There are few workplaces that are as stressful as a telecoms operator’s call centre. When a telecoms subscriber phones in, they’re often already disgruntled because there’s a problem with his or her service or bill.
That means the agents in a telecoms call centre need to be a special breed of person – knowledgeable, calm under fire, and professional, says Ivanna Granelli, founder of Can!Do Consulting.

Yet many telecoms networks and service providers struggle to shape new recruits into this sort of agent, and when their training succeeds, they battle to retain their top-performers. We have seen many telcos spend nearly a month training an average agent, only to see many of them leave in six months or less.
On the one hand, many people never adjust to the pace of learning it takes to support customers in a high-tech environment and to the pressures of dealing with angry customers and complex queries all day. On the other, those that excel often look for better paid jobs with more pleasant working conditions.

This cycle of recruiting, training and churning staff is expensive because of the direct costs involved in training new call centre agents. But the indirect costs of less than optimal customer service and low workforce morale can also damage the business.

To end this vicious cycle, telecoms companies need to think about training and performance support in the call centre in a new way. Rather than regarding call centre training as a tactical and operational expense, they must think about it as a strategic investment in the health of their businesses.
The telecoms industry is complex. There are regulations and laws call centre agents need to learn, for example, the Consumer Protection Act and The Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act.

They need to understand complex tariff structures for a vast range of packages and services. What’s more, agents will also need to be familiar with the terms and conditions of customer contracts. And then, of course, they might need technical knowledge to trouble shoot a fault or expertise in handsets to give customers good advice.

Bootcamp leads to burnout
This cannot be drilled into agents boot camp-style with agents burning out fast on the job. They need time to integrate into company culture, to learn their jobs organically, and absorb the knowledge being thrown at them.

That’s why telecoms operators should create a culture of learning, underpinned by processes and systems to plan and track skills development and education. It is far better to make the time investment upfront and reap the rewards later than it is to rush the training.

There must be a strong focus on on-the-job training and investment in performance support tools to enable this. Employees learn better through practice and application than they do from having too much theoretical information thrown at them in a few classroom sessions.

A good way to drive learning throughout the call centre is to encourage employees to share their experiences with each other. This is a form of real-time learning that is relevant, focused and performance-driven. People are not machines; they need the enriching and motivating experience of learning from others who share their problems.

Analyse learning needs
Call centres in the telecoms industry often invest in the wrong sort of training programmes and technologies for their staff because they do not start out by analysing where they have skills and customer satisfaction gaps.

A good place to start is by asking agents which training content they feel helps them to do their jobs better and which they regard as a waste of time. Find out where agents feel they are lacking skills and support to do their jobs properly. It also helps to analyse customer complaints as well as call recordings.

We also recommend that telecoms operators do not become seduced by the promises of technology. As tech-driven companies, they are often prone to throwing technology at training and education problems when what they actually need to do is look at people and process issues.

There are no quick fixes for talent management – companies must invest time in mapping out the skills they have and those they need; designing strategies to addresses the weaknesses; and then measuring performance and outcomes. Focus on the fundamentals first before making expensive tech investments.

Given how fluid the technologies, competitive environment and regulations are in the telecoms sector, companies in this industry also need to be agile in their training. They must build capabilities to create materials and distribute them quickly to the right people at the right time.