Best practices for onboarding new employees in your call center

The Dos and Don’ts of Onboarding New Hires in your Contact Center

Imagine this: It’s your first day at a new job. You’ve got some butterflies in your stomach, enter the office building, and… there’s no one to greet you. You ask the receptionist where you’re supposed to go, but it’s evident he didn’t even know you were starting today.

No one takes you to lunch or introduces you to the rest of the team. Eventually, the receptionist takes your new-hire paperwork, leads you to a desk (with no welcome goody bag on it), hands you a headset and a script and says — get to work! 

How would that make you feel as a new employee? Or, as a newly-appointed manager?

Probably pretty lost, overwhelmed, and devalued. Suddenly you’d be wondering if you made the right choice to accept the job. Would you stick with it? 

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Now, that example’s a bit extreme (though I have shown up to a new job without a desk or a computer – don’t worry, I don’t blame my manager for that one). But traditionally, call centers don’t have the greatest track record with retention. In fact, the average turnover rate in call centers is as high as 45%. And, a majority of that turnover happens when your entry-level agents beeline for the exit. 

While many factors play into your agent attrition, the first few months of employment can make or break whether an agent will keep working for you. According to a survey from Robert Half & Associates, more than a quarter of employees are willing to quit a new job in the first 90 days if they feel it doesn’t live up to expectations. 

First Impressions Matter 

The Recruiting Roundtable found that effective onboarding improves job performance by 11.5%. But, onboarding new employees the right way is tricky. Especially now that we’re dealing with dispersed teams.

In many contact centers, new-hire orientation is like drinking from a fire hose. Though intended to help rookie agents get acclimated to the new job and environment, too much too soon can have the opposite effect. The deluge of info, policies and resources thrown at agents in a span of a few days often leaves newbies with their heads spinning rather than their feet planted.

To help keep your agents grounded and ready to help customers, let’s cover the dos and don’ts of onboarding new agents in your call center (no matter where they’re working).

Do —  Provide a comprehensive pre-hire job preview

While prospective hires go through the hiring process, give them a clear picture of what a rewarding call center agent job looks like. Think of it as a shadowing experience. 

Learning the ins and outs of your call center will engage and inspire candidates who are cut out for the work of customer care. It also helps candidates decide whether your workplace culture is a fit for them. Avoid pouring money and energy into hiring and training those who don’t really want the job in the first place. 

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Set up a time for candidates to interact with your existing agents. Involve a handful of agents in the interview process, so they can answer questions for future hires. A prospective agent might feel more comfortable asking a peer particular questions about the job. Plus, it makes your existing agents feel valued and their voices heard.

For agents that plan to work in-person with your team, give candidates a tour of the office. Let them listen to some call recordings with customers to hear an experienced agent at work. This kind of early interaction with their peers goes a long way in creating early camaraderie. 

For agents who will work remotely, SHRM says to consider making video introductions to some of your team members. Have other agents or supervisors record a quick, 30-second video to say hello and explain a little bit about their role and the work culture in your call center.

Employee retention expert Dick Finnegan recommends introducing an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) during the job preview process:  

“While it’s true that employees are interested in how much they are going to get paid and all those types of things, what they really want to know is: What am I going to learn? Who am I going to help? And what kinds of relationships am I going to form? Smart companies provide an EVP that clearly answers those questions. The rest of your onboarding program should then just carry the EVP further and deeper.”       

– Dick Finnegan

Give potential employees a reason to join your team. And, let them know the value they’ll bring to your team from the start.  

Don’t — Abandon your new agent after day one

As a manager, you should be intentionally involved on the first day for any new hire. Clear out your schedule so you’re available to answer questions and give guidance.

Nearly 89% of new hires want to meet with their new manager on the first day of employment. And, 83% said they had the expectation of being introduced to colleagues on their first day in order to start off on a positive note, too.

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But when the first day is over and done with, whose responsibility is it to make sure new hires get further acclimated? 

