Foster customer service career growth in sit-downs with each of your agents

How to Invest in Each Of Your Customer Service Agent’s Career Growth and Development

Editor’s Note: This post is brought to you by a new contributor, Hiba Amin, from our friends over at Soapbox a solution that empowers over 100,000 managers to lead high-performing teams.

On average, human capital costs make up almost 70% of a company’s operating expenses. Yet, too many companies don’t properly invest in their biggest asset: humans. What’s worse is that two out of every three employees say a big reason for quitting their job is because of inadequate career development. 

While investing in the growth and development of your employees can be seen as an added cost by some, not only will it elevate your workforce, but it will also reduce overall turnover (a top challenge contact center leaders like you face this year). In fact, Bridge research found that career development and training would prevent 86% of Millennials from leaving their employer.

While Millennials aren’t the only generation that leaders need to keep in mind, they are the largest generation in the workforce today. So, it’s important you understand the career aspirations of every agent, and how you can build a growth and training plan around those goals (plus, how they fit into your business). 

If you’re not sure where to start, we’re walking through four ways you can invest in your customer service team’s career growth today.

Give the team an education budget

One of the best ways to invest in your customer service agents’ career growth is to give them the freedom and financial support they need to further their own knowledge in a way that best fits their learning style. Enter the education budget.

What is an education budget?

An education budget is a benefit that employers give to their employees that’s focused on personal development. Generally, companies will set an annual budget for each employee to spend on things like courses, conferences, certifications, etc. When it comes to the actual amount, this number varies from company-to-company. GitLab, for example, allocates $500 USD to each employee every fiscal year for their education budget.

Set guidelines for employees on how to spend the money

To ensure the money is properly spent, set some guidelines for your agents when it comes to how they use their education budget. Some common guidelines include:

  • Run any personal development activities by your supervisor
  • Make sure that personal development activities relate to work
  • Expense all your activities so we can track how much budget you’re using

Brainstorm ideas and share opportunities with agents during one-on-ones

On average, the annual turnover in a contact center is between 30-45%. That’s a lot considering how expensive staff turnover is, from finding a replacement to getting them up to speed. For mid-sized contact centers, these costs can equate to millions down the drain each year. 

But, when it comes to contact center retention, it’s not the salary or stress that cause agents to quit. In fact, 50.8% of agents leave because of a lack of training and advancement opportunities. That’s why it’s so important for supervisors to focus on training and developing their agents. 

In addition, an Accenture report found that 61% of workers would trade their work-related data for more customized learning and development opportunities. Who better to learn about potential opportunities than a supervisor? As a manager, you should have a deep understanding of your customer service agent’s personal and professional growth goals, and share opportunities to help them achieve their next career milestone with personalized suggestions on how to use their education budget. Maybe there’s a course you’ve taken in the past that proved really useful (or the opposite) in your career, let them know!

Coach agents on an ongoing basis

In Gallup’s State of The American Workplace report, they found that for employees to be engaged at work, four needs must be met: 

  1. Basic needs: “I have everything I need to do my job.” 
  2. Individual needs: “I feel cared about by my peers and I have the opportunity to do good work.”
  3. Teamwork needs: “People value my opinions and I feel connected to our company mission.” 
  4. Growth needs: “Someone has talked to me about my progress, I feel like I have a path in this company and I have opportunities to learn and grow.” 
Customer service career growth starts with meeting basic employee needs

Supervisors and managers have the most influence over the fourth need: growth. That’s because you play an active part in providing relevant opportunities for each agent’s professional development. And, what’s the best way to help your agents feel like they have opportunities to learn and grow? Ongoing coaching. 

Ongoing coaching done right

Don’t wait until your quarterly performance review to share feedback with your agents. Instead, be proactive and share feedback whenever the need arises; these moments make for great coaching opportunities. If you’re not sure when to share this feedback, start by doing so during your one-on-one meeting. It can be as simple as adding one item to the agenda: What’s one piece of feedback we have for each other?

Adding this to your agenda is great for creating meaningful coaching opportunities for your agents, while also giving you the upward feedback you need to improve as a leader. Win-win.

Effective feedback

When looking to share effective feedback with your agents, here are four things you need to keep in mind:

  1. Personalize your feedback to the individual: Be specific with your feedback, share examples such as an employee’s performance or attitude at work.
  2. Use data to make your action items more tangible: What goals did you and your agent agree on and how did they perform against them?
  3. Get the right ratio of positive to constructive feedback: Research shows that the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio is 5:1.
  4. Ditch the feedback sandwich: Be genuine when you share feedback. Don’t force two positive pieces of feedback for the sake of sharing one constructive piece; your agents will see right through it.

When you’re able to give feedback that’s valuable, helpful, and effective, you move beyond just being a great manager but become a great coach too.

Set goals that help agents grow

When it comes to goal-setting, there are two key areas you should focus on: business and personal goals. 

Business goals

These are generally KPIs that are standardized across the team, with some level of personalization. For example, contact center KPIs include things like: 

  • Average handle time
  • First contact resolution
  • Average wrap up time
  • Average agent hold time
  • Call transfer rate

You can personalize these a bit by upping the goals for high-performers, to challenge them and give them a higher bar to strive for. 

Personal goals

While business goals are incredibly important and help keep the team on track to achieve overall team and company goals, it’s equally important to set personal goals with your agents. If you’re not sure what those goals are, just ask. Encourage your agents to come up with their own personal goals first and, if needed, tweak them together during your next employee meeting.

For inspiration, some career growth and development goals for customer service teams include: 

  1. Read 4 books from this must-read call center book list this quarter
  2. Create a 5-10 minute presentation on how to win over an angry customer and present it to the team by the end of the quarter
  3. Shadow someone from another team for one day this quarter

As a leader, you should also set goals for yourself when it comes to focusing on the growth and development of your agents. For example, some goals you can set include: 

  • Create an employee development plan for every agent on the team by the end of Q1
  • Never cancel or reschedule one-on-ones this quarter
  • Block off 4 hours every week to coach agents for the next month

For this to be truly successful, be sure to hold yourself and your agents accountable to the goals you’ve set together.

Run great employee meetings

Employee meetings are a dedicated time for managers and their agents to discuss everything from roadblocks to career growth. It’s an agent’s opportunity to get dedicated time for undivided attention from their manager. As a leader, one of the best ways to invest in your agents is to take the time to learn about what they’re working towards. A great way to do this is to ask the right growth and development questions:

  • Who’s someone in the company that you’d like to learn more from?
  • Is your job what you expected when you accepted it? If not, where has it differed?
  • What other roles at [your company] do you find interesting? What skills do those roles require that you would like to work on?
  • Are there any projects you would like to work on or be more involved in?

But, don’t forget to hold one another accountable for talking about growth and development at least once a month to keep things fresh and top of mind.

Another great way to invest in your agents is to bring recognition into the conversation. Whether you’re helping to build confidence or reinforcing the actions, behaviors and attitudes that you feel are critical for growth, recognition is a powerful tool that every leader should have in their toolbelt. 

Overall, there’s a clear business case for investing in the growth and development of your call center team. Not only will it help reduce turnover, but it will also ensure that you have a highly engaged, knowledgeable, and high-performing team. So, if you’re not already investing in your team’s growth, it’s time to get started.

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Hiba Amin leads marketing at Soapbox, a solution that empowers over 100,000 managers to lead high-performing teams by combining quarterly priorities, weekly meetings, and engagement measures, all in one place. You can find Hiba on Twitter.