Jonathan DeVore

By: Jonathan DeVore on January 14th, 2021

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

Onboarding | Training | Teaching | Call-Center

Work From Home

Have you noticed that your virtual trainings haven't gone quite as well as your classroom trainings did?

Reps quit out of the blue after the first week. No one's interacting (except for that ONE who always chimes in before anybody else can contribute). And when reps get on the call with an actual caller, they're either getting physically ill or going completely blank — like they haven't just spent 6 weeks in training?

Don't worry, you're not alone. We've heard from several trainers that the transition to remote learning has not gone smoothly.

While my discussions have been in conjunction with using ScreenSteps — the knowledge base software company I work for — we have found many tricks and tips that could be implemented in any company, regardless of the software you use.

After speaking to trainers and having some of my own virtual learning snafus, we've narrowed it down to five main reasons you're having trouble with virtual training, along with some tips on how you can make it better

1. Less than ideal home office situation

In a classroom setting, everyone has the resources they need: a large computer monitor, reliable internet, no distractions, snacks nearby, etc.

In virtual training, agents are working from their home "office,” which could be anything from a makeshift office at a kitchen table or a desk tucked away in their bedroom. Other resource issues — such as spotty internet or computer monitors that may not be the ideal size — can cause frustration as employees try to learn the material.

And how about those distractions. You’ve got reps who are helping kids with virtual school from home, family members walking around in the background, or roommates not respecting the “inside voice” rule. It's difficult to get a full 8-hour training session in without distractions.

Work-from-home distractions

2. Barriers to interaction and engagement

When employees are in a room together, it's easier to be engaged. Your reps can just throw out a response without raising their hand or make side comments to their neighbor. And in face-to-face training, you, as a trainer, can make eye contact with everyone and get a feel for the room.

Virtual training, however, makes these natural interactions much more difficult.

🔎 Related: 4 strategies for remote call center training

Even though you’re all on together and have your cameras turned on, it can still feel like everyone is alone and disconnected from you, the trainer. You're not sure what your reps are looking at or if they’re even paying attention.

 Virtual training not paying attention

Also, you typically want people to mute their mics to eliminate background noise. But that means reps need to deliberately unmute their mics to make a comment.

Even though it's a small thing, that tiny bit of friction can keep your agents from speaking up, which then leads to a lot of silence from your reps and more talking by you. Never have you ever found the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off more relatable.


Distractions at work

The result: less interaction and agents experience lower engagement.

3. Loss of team dynamic

In a classroom, it's easy to feel part of a team. Your agents build camaraderie as they talk during breaks and hang out after training is over. They can share what they're struggling with and help each other out, or build a bond by discussing what they watched last night on TV.

That trio of jokers dubbed “The Three Amigos” who help boost the general morale of the group of trainees — gone.

The Three Amigos

In virtual training, as soon as you're done with training everyone signs off. When it's break time, everyone turns off their camera, hits mute, and grabs a snack. When they come back on, you jump right into training. There is no time for building rapport or relationships. Ultimately,
your agents can feel lonely and they don't have a sense of being on a team.

4. Confusion with excessive documents

When you were in a classroom setting, your reps had their computers, your printed out manuals, and PowerPoint slides on a screen. While that’s still kind of a lot to manage, with in-person training, you could detect when somebody was feeling lost and ask if they needed help. Plus, they could just tap their neighbor on the shoulder and ask for clarification.

That’s not the case in remote training. In virtual training, you probably rely on your reps to use a bunch of PDFs, Word docs, Excel files, or PowerPoint slides on a laptop computer. Now they have to navigate between four or five documents while also looking at your shared screen and navigating around your CRM and call system.

🔎 Related: 3 tips for communicating changes to work from home call center agents

That's a lot to keep track of on just one screen. At any given point, your reps can have 10 different windows opened. It’s pretty easy to feel lost and confused about what goes where and how it all fits together.

The Office - Training

5. Day-to-day life distracts agents from completing the self-paced training course

In-person training allows you to have a break, work with individual representatives, or provide self-paced learning. Which is great!

Allowing  agents to watch training videos or take quizzes can add variety to the training regiment while also allowing you a few minutes to catch up on work.

In virtual training, when you ask reps to do self-paced training, it’s entirely on their own. Maybe you like to change things up with four hours of lecture and then ask reps to spend a few hours watching videos and taking quizzes on their own.

But, since they're not on camera, accountability and follow-through are more difficult to enforce. After signing off, your reps might run a few errands, watch a show on Netflix, or schedule their visit with the doctor.

Accountability at work

Fast forward to the next day when you realize that your reps didn't complete the videos (or had them on in the background while making lunch) and they just gamed the quizzes by retaking them until they passed. Something that  is painfully evident when agents aren’t able to correctly answer basic knowledge-check questions.

How can you get the same results training virtual reps as you got when you did classroom training?

So it’s time to face the music — your classroom materials and training approach won’t be as efficient virtually as they were in person. The classroom training approach just doesn’t translate the same over Zoom.

Never fear! You can still replicate the success of your in-person training as long as you are willing to adapt. After all, you know the material has worked in the past — you just have to recognize that there are things in and out of your control and set appropriate expectations, boundaries, and make some changes to how you deliver the material.

Here are five tips:

1. Consolidate training materials

Nobody wants to play hide-and-seek with important documents. Don’t make it difficult for your reps to find the information they are looking for.

