It’s a given that we spend a great deal of time and money recruiting and training agents for our centers.

Sometimes we hire someone who looks great on paper and knows how to present themselves well in interviews, but they don’t make it past the training program.

Even those who seemed so eager to work in our center during the beginning may end up leaving before their 90-day review time arrives.

We need to think like our New Hires and look at what they are experiencing from their point of view. Some negatives for them are under our control. Others are something they bring to the job themselves based on how they view this job: “Temporary job while I look for something else” or “This could be my career and opportunity for the future.”

Here are a few of the new agent issues I’ve observed:

“These customers are making me sick”

You have to be willing to take a lot from customers. They will often act like the south end of the northbound mule even when we are doing all we can to assist them.

Some newer agents have told me that they went home with headaches everyday from the “loud” customers and negatives they had to deal with. Somehow they never equated customer service work with customers having complaints despite your interview discussion.

Allowing top candidates to observe and listen to some calls with you is a great way for them to better understand the nature of their potential job. Fortifying them with in-line training breaks delivered during idle time can also be beneficial.

“I didn’t do it”

This is one of the worst phrases ever uttered by an agent to a customer with a complaint. Our customers never want to hear that we lack responsibility or that another department or individual is to blame. They want us to take responsibility to fix the problem no matter where the problem originated.

Some of our new hires struggle with the need to move the blame to others or share “too much information” about internal issues that the customer personally does not need to know. We need to make sure that taking responsibility and how to avoid giving “TMI” are part of our onboard trainings.

Why should I give empathy to strangers?

Agents have to be willing and able to show understanding, concern and put themselves in the customer’s shoes. Some agents will nod their heads in agreement and give empathy and sympathy to friends, but with “unknown” customers may focus on the process without showing interest in those customers.

I’ve actually had agents tell me that they “don’t care” about the customer’s problem because “It’s the customer’s fault” and they really don’t see why they should be empathetic in any way, shape or form.

These type of comments always makes me wonder how this agent reacted during the interview process and training when empathy was discussed. Didn’t anyone notice his or her attitude or did the agent conceal it just to get a job?

When I probed further, I discovered that these same un-empathetic agents had supervisors were strictly “process” focused and inept themselves at showing empathy.

Regardless of how they got the job, if they are tired of being coached on their lack of empathy and not interested in improving, they will often look to transfer to another area of the company or just quit entirely.

On the other hand, agents who are open to the coaching on empathy, and learn how to be engaged in doing it, find the response from the customers is so positive that they continue to build their empathy skills.

Being tied to that desk

Balancing customer satisfaction and agent satisfaction is a real challenge for us.

An agent recently told me that their supervisor does nothing to coordinate breaks among their small satellite center team and simply says, “You are all adults. Leave when you want to.” New hires love it and don’t even look at the queue, assuming the experienced agents will stay while they take the best lunch slots. I’d like to see this center’s customer wait stats!

That situation is the total opposite of the too-controlling managers and supervisors who look at every one-second gap in agent activity. A few agents even told me that they were afraid to take a break when “nature called” since their supervisor sent them a nasty message when they got back.

Even when we are trying to offer scheduling and breaks in a way that appeals to agents, we aren’t able to make everyone happy. New hires with little experience in a structured center environment will have a hard time staying at their desk initially and some soon find they don’t want to stay long term.

The bottom line is that our contact center new hires need to understand fully what the job entails. Don’t just sell them on the fabulous bonuses, benefits or promotions they can look for. Be realistic about the nature of the job, the expectations and most importantly your customers and what it takes to make them happy.

And be realistic as well about the process that’s involved in managing your agent’s intraday activities. Getting “stuck” in manual processes creates a condition where engagement, empathy, variety, new skills acquisition, and the like are seen as just too much trouble. Automate these processes where you can to streamline activities and provide more face-to-face, personal interaction time.

We also need to accept that some people are professional interviewers and test takers and are just agent ships passing through our center until something they like better comes along.