How to Train Outbound Call Center Agents [Comprehensive Guide]

How to Train Outbound Call Center Agents [Comprehensive Guide]

July 20, 2017 | Convoso

Agent training is a huge part of call center life. In fact, in an industry that suffers the most from agent turnover, agent training should be viewed as everything.

But how can something so fundamental and obvious in the support of a business’s success be so overlooked by call center managers from across the world?

Oftentimes, call center managers are so inclined to get their agents immediately on the phone that they lose sight of how important the onboarding & training process is – for the short and long-term growth of the agents and the entire operation.

This is extremely evident in outbound-facing call centers. These managers are so eager to generate immediate results in the form of closing deals and qualifying leads, that they more often than not, let their agents start making calls with little to no training under their belt on day one of employment.

This is a huge mistake.

In order to even start implementing processes of successfully training your agents, you must first understand the different types of training.

Understanding the two types of training

There are two types of training:

Onboarding: This is the training that takes place at the start of an agent’s career. It covers basic sales techniques, policies, products, compliance, dealing with customers, and the sales procedure. All information is intended to provide new hires with a full scope of what your company does, what it sells, who it sells to, how to effectively sell it, and what good and poor performance looks like (i.e. KPIs, behaviors, etc).

Ongoing: This is the type of training that happens throughout an agent’s career. This includes advanced sales techniques, compliance checkups, changes in policies, new product releases, upselling new feature releases, and reminders of fundamental techniques for successful calls.

Often, training only occurs when new agents/employees join a company. According to the Global Call Center Report, compiled by Cornell University, call center agents receive an average of 15 days of new hire onboarding training. If you’re spending less than 15 days onboarding and training new agents, then it’s a huge red flag that you aren’t paying attention to a possible solution for issues further down the line in your call center such as a lack of sales, poor turnover, and poor customer experience.

Even if you do more than the average 15 days training, there’s still loads of improvement to be made. Especially if you’re an outbound call center…

“Call center agents receive an average of 15 days of new hire onboarding training”

If you want your outbound call center to be successful, more than just a revolving door for agents to walk through, you need to invest in training, and you need to get it right.

Thorough and detailed training can be the difference between an employee falling just short of their sales targets each month and becoming the best seller for the company.

Think of it this way, when you hire a new agent and give them a detailed and thorough training program before you put them on the phone, you give them time to study your product so when they start making calls, both you and your agent will be confident in who, what, and how they can successfully sell your offering/product.

Onboarding New Agents: Setting up new employees for success

Everything you need to know about onboarding new agents

Agent training starts with the onboarding process. The way in which you train agents when they first join your company will pave the way for their future performance. It’s one of the most important things that contact center managers have to organize but it’s often overlooked or seen as an afterthought. Not here though. We’re taking a deep dive into onboarding and are going to cover everything you need to know.

How and why to train agents before they start work

Give your new outbound agents a head start by initiating training before they even set foot in your building.

There’s no time like the present as they say. That’s why outbound call center operators shouldn’t wait for a new agent’s first day to start the training. To provide the most effective and efficient training possible, you should have agents start learning before their start date.

How can I get agents to learn before they start working?

There are loads of ways call center managers can kickstart the training program. Our favorites include:

  • Setting up an online training portal
  • Sending new agents customer case studies
  • Send them a list of competitors

Setting up an online training portal:

This requires a little upfront investment but it can pay off in the long run. Set up an online training portal where newly hired agents can log in and complete a pre-induction program. This can consist of introducing them to the company and to the product or service that they will be selling.

It doesn’t have to be detailed, in fact, we recommend that it is bite-sized so agents actually complete the course. But what it does do is give agents necessary background information and a taste of what is to come.

“If you onboard new agents correctly, you set them and your company up for the best chance of success.”

Sending new agents customer case studies

You’ll want your new agents to have an idea of the kind of companies they will be representing. You probably already have digestible case studies that your current teams use. Make copies and post them or email them to new candidates. Doing so will help them to better understand the kind of products they will be selling and will allow them to complete their own research ahead of their start date.

Send them a list of competitors

There are few better ways to learn than to learn from your competitors. With this in mind, you should also send them a list of the competitors of the companies they will be representing so they can perform research on the industry.

The benefits of training agents before they officially start

By training new agents before they start, you don’t just provide them with an excellent platform to grow from. You also set your call center up to deliver the most efficient training program possible.

