Jonathan DeVore

By: Jonathan DeVore on May 6th, 2021

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Call Center Outsourcing: 7 Tasks To Do Before Training Your BPO Agents

Your company has decided to outsource some of your call center operations to a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing). Good for you!

A part of you is relieved your call center agents will have some help with an expanded team to share the responsibility of managing calls. After all, it’s not always easy to be a call center agent, especially when phones need to be manned 24/7.

But with this change, you have a major challenge ahead: How are you going to train employees outside of your company to do what your team does?

Sometimes, when you do internal training, you can get away with an incomplete training curriculum because you have more contact with the reps after training is over. They’re in your building and can easily ask a more experienced rep sitting next to them.

Outsourcing to a BPO will reveal all of the kinks in the training system because those safety nets aren’t available anymore. 

I’ve worked with many companies who have hired BPOs to help their call center as part of my role as Customer Success Advocate at ScreenSteps, a knowledge management software company that helps with training. 

Through my work, I’ve found the key is to set your BPO up for success with the tools they need to learn your systems and procedures quickly. 

I’ve found that when you prepare these 7 things prior to training your BPO reps, your BPO reps are able to learn and work at the same level as your internal team.

1. Make sure you know who you want to hire

Let’s face it — not everybody can handle the types of calls you need handled.

Often when you work with BPOs, you are given the opportunity to choose the agents you hire. 

At the very least, you will have the chance to request that the agents the BPO hires on your behalf have certain skill sets.

You want to have the agents who are best qualified for your company. To do that, you are essentially performing a gap analysis. Ideally, your candidates will have all of the following skills:

  • Handle calls expertly (soft skills)
  • Know technical knowledge related to the product or service they are supporting
  • Know how to use several information systems

However, requiring call center reps at the BPO to possess all of those skills is a tall order. So you have to choose what is the most important.

If all three are missing, training is going to be quite difficult and it will take a long time. Teaching agents the proper handling skills (controlling the call, responding with empathy, etc.), AND the technical knowledge, AND how to use information systems to log calls and transactions is a lot for any trainer.

But if you have at least one of the three (preferably two of the three), then training will go much smoother. 

Focus on hiring a class where you don’t have to teach ALL of the essential skills and identify the gaps you cannot fill, as well as the ones that you can. 

Some questions to consider when hiring include:

  • What background do they need to have?
  • Would it help if they understood medical terminology?
  • Do they need to be experts at handling calls?
  • Do they have call center experience?

If they have these basics, then the training or other gaps don’t take as much time to address.

🔎 Related: The True Cost of Training a New Agent in the Call Center 

2. Outline the basics you want to teach

If you were going to teach chefs how to cook, you would make sure that they all understood the basics of how to cut, whisk, and separate eggs. Those are the fundamental skills needed to tackle any recipe.

The same is true for your agents (both in-house and outsourced). They must have a foundational understanding and skill set before handling calls.

If they are going to be supporting a technology product, it will help if they understand what the technology is, how it is used by customers, etc. If they are going to be supporting healthcare products, you will need to teach them the basics of the product and service you provide.

What are the basic skills that your BPO agents will need to know in order to read your help guides (aka: your recipes)?

While you can sit there and lecture them about all of this, it’s better if you create learning assets that reps can use during and after training. Learning assets can be in the form of articles, graphics, videos, or another form of reference document.

There are two areas of learning assets you need to create:

I. Teach reps the fundamentals of your business

Create learning assets that give a broad overview of what your business does. These learning assets will help agents understand the background knowledge on what types of products and services exist in your company. 

This is a high level of understanding. They don’t need to understand all the minute details involved with each of these products or services. You are just building context for your BPO agents.

II. Teach the fundamentals of handling calls

Build learning assets that will help BPO agents understand how to handle calls. They need to understand expectations and proper procedures for speaking to customers on the phone. 

These guides can help agents through a basic call flow for gathering information, identifying the purpose of the call, or resolving the call.

As a call center, you’ll also want an asset to introduce agents to Quality Assurance (QA) scores. These outline how your call center will be assessed by customers. If this is an important success metric for your company, you’ll want to make sure your BPO agents understand that.

Ask them to read your learning assets and then talk about them. This will encourage them to reference those assets later when they have questions and need a reminder.

3. Documented procedures

You MUST have documented procedures for handling specific transactions. As outsourced agents, your new agents will be getting to know the basics of your company. There is NO WAY reps can memorize all of the clicks and steps of your procedures.

How do you know if your procedures are ready for a BPO? Here are four questions to ask yourself about your documentation:

  1. Are they accurate and complete (i.e. reliable)?
  2. Can they stand alone? Or do they require a lot of extra explanation?
  3. Is it difficult to locate them in the moment of need?
  4. Can procedures be used during a phone call?

During training, your BPO agents will use the documentation to learn and practice taking calls. They should use the same procedures that your tenured reps are using

The documentation should be so easy to handle that the BPO agents wouldn’t need to put a customer on hold in order to read and follow the instructions.

3 ways to prepare procedures BEFORE using them for training

Before you train your BPO agents, you will want to make sure your documentation is easy to follow. While you can make changes to your guides during training if an agent flags something as unclear, it is better to have clear instructions from the beginning of training.

I. Ask tenured reps to use your procedures during real calls

Put your documentation to the test. Your tenured agents will know the processes, so they will recognize if you are missing steps in a procedure. They can help you refine the documentation.

