Soft skills are one of the foremost predictors of call center performance and agent success. In fact, according to recent research by Harvard University and the Stanford Research Institute, 85% of long-term job success depends on people skills, while only 25% relies on technical knowledge. The challenge is developing a workforce with the necessary soft skills to be successful. These include their emotional, cultural and linguistical forms of communication. This is why soft skills are so desirable to employers, because they are extremely difficult to master.
While there are certain indicators through the interview process to ensure that you hire call customer service employees with the necessary soft skills, it’s simply just not enough. Floor managers will still need a way to implement effective soft skills training that maximizes team learning and promotes ongoing personal and professional development.
As Lewis Carroll said, “any road will get you there if you don’t know where you’re going.” So, the first step to call center training is identifying and prioritizing what skills you want to improve upon.
Agent soft skills are the people skills that allow your call center agents to interact with customers, supervisors, and other employees successfully. We previously listed the five soft skills we think are most important for call center agents. To recap, they are:
However, these are not the only soft skills necessary for quality customer service, and in fact, they may not even be the most significant skills for your team. Depending on the role of your call center and the culture of your workplace, certain soft skills may be more important than others. That’s why it’s necessary to create your list of soft skills based on your customer service goals.
After you’ve developed your list of essential soft skills, you can use them as identifiers for future employees. And for current employees, you can create a soft skills training plan.
In contrast to “hard skills,” which can be learned and taught easily, soft skills are characteristics that tend to be ingrained in a person; this makes them harder to evaluate and quantify. However, they can be trained as long as your employees are malleable and open to learning.
The key in how to teach soft skills is consistency, practice, and commitment to well-rounded soft skills development training. According to an MIT Sloan study, just eight months of soft skills training can yield 250% ROI due to increased productivity, better efficiency, and improved employee attendance.
Soft skills training doesn’t just magically happen over time. You have to create a development plan and educational strategies to ensure that you achieve your soft skills lesson plans. In general, there are two core ways to deliver soft skills training: self-study and live training.
For instance, if you want your agents to develop advanced problem-solving skills, you can begin by having your employees watch videos or review knowledge base articles. Then, post training, your self-study component of blended learning can include interactive quizzes and tests that can be graded on the spot.
Establishing video and quiz exercises, will offer a deeper understanding of what went right or wrong in certain scenarios, so that your agents know how to apply the lessons to their own situations. The goal should be to help your agents master the soft skills training information in a tangible way.
Best of all employees can complete training during their free time without disrupting their schedules. Or you can pay your employees to take the course on their own time and at home so as not to disrupt the call center schedule.
The live portion of the soft skills training course should be done either after the entire self-study portion is completed or interspersed with segments of the self-study sections.
The live portion of the course should summarize what went on in the self-study sections, but not reteach these lessons. Instead, it’s an opportunity for the call center agents to ask questions, get feedback, and role-play their new skills. The key is to create opportunities for practice, reflection, and refinement of soft skills. These goals should also follow the elements of the SMART model and should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. With the intent to execute these new skills immediately to improve call center performance.
Emotional intelligence—which is another way to describe soft skills—can be learned and developed. So, how do you lay the groundwork for effective soft skills training?
You need an engaging self-study learning component alongside a live learning solution that makes it easy to practice new skills. Here’s what that looks like in six steps.
First, you need to prepare your call center agents to accept the need for development. Presenting soft skills training as remedial may make employees feel patronized, or may come across as insincere. This is a surefire way to ensure that your employees aren’t engaged or interested in training.
Alternatively, you should focus on structuring your soft skills training in such a way that it is valuable and desirable. Present your company as a place of growth, and position the training as a way to engage in the process of learning. It should be seen as helpful and beneficial.
You need an evaluation mechanism for assessing your training goals. You shouldn’t begin any training regimen without first figuring out where your team is starting and setting goals. And you should end training with an understanding of whether your agents achieved their educational goals.
Whether you implement a quality scorecard, written test or use the completion of a group exercise to assess your agents. The key is to create an evaluation system that will help you deliver and track your employees’ soft skills training progress overall. It can also be used to track development within specific soft skills training topics or exercises.
Soft skills training needs to include setting specific goals for execution. If you don’t know where you want to end up, you cannot create a map to get there. So, you must start by asking employees to set their own goals, which should match to actual improvement metrics in the call center.
Develop a training plan that makes training a priority without hurting your call center. As we mentioned above, this could mean providing overtime pay for training or making resources available online and easily accessible. The more opportunities you provide to call center agents to progress, the more heavy lifting you take off your staff.
Provide a platform for self-reflection and reinforcement. When the training program is over, people should have the time to process their learnings and how to apply it to their daily activities. A great way to do this is to incorporate self-assessment and share your success stories during staff meetings.
Remember, your formal training plan is only the start. You must implement regular training opportunities via soft skills exercises. For example, once a month, you can take an afternoon to review a customer service call or two and role-play the interaction. Or during every performance review process, you can discuss soft skills and encourage your employees to share their personal successes or failures and what they have learned.
The critical thing to remember is that people will get rusty or forget what they learned if they do not have an opportunity to refresh the skill.
Who is in charge of delivering your effective soft skills training? While instructor-led training sessions are a great place to start and can help you break down complex topics into manageable chunks, it’s not the most powerful way to deliver soft skills training. Instead, it’s much more valuable to accomplish soft skills training through hands-on-experience.
What this means is that your call center and customer service agents should work side by side with each other, and your management team, to practice soft skills in real-life situations. This type of on-the-job coaching and training can greatly improve your employee’s knowledge retention because they are more connected to their own development. They’ll feel more valued and invested in the results of their training because you’ve empowered them to work toward their own career development.
For example, if your call center values teamwork, don’t just create a formal teamwork soft skills training topic. Instead, have your team leaders look for ways to practice teamwork in the center. You could implement collaboration opportunities where agents are encouraged to share their customer successes and failures in a safe environment. Or, if you want to practice problem-solving, schedule regular team meetings where you present your agents with a difficult customer service scenarios and ask them how to solve it.
The key is to combine engaging soft skills training content with modern technology and a strategic partnership between your leadership team and agents to get the best results. By initiating these simple training program your company will be rewarded with better call center results, employee retention and loyal and committed staff.
It’s not enough to interview and hire candidates with existing agent soft skills; you have to continually develop these soft skills in existing employees.
Effective soft skills training requires a carefully developed plan that includes both self-study and live training. You must not only provide your agents time and incentive to train but also multiple opportunities to practice and reflect on their skills. Only in this way will you ensure that your call center agents have the best chance of performing successfully with better customer service and less turnover. By investing in call center soft skills training, you improve the bottom line.