Consistently great front-line performance is the goal of every call center training program. Day in and day out, managers and QA reviewers scramble to make sure agents are performing at their peak. In many cases, call center training is delivered with the same frequency across the board, or it’s weighted toward agents who need the most help.
For many exasperated team leaders, it’s all pain and no gain: lots of activity, at great cost, without the business results to show for it.
What’s missing from many of these call center training programs is a targeted approach—one that identifies agents with the greatest potential for improvement and makes best use of limited resources to help turn those potential A-players into superstars.
A 2008 call center coaching study revealed that “supervisors were spending a disproportionate amount of coaching time with the small population of best and worst performers, rather than with the largest population—the mid performers who can often have the greatest potential for improvement.” This remains a common practice in many call centers today.
All agents need coaching, training and QA reviews based on timely, representative data. But if your goal is to achieve significant performance gains while alleviating the call center management burden—in other words, do more with less—you must prioritize your coaching and training.
To do that, you must first understand the exact composition of your front-line team.
The Bell Curve: An Essential Basis for Call Center Training
No matter their size—50 agents, 500, or 5,000—call centers usually break down into three distinct groups: high performers, mid performers, and low performers. Mid performers tend to far outnumber agents at either end of the spectrum by about 2 to 1; hence the familiar bell curve shape.
Looking at this chart, it’s easy to see why classic approaches to call center training and coaching can be wasteful. Not only do agents in each group have distinct needs, but some segments can be moved further to the right with less effort. Frankly, it’s difficult to drive enough positive movement from the far-left end of the spectrum to justify the time and energy so many team leaders invest there.
You’ll derive maximum value from your call center training program if you focus more of your coaching efforts on the green group—the mid performers to the left of the midpoint. These agents can achieve above-average performance with relatively little intervention, and they have the capacity to become A-players.
Establishing a Bell Curve: Key Considerations
To plot individual agents on the bell curve, you’ll have to calculate their relative performance. It’s important to take multiple performance metrics into account, both internal and VoC, so you’ll know you have a complete picture and you’re measuring things that matter. The inputs you use could be anything from customer feedback and QA scores to average handle times and first-call resolution.
It’s also important, for the sake of accuracy, to have enough data. If you rely on too little data, it won’t be representative of each agent’s overall performance and your calculations will be off target. Stella Connect users enjoy front-line survey response rates of 40% or more, and the real-time feedback that streams into the call center—including data related to specific service priorities such as product knowledge—allows team leaders to pinpoint agents’ positions on the bell curve at any given time.
Call Center Training Recommendations, Group by Group
Once you know exactly where your agents stand, and where the biggest opportunities lie, you can tackle call center training and coaching much more efficiently and effectively.
The Far Right: Your High Performers
Your high performers are your best resource, and they thrive on praise and recognition. Make sure you congratulate them for great service interactions in both private micro-coaching sessions and in group training sessions. To further boost their morale (and reduce the burden on their supervisors), tap your A-players to lead coaching and training sessions and to help lower performers who have questions or need advice.
Almost There: Your Mid Performers
This group is your largest by far, and it has so much potential for greatness. All your mid performers need is a bit of nurturing to make it over the bell curve hump and master the art of service delivery. Pair them with your top performers, and make sure you’re flagging customer comments related to specific weaknesses so you can coach and train on those in a timely way. Consider introducing leaderboards in the call center (if you’re using an agent-level feedback program) to encourage friendly competition and help agents self-correct their behavior.
Ripe for Change: Your Low Performers
If your low performers aren’t moving further right no matter what you do, it’s time to consider other opportunities for them within your organization that better suit their preferences and skills. This could simply mean a move to another channel (from phone to chat, for example). Your low-performing agents will produce far more value in a role they’re comfortable with than they will in a constant state of frustration on the call center floor.
What Will It Take to Shift the Bell Curve?
Once you’ve established a bell curve and developed a more targeted call center training program, you’ll likely see the bell curve begin to shift rightward as the team’s overall performance improves and better-than-average service delivery becomes the norm.
Of course, there’s a lot more to optimizing performance than making the right calculations and reassessing coaching and training priorities. The call center culture itself can have a profound effect on agent engagement, service quality, and long-term operational costs—not to mention revenue growth. To learn more, download a free copy of our eBook, “How to Build a Happier, More Motivated Front-Line Team.”