8 strategies to help call center agents make fewer mistakes
It’s just another workday as a call center manager when an email titled, “April Call Center Agents Mistakes Report,” arrives in your inbox from your boss. (I’m not nervous, you're nervous.) You open the email to the following message:
I was reviewing our performance report for our call center this morning. I noticed the number of mistakes your team made this past month is up. Can you identify why mistakes are up? Please come to our next meeting with suggestions on how we can decrease the number of mistakes our call center agents are making.
Nobody wants to get an email from their boss about mistakes their team is making. In the eyes of your boss, you want to appear superhuman, infallible, and as that ideal employee you presented yourself as during your interview for this position.
But the reality is your employees are human and mistakes are often out of control. However, you can control the tools and techniques your call center agents use. These changes can help your call center agents get closer to achieving that mistake-free status.
I’ve personally given up on the idea of perfection in all aspects of life, but I do believe there is always a better way out there to accomplish the task.
Working for ScreenSteps — a searchable knowledge base software that helps you clearly document procedures — I’ve seen how proper documentation can help significantly decrease the number of mistakes employees make.
Here are 8 strategies (some related to documentation, others not) to decrease the number of mistakes your call center agents make on calls.
1. Agree on one set of steps to complete a task
Do you have multiple leaders or trainers in your organization? Or maybe you have agents that have been at the call center for a time and they’ve developed their own way of completing a call.
If one trainer teaches a call center agent how to answer a call, but then their team lead tells them to do it differently, it will cause confusion. Which is the correct way: the way the trainer taught me or the way my team lead says it is?
Your company needs to discuss the proper way to complete tasks and document those procedures. If you don’t document the correct process, how do you even know when a mistake is made?
Hint: You don’t. Or, at least, you don’t until it’s too late. The complaints start coming in for customers, orders are processed wrong, or you have an even bigger nightmare on your hands.
Determining one way to complete a task helps avoid confusion in your company and helps you hold your agents more accountable.
You can decide on which way is the best way to complete a process by walking through the procedure together. More often than not, most of the steps are the same — there are just a few variations added in by one leader or another. Your team can vote on if those steps are needed.
2. Document those steps
Agreeing on the right way to complete a process is one thing. The next level is documenting those steps.
When you document a process, it breaks down the steps and helps you evaluate the process. If you can’t explain it, you don’t know the process yourself. Documenting procedures puts your knowledge to the test and puts that knowledge in a format others can use.
This helps hold your team accountable for completing tasks perfectly.
Documenting can be in the format of articles, step-by-step interactive guides, or even scripts. The goal is to write out your processes so they are easy for your agents to follow while on a call with a customer.
And, never fear! By documenting your procedures, you won’t be turning them into robots. Different styles of accomplishing a task are okay. This means that you don’t need to give agents the exact words that you want them to recite verbatim on a call.
Even if you don’t want your reps reading a script word-for-word, you can include examples of phrases they can use or questions they can ask. These hints help direct agents’ conversations while they are on the phone.
For example, you could provide employees with fill-in-the-blank options: “I see that you have the ______ plan. Are you wanting to upgrade today?”
3. Make your written procedures clear
Remove any ambiguity from your written procedures. That means covering all possible scenarios and explaining how agents can complete a task.
Often, call center tasks are broken down into decision trees. Decision trees help agents know what to do when there are multiple answers possible. Your procedures should cover all options in a decision tree.
If you use a statement like: “If this is the situation, do X,” you must follow it with, “If this is NOT the situation, do Y.”
Words aren’t the only way to clarify procedures. Use bolding and colors to make specifics stand out. You can structure the article so it is easy to see which is the next step in a process by just skimming through an article.
Plus, you can add visual cues. Add screenshots so agents can see what they need to do. Screenshots show the path where they need to go to complete a process.
4. Clearly communicate when changes are made to procedures
Whether or not you have written documentation for your processes, you need to inform your agents about changes that have been made to your procedures.
Over time, there will always be changes to a process. That could come in the form of adding a new step to a specific procedure or technology/software updates that force a procedure to change.