II. Listen to the call and identify gaps in the procedures

Evaluate your help guides by listening to live calls. Take notes on where an agent pauses or takes a long time to find the information they need. As you follow along in the guide with them, you can identify gaps in the procedures.

III. Ask tenured reps if procedures are clear

Once again, your best resource when refining your documentation is your experienced reps. Ask the reps if everything is clear in the procedure and make changes as necessary. They will have noticed if there are any gaps in the documentation.

If tenured reps can’t use the procedure to handle calls, then your new BPO agents aren’t going to be able to do it either. You will have a lot more mistakes being made and training will be a lot more difficult.

🔎 Related: How to write your first call flow if your call center doesn't have documented procedures

4. Create a sandbox environment for practicing procedures

When training, you want your training exercises to be as real as possible. But, if you are using your actual system, there is always a danger of the newcomers messing up your system. That’s why you should create a sandbox for your system.

A sandbox is a fake version of your software where reps can play pretend. They can modify records, pretend calls, and do anything they would do on the job without making potentially detrimental mistakes in your real software.

For example, if you use Salesforce to input a new customer, you don’t want your agents adding fake customers that your active internal agents will contact. In the sandbox, the newcomers can add as many “Jane Does” as they need for practice without disrupting the workflow.

Sometimes trainers can think, “They’ll get it when they start handling calls.” So they don’t take agents through the repetitions. That is a mistake.

You need your reps practicing every step of taking a call before they actually take a call, and a sandbox allows your BPO agents to do that. They can modify changes as they role-play a call with a fellow trainee or trainer. 

🔎 Related: 4 common virtual training mistakes (+ how to fix them)

5. Prepare training exercises

Training is more than lectures and manuals. As part of your training, you’ll want to include exercises that help your BPO agents practice how to handle calls. This type of hands-on training is called Scenario-Based Training.

Do you have at least 50 training scenarios/exercises to take reps through? It might seem like a lot of exercises, but you will use multiple each day of training to help your agents learn.

Batch these training exercises into groups of easy, medium, and hard. Having different levels of difficulty allows you to help your agents build upon their skills and gain confidence in the process. The goal is to make these exercises as realistic as possible. 

Once you know what scenarios you want the BPO agents to practice, then you need to ensure that you have procedures written that can assist reps for every exercise that they go through.

During training, force reps to use your job aids and reference materials during each call. They should be able to use those materials to handle calls.

Some exercises to consider are role-playing, inputting information (ie: taking notes on a call), handling objections, troubleshooting, and processing an order.

Note: You can still have training exercises if you are training remotely. Using your virtual training platform, you can use breakout rooms for practice.

🔎 Related:5 reasons call center agents aren’t learning enough in remote training

6. Make sure products are at the training site

When we have an internal call center team, we often take for granted that all of our equipment is available in our office for use. 

Make sure that if you are supporting physical products that those physical products are available for reps to handle. You’ll want to use the equipment for demonstrations so that your BPO agents have an opportunity for hands-on learning.

If your company produces backpacks, send backpacks to the BPO training site. If your company builds 3D printers, send those printers.

I’ve seen companies forget a few vital things when outsourcing their call center.

Location matters

Before sending your company’s products to your BPO training center, you need to make sure the location is equipped for those products.

If your product requires electricity and you are outsourcing to a different country, make sure you know the standards of outlets in the country the BPO is in. 

Each country has its own outlet system, so make sure you have the correct converters. Also, you don’t want to fry your electrical devices. Depending on the voltage each outlet has, your devices may handle the higher or lower voltage.

Timing matters

This may seem obvious but you need to ship your products with plenty of time for them to arrive. Things get held up in the mail, so you should plan for unexpected delays. 

It helps to know the regulations of the country you are shipping to. You do not want to delay training because your shipment got stuck along the way because the country doesn’t allow for it.

If your company doesn’t have a product they can send, a good alternative is a video that walks them through the service. For example, if your company sells rental properties along the Outer Banks in North Carolina, then you can show videos that take agents on a virtual tour.

7. Have a system in place for transitioning to live calls (handoff real calls)

Once training is over, how are you going to transition your BPO agents to live calls? 

When outsourcing a call center, it can be extra intimidating for BPO agents to end training and begin work. As workers outside of their company, they are cutting off their direct line to experts (aka the trainers). 

Before handing BPO agents off to begin real calls on the job, assign them to phone coaches. These phone coaches will continue to help them as the BPO agents begin handling calls on their own.

Let them meet their phone coaches before the transition from training to on-the-job responsibilities. This allows them to build a rapport with their coach and build trust.

Another thing to finish before transitioning your BPO agents to lie calls is making sure the scorecard/QA checklist is accurate and complete. Set your agents up for success by giving them feedback that prepares them for the customer feedback that will come.

Take the first step: prepare documentation for your BPO training

There are a lot of things to prepare for training when outsourcing your call center, but the most vital preparation is documenting your procedures. 

Your employees and BPO will use the documents beyond training to get the job done correctly daily. And when you need a BPO, your guides have to be on point. There should be no question as to what an agent should do next throughout a call.

At ScreenSteps, we provide our customers with a robust set of easy-to-use documentation tools so that it is simple to create and update help guides. One customer was able to make 4X the documentation in a ¼ of the time. 

With both word and visual cues (including integrated screenshots), it is easy to author articles and effortless for agents to follow the guides.

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About Jonathan DeVore

Customer Success