There’s a tendency to throw your agents into the learning phase, to read and observe, and expect them to catch on. I’ve had several jobs where after the first day, it feels like I’ve gotten tossed out to the middle of the ocean. It’s overwhelming. You don’t want to feel like you’re bothering anyone’s workflow. Especially in an environment as busy as a call center. And for remote employees who can’t see their peers, it feels even harder to reach out with questions. 

To avoid this, create an onboarding team or a buddy system. 

The Aberdeen Group says that best-in-class organizations tackle onboarding on three fronts:

  • HR document management – This is where they’ll fill out, collect and track all of the HR forms (I-9, Tax forms, contracts, etc.) in an accessible way.
  • Task management – These are tasks like meeting managers and leaders, job training and other protocols.
  • Socialization – This is where they’ll get an introduction to the company culture and their team.

Having an onboarding team takes some burden off the shoulders of your HR team (and you as the hiring manager). Build an onboarding cohort with a couple of supervisors, leaders from different departments and some of your agents. Doing this helps your new agents feel more connected to the entire company, and it shares the responsibility of onboarding among several people. This helps your new agents get different perspectives on your organization’s goals and what it’s like working for your company, too.

This team might make sure the new hire has someone to eat lunch with during a break. And, maybe they have a stand-up meeting at the end of each day where the new hire can ask questions, learn about internal processes, or find resources. 

One company, Buffer, assigns three buddies while onboarding new employees, each with a different role to play. There is a Leader Buddy, a Role Buddy, and a Culture Buddy, all of whom help new hires through the onboarding process.

Give your new hires a point person so they feel less anxious when first joining.

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Do — Broadcast your company culture 

Research shows that 81% of new hires are unsuccessful at their new jobs because they’re cultural misfits. When your onboarding process actively reinforces your company culture, it can lead to:

  • 60% greater annual improvement in revenue per full-time employee.
  • 63% greater lift in annual customer satisfaction than those with an informal onboarding process.

Those benefits have company-wide ramifications! Culture is vital for retention and company growth. When onboarding new employees at Zappos, they give a five-week course focused on the culture and values of the company. At the end of the five weeks, they offer employees $2k to quit if they feel like the culture isn’t the right fit for them. They know if an employee isn’t a good fit for the culture, it impacts engagement, and ultimately performance.

Your company culture should be central to your company identity. 

In the first two days, highlight your company’s story, mission and values right off the bat. You want new employees to have a sense of how they fit into your broader company story and strategy starting with onboarding. Their tie to mission and value will give a new agent a foundation for understanding your company. 

Find out what your new employee cares about personally and tie it to your company values. Show them how their passion can be fulfilled through working with your team. For example, if one of your core values is generosity and your new hire regularly volunteers with a local nonprofit, discuss how they can promote their cause at work. If you can help the employee connect with purpose from day one, they’ll be more likely to stay with you.

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Don’t — Put off adding your call center agents to your software

As a call center, you’re dependent on the effectiveness of your call center software. When you’re onboarding new employees, each agent needs their own phone line, their own desktop, and access to individual performance data. Plus, you have to assign each agent certain skills to fit them into your interaction routing strategy so they’re active in the right queues, too. And above all, you have to make sure that your new call center agent knows how to use the technology well. 

It’s important to have all your technology up and running for your agent ahead of their first day. You want them to feel prepared and to have the tools they need to start learning. 

Depending on your call center software, this might mean working with your IT team to get new phone lines configured or change your routing rules. Or, it might mean getting approval from your finance department for new software licenses. 

In some cases, you may even have to go through your vendor just to make it happen. You know how it is. Emails back and forth, a phone call meeting to set expectations with your vendor, awaiting the go-ahead from your IT team. This could take several weeks, so don’t wait until the last minute! (*cough* with Sharpen you can do it yourself *cough*)

Onboarding Makes all the Difference

Putting in the effort to create an effective onboarding plan makes all the difference for your call center. Paycor found that 58% of employees are likely to stay at a company for three years if they have a great onboarding program. 

Combat dismal turnover rates in contact centers. Prioritize your new hires’ first 30 to 90 days on your team. Practice the dos and don’ts of onboarding new employees and watch your retention rates soar.

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We originally published this post on March 3, 2020, and we updated it for new insight on May 13, 2021.