For example, when Covid-19 hit, home repair professionals (ie: plumbers, HVAC technicians, etc.) needed to add a new question before scheduling an appointment. “Do you or anyone in your household have Covid-19 symptoms?”
Now, fingers crossed we don’t have another pandemic on our hands again soon (or ever), but businesses have to make little changes like this to their processes all the time.
So you make these changes to your process and you send out an email to your team. That should be enough, right?
Unfortunately, probably not. The reality is that your agents aren’t always opening their emails. Or even if they do open the email, they aren’t reading through the changes to a procedure.
There needs to be a source of accountability for learning these procedures. This could come in the form of email tracking, courses, or quizzes over the changes.
🔎 Related: How to Build a Resilient Call Center
5. Ask reps to practice using your procedures
Practice makes perfect. At least, that’s what my volleyball coach always drilled into us as we passed 100 free ball passes at the beginning of every practice.
If we passed one ball over the net, we had to start over. While free ball pass is the most basic skill, there were still days we had to start over. But that was rare. Because the cliche phrase is right. Practice really does make perfect (or, at least, near perfection).
And there are days that your agents will slip up on basic skills, but you’ll see fewer of those mistakes if you practice with your reps. After all, it’s not always easy to follow instructions when you have a lot to do.
Make time so that your agents can practice role-playing. This can be done during initial training or in mini one-on-one sessions with a team lead/trainer.
While you are role-playing calls with reps, you’ll want to confirm that the reps can complete a call from beginning to end without mistakes, find relevant help guides (if you are using documentation), and easily follow the steps.
6. Watch your reps use the documented steps
Nothing is more enlightening than watching others use your procedures.
Observing your reps while they take calls reveals two things: (1) how your reps are doing with calls and (2) where your documented processes have gaps.
Some indicators that your reps are doing well are if they can handle a call without putting a caller on hold, they can quickly find the right guides, and they don’t make any mistakes.
What you might have thought was clear while you were originally documenting the procedures isn’t always clear to your reps. You might observe that agents need to fill in gaps, like a step in a process.
You’ll see where agents get confused or stuck. Then you can update your guides so that they are easier to read and follow while on a call.
7. Specialize your agents
Help your agents become experts at a specific task or area.
When your agents are specialized, they don’t have to memorize as much information. It is easier to remember the steps. Because of this, there is less confusion since they don’t have to compare one process to another.
This will allow you to use Skills-Based Routing in your call center. In this scenario, the incoming calls will be directed to your specialized agents or experts on that particular process or region.
The disadvantage of specializing agents is that they are only able to handle specific calls. It requires cross-training agents if you ever need them to help out in another area.
8. Evaluate your documentation software
What software are you using to document your procedures? Are you able to create help guides clearly and quickly? Do they make it easy for you to update and make changes to your procedures?
Maybe you use PDFs, Microsoft Word, or similar software for writing out procedures. Or maybe you take a more modern approach with a cloud-based knowledge base.
Either way, take time to evaluate how effective your software is in helping your agents take calls and complete procedures. Does it help them complete a call correctly or hinder their ability to get things right?
Ideally, your software will be easy to use. It should put the information agents need right at their fingertips. It should make it simple for you to create and update guides. Those guides should be easy for your employees to follow.
Reduce mistakes by clearly documenting procedures
It’s true — agents will make mistakes. But that doesn’t have to be the status quo.
When you clearly document your procedures, your agents have the resources that help them follow a process perfectly. Step-by-step guides leave little room for error.
The number of mistakes reduces significantly when you have a searchable knowledge base like ScreenSteps. With ScreenSteps, our knowledge base software makes it easy for agents to search your knowledge base and pull up the right procedure in seconds.
By switching to ScreenSteps, one of our customers was able to document 4x the content in ¼ of the time. When you can quickly update your procedures, you ensure your agents have the right answers and protect your team from accidental mistakes.
Looking for a way to clearly document your procedures? If you’ve never documented processes before or are looking for a better process, use these five steps to get started with documentation in your call center.