Are you letting new starters practise telephone skills on your customers?

Dont practise telephone skills on customers
How do your new recruits practise social skills like telephone sales or customer service? Do you let them loose on your customers to learn by trial and error? At the recent Contact Centre Expo we were surprised how many people told us they were relying on this somewhat risky option to save training costs.

It has always been tricky for call centres, where high agent churn can lead to eye-wateringly high direct costs for recruitment and training. But there is growing evidence that the indirect costs of poor service, such as lower customer loyalty and profits, are growing as the economic climate improves.

A recent survey of 2 million UK call centre customers by Bright UK showed that satisfaction with customer service has fallen from 62% to 50% in the last 18 months across all sectors.

The findings are supported by the Customer Service Satisfaction Index (CSSI), which in July reported a third consecutive decline in satisfaction levels since January 2013. Interestingly, the US has reported similar trends for call centres and customer service generally.

The same UK research showed that those organisations with a higher customer satisfaction score were rewarded with higher trust ratings, customer loyalty and recommendations. “If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful” says Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. And we should listen – Amazon came second in the CSSI league table after John Lewis.

However, the opposite is also true. “Customer expectations are higher. Word of mouth travels faster. Consumers are empowered like never before and all of this puts increased importance on the customer experience” says Jim Freeze, President and Chief Marketing Officer of Aspect. And nothing travels quite so fast these days as a bad customer experience. What kind of experiences are your customers getting from your raw recruits?

Call centres will always need to balance training costs with the quality of customer experience. The good news is that the old 80/20 rule applies. Here are some ideas to focus your training on the 20% that really counts.

1. Research your own brand

Find out first hand what your customers are dealing with. Become a mystery shopper and phone the call centre regularly with your top customer issues.

2. Benchmark yourself

You could also just try ringing some of your competitors and compare them with your own. Alternatively you could join the Gold Standard, launched last month by the Call Centre Management Association (CCMA) to “help companies improve customer service, operational performance and staff engagement by benchmarking their service levels against best practice.”

3. Conduct ongoing surveys

Perhaps you already conduct customer surveys, but are you acting on the feedback and measuring the results?

4. Remember the basics

Research consistently shows that the same old issues cause the most frustration for customers globally. Having to call the centre multiple times for the same reason is the biggest gripe (91%), so first call resolution is still key. This is closely followed by being put on hold for a long time (90%), and having to explain their problem over and over again to different reps (89%). (Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Survey 2013)

5. Practise telephone skills in the induction

The best place for new staff to learn and practise their skills is during the induction. Introduce them to the different scenarios they may face, and record them so can hear themselves and make adjustments in a safe environment. This dramatically increases confidence, skills and knowledge before they enter the call centre and speak to real customers (if you don’t have a training room equipped with practice phones and recording facilities, PhoneCoach has a portable solution you can use in any room).

We used to say that customers will tell 2-3 people about a great customer service experience, and the same person will tell 20-30 people about a bad one. That was before social media.

In this new environment, the question is really can we afford to let new recruits practise their telephone skills on customers? The winners will look at smart, focused training on what counts as a strategic investment – rather than as a cost.


Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

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