Time is money in the call center and the quicker you can get new agents on the phone, the better. By having new agents start the learning process before their first day, training managers don’t have to waste time in the first morning introducing the product; they can jump straight into sales techniques.

Educate agents on the product they are selling

Knowing how to make a sale is one thing, but knowing about the product you are trying to sell is another.

You may believe that once you know certain sales techniques you should be able to sell everything. But that’s because you’ve been selling for years. It’s not the same for new outbound agents.

That’s why you should teach them about the product you are selling, as well as teach them certain sales techniques. And no, it’s not enough to just run through the product on their first day. When agents are on the phone with real customers they could be asked anything.

What questions do agents need to know?

Here are the questions we recommend making sure every agent knows:

  • Who are the target customer types?
  • What are the product’s value propositions
  • What are typical customer pain points?
  • What are the product’s USPs
  • What’s the sales process?
  • Who are the main competitors?
  • What are common objections?

Why bother educating agents?

It’s a huge confidence knock when they don’t know the answer. That’s not their fault. It’s your fault. When agents know the product like the back of their hands, it makes selling that much easier. And you want them to be successful at selling, right?

Practice with fake calls first

As part of your new hire onboarding curriculum, have your agents spend time completing fake phone calls with employees from within the organization.

Nothing is more daunting than speaking to a real customer, so ease some fears by having them practice first. Bring in some of your top outbound agents to demonstrate call best practices first and then have them pretend to be a customer.

They’ll have a great understanding of a customer’s typical responses and can also offer immediate feedback having heard them talk. After a few goes you can get your experts to play the most tricky customers they’ve ever dealt with.

A quick guide to practicing fake phone calls

  • Use the real phone system – keep it as true to reality as possible
  • Have the experienced agent sit in another room
  • Make sure people around the agent are making calls, too
  • Listen into the call rather than standing behind the agent if possible
  • Give them the script if they will use them
  • Ease them in before becoming more resistive to the sale on the second or third call
  • Hang up several times. Get them used to rejection.

By showing young inbound agents what the very worst is like, they’ll be able to handle everything else better. With an hour of fake calls under their belts, they’ll be ready to jump on the phones.

Buddy up with more experienced sales staff

Learn by doing but also learn by watching pros at work.

Every time you get a new agent in, partner them with the best performers in your call center for the first week. It’s amazing what you can learn by watching a master at work, and your new agents may pick up some techniques that aren’t taught in the first day’s training session.

How can new agents learn from your best agents?

  • Listen to the experienced agent on live calls that cover every customer scenario
  • Take notes on the agent’s major selling/talking points
  • Look at their process in how they use the call center system/s
  • Understand how they deal with rejection
  • Look at their targets and how they set goals
  • Shadow agents for the entire day

There is no better way to remember everything you should be doing than by teaching it to someone else. For your experienced agents, this is also an opportunity to hone their skills — they should have no problem meeting their sales targets while training someone else to do the same.

Treat training as an extension of the interview process

You have limited resources to spend on training, make sure you are spending them correctly

There’s only so much time and so many staff you can dedicate to training. That’s why many outbound call centers try to minimize training as much as possible—there’s just not enough staff available to help. When resources are finite, you need to be careful about where you spend them.

 There’s no point wasting training on outbound agents that don’t share your values or who obviously won’t cut the mustard. Training is the time to separate the wheat from the chaff.

With this in mind, you should think of your training sessions as an extension of your interview process. Remind candidates that just because they are starting training doesn’t mean they will finish it.

How to tell if a candidate just isn’t right:

  • They freeze up on the phones
  • They don’t take training seriously
  • They don’t show up on time
  • They speak in an unprofessional manner
  • They take rejection badly
  • They don’t fit the culture of your call center

Interviews aren’t the be-all and end-all of the job selection process. There are plenty of candidates that know how to pass an interview but will come undone when on the phones.

When you see someone in training who clearly won’t make it or who can’t get along with everyone else, kindly ask them to leave. That way you can focus your energy and resources on the candidates who are going to bring the most value for your business.

II) Ongoing Training: Continued training is key to ongoing success

An in-depth guide to ongoing training for outbound agents

Many call centers make the mistake of stopping training altogether once the onboarding process has been completed. Often this leaves still relatively inexperienced agents with little guidance going forwards. Ongoing training is critical if you want your agents to sell as much as possible. Even the most experienced agents can benefit from the kind of ongoing training we’re going to discuss in this section.

“Training doesn’t stop once agents have finished onboarding. Ongoing training is key to continued success.”

