of growth.

Set up a regular cadence to start the process over again. Do you want to have your assessments monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, etc.?

Your agents will never be perfect. There will always be room for improvement. Ideally, each time you will identify a new area where your agents will continue to learn.

How to accomplish more with continuous learning

Following this continuous learning plan, you will accomplish three important goals:

  • Your reps will be proficient sooner and be able to handle calls, saving you time and money
  • You will identify knowledge gaps and areas of growth sooner and avoid problems with QA and compliance
  • You will develop reps into experts

With ScreenSteps, our knowledge base makes it easy for agents to learn while in the workflow. They can easily pull up your call flows and procedures on your ScreenSteps knowledge base. Then they can follow the step-by-step instructions without putting a customer on hold.

Are you looking for more approaches to continuous learning? Need to know what assets, software, or classes you should use? Here are 5 ways that can help you incorporate continuous learning in your workplace.

5 Ways to Incorporate Continuous Learning

About Jonathan DeVore

Customer Success