Consolidate all of your training materials so that reps can find what they need in one place without having to look in 10 different locations. Some options include:
    • Good: Make all of your training materials available digitally
    • Better: Put everything in one location (e.g. if using SharePoint, consolidate everything into one main folder.)
    • Best: Put everything into an online searchable knowledge base. The benefit is that your reps don't need to open documents (e.g. PDF, Word), but rather they can click links that take them to web pages.
🔎 Related: 3 ways you can support and train remote workers with an online knowledge base

2. Add more engaging activities

Be honest: Would you want to sit and listen to someone go on and on about procedures and policies for hours on end? No! (If so, we’re impressed with your unique ability to stay alert.)

During virtual call center training, focus less on lecturing and more on creating activities where reps are actively finding answers using your resources. You won’t always be there to spoon-feed them answers, so this training exercise teaches them to resolve questions on their own.

Instead of telling your reps what the products do and how to handle calls, ask them a question they would get from a real caller. For example, a banking organization might ask, “How do I update my travel plans using the mobile app?”

Let your agents find the answer by searching SharePoint or your online knowledge base. Once they have found the answer, ask them to explain it in their own words and ask some follow-up questions.


    • This isn't a closed-book quiz or an assessment. Tell your reps that they can cheat by looking up the answer!
    • As I always say during presentations where the speaker is reading information that is written on the PowerPoint slide — I can read! Let me read the information then the speaker can show me how to use what I just learned.

        The goal during the activities is threefold:

    1. Increase interaction/engagement
    2. Get reps comfortable using your resources to find answers and learn the information
    3. Spend more time showing them how to apply the information in various scenarios

3. Include activities that have agents interact with one another

People are more engaged when they get to work with someone else. Plan activities that get reps talking to each other. Those could include:

Assign break out rooms

On Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, you can have agents break out into virtual rooms. Here they can run through practice scenarios together. This gives agents a chance to problem-solve before actually getting on the phone with callers.

Have them answer other agents' questions

When reps respond to a question you've asked or if they ask a question, turn it back to other members of the group to get additional input. Build trust and camaraderie by getting them talking to each other and helping each other out.

After all, when agents teach a concept, they learn it faster.

Dedicate time to build relationships

Have dedicated time to shoot the breeze. Since they don't have an opportunity to run into each other during a break, manufacture moments where they can connect, even if it's only for 15 minutes at a time.

4. Use quizzes and self-study correctly

Quizzes are intimidating, but they don’t have to be when used correctly. We get used to the idea of using quizzes from school (aka: "let's see if you memorized the reading from yesterday”).

The problem is that once people regurgitate factoids, they forget most of them 10 minutes later. That's not helpful in training reps who need to be able to use the information they learn every day.

Instead, use quizzes at the beginning of a lesson to create some context into what they'll be learning. Maybe it's a series of questions that callers might ask or tasks your reps will need to complete while handling calls. The quiz at the beginning isn't for testing their knowledge, but for preparing them for what they are about to learn.

If you do use quizzes for knowledge checks, teach your reps how to answer the questions by using your resources.

Remember, it's open book! Get them using your guides during training so that when they are on the call, they'll know how to use your guides to handle real calls.

Another option is self-study videos. They are great for teaching foundational knowledge and high-level concepts.

However, videos are not great for teaching procedures. The reason being that procedures require a lot of repetition to really get down. It's not practical for your reps to continually rewind videos to see how something is done.

So, use videos to explain what the company does, how the service/product works, how the caller may be experiencing the product, what might go wrong with the product/service that caused the caller to reach out — to provide high-level understanding and context.

But put all of your procedural information in a document and make that document easy to find in an online knowledge base.

5. Talk less and ask your agents to talk more

Whenever I give this advice, my mind flashes to Aaron Burr in the musical, Hamilton.

Talk less

Maybe not so much the smile part (although it helps if you have a warm countenance), but talking less is a trait of a great teacher. Listen. Allow everyone to share and verbally process what they’re learning. Be the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.

Your training materials (user guides, PowerPoint, spreadsheets, etc.) have all of the information your reps need. Let your reps find the information from those and then explain to you what they learn.

Also, something to keep in mind is that spoon-feeding knowledge to somebody isn't teaching, which means there is not much learning going on. True learning happens when there is a bit of a struggle. Not too much, or else people quit because it's too difficult. But just enough (like a video game).

The thing to remember is that your reps will struggle when they learn. You can choose for the struggle to happen during training or to happen while on an actual call. If you prepare well and run the right kind of activities, you can make sure that your reps struggle during training where it’s safe to fail and less stressful to learn.

The simplest way to encourage employees to talk more is to break up your lessons with questions. Instead of lecturing all the time, ask open-ended questions. For example, “What would you say to help de escalate an angry customer on the phone?” This opens the way for discussion amongst the agents.

Also, you can avoid putting employees on the spot by assigning them a way to participate ahead of time. You could assign them to teach the class a portion of the training from independent study.

How to train for a modernized virtual call center

While remote training may not have gone well, it doesn’t mean that you should give up and toss it out. As long as you have the right tools and interactive activities, your remote training can be just as effective as classroom training.

One of the critical tools you need that we offer is an online searchable knowledge base.

So, do you have the right tools to help you train call center employees remotely? With the right knowledge base and content creation tools, you can adjust your virtual training so that it works.

One of the critical tools you need that we offer is an online searchable knowledge base. Make it easier to train with a modernized training strategy. At ScreenSteps, we encourage companies to cut out memorization and instead teach employees how to find all the answers they need using your online searchable knowledge base.

With Zero Memorization, you are training your employees on how to quickly search your knowledge base to find the answers, meaning they can problem solve on their own — and get the answers right!

Find more approaches to remote training and resources to help you succeed here:

About Jonathan DeVore

Customer Success