Continue to train agents on the job

Boardroom training only gets you so far. Training on the job is the best way for young agents to learn their trade.

Sitting in a boardroom going through sales scenarios will only take your agents so far. This isn’t school. This is the real world. This is a job. In school, it might be okay to learn from a textbook, but that’s just about the only place that it is.

The real trick to learning is to learn by doing. This theory, expounded by American philosopher John Dewey, recommends that learning should be practical not just theoretical.

“I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.”

– John Dewey

Think of all the things you have learned by doing in your life. How to throw a baseball, how to drive a car, how to cook. You didn’t read a book before you picked up a ball or got behind the wheels of a car. And you only read a cookbook for directions. It should be the same when it comes to learning in your call center.

Train during call center downtime

It’s very rare that a call center is very busy all of the time. But if you’re not making use of this downtime, you’re wasting it.

Why not use downtime to train agents instead? Training doesn’t stop once agents have been with you for a year. There are always new materials and techniques to teach, new products to discover and new resources to cover.

When your call center isn’t busy, siphon off a section of your outbound team for training purposes. The rest of your outbound agents can continue to work but because you are doing this during a period when you aren’t busy, you aren’t going to miss out on sales.

The rest of the agents can pick up the slack. Meanwhile, a proportion of the outbound agents are spending what would otherwise have been downtime learning and improving their technique. As a result, they should be even more effective when they come back on the phones.

Don’t just focus training on poor-performing agents

There’s no bigger waste of time than a supervisor focusing on a poor-performing agent at the expense of everyone else.

Yes, the weakest agents need the most support. But so does the rest of the team. Think about it this way, are you more likely to see large jumps in performance (and therefore more sales) from someone who has already made a sale or from someone who can’t make a sale to save their life? Exactly, there’s only so much you can help someone. Make sure your supervisors are training the staff that will get the most benefit from the training. And that shouldn’t just benefit the individual, but the company, too.

How to guarantee everyone gets the training they need

  • Guarantee a minimum amount of training for each agent
  • Identify the agents closest to hitting their targets – if you can help them get over the line it’s more money for the company
  • Next focus on agents who have made a few sales and show signs of becoming sales machines
  • Only then move onto agents who just can’t get it.

Taking training to the next level

The lowdown on the future of call center training

New technology is offering call center managers a way to optimize their training systems like never before. With a relatively small investment, call centers can maximize the amount of training they can give to new agents, as well as provide that training in new, innovative, and more effective methods.

Why you should try to live on-call monitoring

No call center has the time or money to spend on giving every outbound agent their own personal mentor. But technology might just be able to lend a hand.

Rather than have a human listen in on every call, call centers can now implement AI-based software that will monitor an agent’s calls and provide on-the-spot feedback.

The lowdown on live-on call monitoring:

  • Software that can be integrated into call center platform
  • Computer listens into every call and uses AI to recognize what is being said
  • Provides prompts to agents if they miss part of their script
  • Nudges agents if they are making common errors
  • Can be adapted to different call types (sales vs inbound)

For instance, if an agent is interrupting the customer too often, the software will flag this as an issue. It can even remind agents of what they forgot to say or give them a nudge if they need to speak up. Ultimately, instead of waiting until the end of the week or month for a review, agents can get feedback on every single call as soon as they happen.

The future for call center training is here, and it’s all based on technology

Gamification makes training so much more effective

One of the best ways for new outbound agents to learn is by gamifying their training.

Here at Convoso, we use a gamified learning management system (LMS) that provides an enjoyable and effective way for new agents to learn.

Why? Because statistics show that we are more receptive to ideas and more motivated to work when there are prizes and awards associated with our activity.

Key stats on gamification:

  • 79% of agents reported that they would be more productive and motivated if their learning environment was more enjoyable and game-like
  • 62% of agents reported significant motivation and increased competition as a result of leaderboards.

We understand training doesn’t just start and end when an agent first enters your doors. That’s why our LMS incentivizes and motivates agents to remain current on new materials, policies and product training and other helpful resources. With Converso, you can upload training materials, customize tests, set expectations, create rewards, and manage the performances of your outbound agents.

Turn to Convoso for help training outbound agents

If you need help training new inbound agents, Convoso could be the platform that you’ve been waiting for. Our call center management software doesn’t just help you make more and better calls; it also helps you train your new outbound agents like never before. With gamification at the heart of our technology, we make learning fun and effective. Take the tour and then book a demo today.

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