Raise your hand if you owe a few contact center agents apologies for how you treated them before you worked in customer experience. It’s not the agent’s fault you had to wait more than an hour to have your call dropped twice, or that their company didn’t have the right technology in place to support a true omnichannel customer experience.
And the sad reality is, that although the agent’s no. 1 motivation for working in customer experience is helping customers—only 9% of contact centers have ongoing formal training. Most agents have a complete lack of technology and training to be successful in their roles.
Call center agents are the ultimate underdogs. Especially in digital-first customer experience. Instead of the call center being a single destination for customer support along the journey, the call center today is the hub of customer experience. Powered by digital technology and artificial intelligence, contact centers are central to meeting today’s customer expectations of seamless, proactive, and personalized experiences. This has both altered and elevated the agent role, which makes effective call center training critical to business success.
Conversational IVRs and AI-powered virtual agents have enabled more and more customers to resolve their own problems through self-service. This means agents are faced with a more complex mix of interactions, putting their problem-solving skills to the test. ICMI found that 43% of contact centers experienced an increase in contact complexity the past year, a trend that will likely continue.
Those consumers who do seek agent assistance are more well-informed than ever, as most of them searched through the company website before reaching out for help. Additionally, they expect satisfying service and will likely go to a competitor if they don't receive it. This has implications for agents' knowledge and soft skills: 75% of agent’s long-term success depends on people skills.
As if this isn't enough, companies are adding digital channels and multi-skilling agents, requiring them to have both good written and verbal skills. And more agents are working from home, away from their traditional support structures.
For agents who want more challenging and value-added responsibilities, this is a great time to work in a call center. But if they're not provided with the right call center customer service training, it could be a recipe for disaster.
Why you need a formal agent training program STAT!
There are many technical tools available to assist agents during interactions. For example, real-time interaction guidance software coaches agents on their soft skills as conversations are happening. And AI-powered bots can automatically retrieve relevant knowledge base articles.
As helpful as these tools are, though, agents still need to be proficient in several skills that are learned through structured training. Knowledge of products, processes, policies, and software is important, but agents also need great soft skills. Today's consumers expect to interact with someone who builds rapport, actively listens, and shows empathy.
Despite the increasing importance of training agents for their new responsibilities, there's evidence that call centers are shortchanging agent training. Consider these statistics:
- 55% of agents say they need better training to do their jobs well
- 50% of agents receive <2 hours of training per month
Training costs money and takes agents away from busy queues. When budgets are tight and the workload is heavy, it’s easy to rationalize postponing or eliminating call center agent's training. But this is shortsighted because ultimately well-trained agents should increase customer loyalty and lifetime value. This can pay for the training several times over.
Fortunately, we’ve got a few quick and easy ways you can be better for your agents.
The first is this eBook, “The Ultimate Guide to CX Agents” which walks through what your formal strategy for hiring, onboarding, everboarding, and measuring of agents should look like for today’s virtual or hybrid agent workforce.
The second way we can help you is through the below roundup of free resources that you can start training agents with today. These resources range from full curriculums to insightful videos that illustrate key agent skills. Below are some free call center agent training resources available to teach agents soft skills such as empathy, active listening, and dealing with angry customers.
18 free resources for call center soft skills training
To make it easier to find what you need, the training resources are grouped by major topic.
Call Center Agent Empathy Training
- Length: 2:53 min
- Overview: This is a quick, creative, and entertaining explanation of the difference between empathy and sympathy.
- Why it's relevant: Many people think empathy and sympathy are the same things, but they're quite different from each other. If we expect agents to show empathy to customers, they need to know what it is.
- Length: 2:36 min
- Overview: This short video shows the same situation in two ways - one where the agent shows no empathy and one where he does. It's a very effective example of the power of empathetic customer service.
- Why it's relevant: In this case, a video is worth a thousand words. Empathy can be hard to teach and learn because it's a bit intangible. Showing agents an example can make the topic of empathy more relatable.
- Length: 3:50 min
- Overview: In this effective video, customer service training expert Myra Golding shares a personal example of being on the receiving end of empathetic customer service and then provides several phrases agents can use to convey empathy.
- Why it's relevant: Again, using examples is a best practice training technique, and this example is an online chat interaction, so agents can see what written empathy looks like. The video also provides agents with some ideas of empathy statements they can adopt and begin using in conversations with customers.
- Length: 11:54 min
- Overview: Another good video from Myra Golding. In this one, she goes more in-depth on customer service empathy statements, providing twenty examples that can be used in customer service interactions.
- Why it's relevant: Some people just aren't naturally empathetic and may struggle with what to say to customers to let them know they're being heard and understood. Arming these agents with empathy phrases can prepare them to say the right thing at the right time.
Call Center Agent Training on listening and communication
- Length: 8 page pdf
- Overview: This is a short document that covers five topics, including communication mistakes and listening. It also includes tips and pointers.
- Why it's relevant: Communication is what an agent's job is all about. This document would make a good student handout or could be used for curriculum development.
- Length: 6 min
- Overview: This video covers barriers to listening, the difference between passive and active listening, and the 8 steps of active listening.
- Why it's relevant: Active listening is critical to resolving issues and showing empathy. This video provides a good introduction to a structured approach to active listening.
