Conveying Culture Through Calls
"Can virtual contact center agents communicate my company’s culture as effectively as
This question is frequently asked by executives when considering the use of home-based agents to handle their customer contact needs. They wonder if agents located across the country can be trusted to provide premium service in a way that aligns with their company’s values and beliefs. Anecdotes from existing virtual contact center clients, as well as emails and surveys from callers, confirm that the answer is definitely YES.
While home-based agents provide cost savings, efficiency and flexibility to contact center operations, they also are often more effective at representing and communicating a company’s brand than facilities-based agents. The key to developing teams of agents who reinforce a company’s culture lies in a fully customized recruiting, on-boarding and continuous training process.
A strong client partnership is critical to the success of any outsourced service, but it is especially important when selecting a virtual customer contact center. The top companies in this industry begin with an in-depth client consultation and agent profiling. This first step is a good opportunity to define the ideal agent for interacting with your customers before anyone is hired. Here it is important to provide as much company information and detail as possible, including values and mission statements, internal job descriptions, and a clear understanding of the traits of your top performers, including behavioral and personality profiles.
Information from the consultation is then used to develop applicant screening questions that reinforce and improve upon a client’s existing hiring practices. With access to hundreds of thousands of applicants across the country, virtual contact centers can be extremely selective in who they interview and hire. For example, when recruiting for a respected credit card company, screening questions may include "What is the first credit card you reach for when shopping?" or "Explain how the APR impacts the interest on your monthly statement." Using customized questions like these and proprietary matching algorithms, virtual call centers make it possible to hand-pick individuals that not only have the desired skill sets and aptitude, but also the most ideal brand and product affinity.
Once the appropriate knowledge and experience has been verified, the next step is to evaluate customer service skills. With the home-based agent model, 100% of the interview process is conducted virtually. This allows recruiters to evaluate applicants strictly on the experience a customer would have with the agent. Using a voice-screening process, recruiters assess how well applicants follow directions, how clearly they speak, the speed of their conversations, and what tone they use. In addition, innovative assessment tools are used to gauge how well applicants can navigate online forms and screens, how fast and accurately they type, and how quickly they can assimilate information. Recruiting the right people from the beginning is crucial. While product and company information can be learned, attitude and values cannot.
On-Boarding and Initial Training
Once agents are hired to exact client specifications, they must complete a rigorous training program. The process of training home-based agents is vastly different from the training provided to personnel in brick-and-mortar facilities. While all of the same topics and content are covered, virtual outsourcers leverage innovative technologies and immersive multimedia environments to shorten the training timeframe, while also improving knowledge retention.
Again, clients should be intimately involved in creating a training curriculum that builds on established internal training procedures. For example, client executives are many times incorporated into virtual training sessions as subject matter experts or guest speakers. The more involved they are in the initial training and curriculum development, the better job their outsourced agents will do handing customer interactions in a way that positively reflects the company and brand.
Lastly, ongoing training is critical for maintaining a high performing team of agents. The truth is that training in a brick-and-mortar center is costly and not very effective. Training rooms take up valuable real estate, an expensive proposition if they are not well utilized. It’s also difficult to pull agents off the "floor" in a coordinated manner, resulting in further inefficiencies and poorer service levels.
In contrast, the flexibility of a home-based agent model makes it easy to conduct up-training in real-time. Agents do not need to be pulled into a physical training room. Instead, self-paced and instructor-facilitated eLearning content can be pushed right to the agent’s home desktop PC, allowing them to train at the times that are most convenient for them and that best fit with fluctuating call volumes. Virtual agents can learn about pricing or service updates before they begin their shift, take a short product update course during a lull in call volume, and receive soft-skills training before they sign-off for the day. This saves time and money, allowing training to be done in a shorter timeframe and requiring no service interruptions. Most importantly, this keeps the agents up-to-date and engaged with the client’s brand, making them the ideal front-line voice for the client and empowering them to solve customer issues.
In conclusion, the home-based agent model can be a strategic tool for communicating the brand attributes and values that form the foundation of a company. Through customized recruiting and training practices, agents working from home consistently perform better than internal hires. Multiple studies confirm that home-based agents deliver improved call resolution outcomes, greater brand loyalty and improved customer satisfaction, positively impacting top- and bottom-line financials. By taking time to hire the right individuals, providing them with customized tools and dedicating time for ongoing training, home-based agents can be a valuable asset to any organization.