- Length: 38 min
- Overview: This training covers how to effectively communicate with customers through chat and text. Topics include controlling the conversation, problem solving, and blending templates and free text.
- Why it's relevant: Today's digital agents need to be able to write effectively when texting and chatting with customers. The art of demonstrating empathy and solving problems through written language should be part of all digital call center training programs.
- Length: 6:13
- Overview: This video provides more guidance for successful active listening in general, not specific to customer service. Topics include four qualities of active listening anyone can put into practice.
- Why it's relevant: We've already discussed why active listening is important during customer conversations, but agents do more than interact with customers; they're also employees and teammates. The principles in this video can be applied to workplace interactions to foster more satisfying relationships with co-workers.
- Length: 6 min
- Overview: This video is based on the principle that "it's not what you say, it's the way you say it that matters most." Topics include how tone, voice, volume, and pace impact the quality of voice customer service interactions.
- Why it's relevant: Customers and agents don't have body language to provide cues during conversations, making speech qualities like tone and volume critical to conveying meaning and intent. Every phone agent should be taught these basic principles and this video is a good place to start.
- Length: 1:19
- Overview: This is a funny clip from The Office in which the employees attend listening training, which includes a not-so-successful role-playing exercise.
- Why it's relevant: Humor is a great way to add some levity to training while still getting the point across. In this clip, Dwight shows what NOT to do while actively listening.
- Length: 3 min
- Overview: This is a short clip from "The Big Bang Theory" in which Leonard is trying to explain a problem he's having to Sheldon, but Sheldon is too wrapped up in his own problem to listen.
- Why it's relevant: Another funny video to add some levity and generate some discussion. Sheldon lacks empathy and it's on full display in this clip. Show agents this video and then ask them which of the principles of active listening Sheldon violated.
Training on how to handle difficult customers
- Length: 33 min
- Overview: This helpful video from Myra Golding teaches customer service agents some techniques for handling challenging customers. Topics include working with difficult customers, positive positioning skills, and positive positioning in action.
- Why it's relevant: Handling difficult conversations really puts an agent's soft skills to the test. Chances are that when a customer is being "difficult" there's a negative emotion behind it such as anger, frustration, or disappointment. Agents need to know the right techniques to de-escalate the interaction and save the relationship.
- Length: 23 min
- Overview: Another video from Myra Golding, this one about call control. Topics include reeling in unruly customers, call control strategies, and proactive conversation management.
- Why it's relevant: Call control is important for every interaction but becomes particularly important when customers are angry or frustrated. Agents need to take control of calls to avoid thirty-minute rants and do it in such a way that it doesn't make matters worse.
14. Podcast: Calm, Cool and Collected: How to Reset and keep moving forward when your day goes up in flames
- Length: 24 min
- Overview: This podcast provides information about a technique to shake off negative events so you can continue with your day. Listeners will learn what a reset ritual is and how to create one for themselves.
- Why it's relevant: Handling a challenging conversation can throw an agent off-kilter. It can affect their stress levels and negatively impact the interactions that follow. Agents need a way to reset for their own good and to make them effective for the remainder of their shift.
Soft Skills training on problem-solving and critical thinking
- Length: 32 min
- Overview: This helpful training provides a customer service slant to problem-solving skills. Topics include a two-step approach to commonsense customer service, critical customer service problem-solving skills, and critical troubleshooting skills.
- Why it's relevant: If we're going to ask agents to handle more complex issues, we need to help them acquire the problem-solving skills to successfully resolve them. Not all people are natural troubleshooters, but there are techniques they can learn to improve their skills. A video specific to customer service problem solving is a great way to begin honing agents' skills.
- Length: 4:30 min
- Overview: This helpful video makes the point that when solving problems, people need to go with what makes sense instead of what feels good. The video provides five tips for improving critical thinking.
- Why it's relevant: If agents give answers that "feel good," they run the risk of frustrating customers with inaccurate issue resolutions. To satisfy customers, agents need to be able to solve problems correctly during the first contact.
General soft skills training for contact center agents
- Length: 9 hrs
- Overview: This free LinkedIn training provides valuable insights into a wide range of soft skills. It consists of eleven separate topics including emotional intelligence, critical thinking, trust, and effective listening.
- Why it's relevant: Agents will be more successful at building strong customer relationships if all their soft skills are well developed. This training packages up multiple topics to provide comprehensive soft skills training.
- Length: Approximately one hour each
- Overview: This training bundle offers three topics: 2 for supervisors (coaching conversations, how to manage remote workforce) and one for agents (empathy). Each topic includes one trainer PowerPoint training with a script and a participant workbook.
- Why it's relevant: For organizations that conduct traditional classroom training, NICE has conveniently developed course materials for three important topics. We've already discussed how critical agent empathy training is, but this also addresses some essential supervisor skills. To help agents make the transition to their elevated roles, supervisors need strong coaching skills and should be able to effectively manage agents regardless of where they're located.
With your help, together we can make up for all the terrible interactions agents have had to route because of poor technology and training. Begin with this list of the best call center agent training money can’t buy, including the four trainings included within the NICE CXone supervisor and agent training bundle.
And, see how the right technology provider can help you build lasting agent relationships. Learn more about how NICE CXone empowers agents today in this video demo.