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Contact centers of all stripes face a significant challenge when it comes to hiring, training and retaining staff. Whether you’re in virtual care, insurance or digital health, the costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training new staff can be substantial, and the high turnover rate in the industry only adds to the burden.

However, technology can play a significant role in helping managers build more effective and efficient training programs. In this post, I’ll explore some of the key challenges facing contact centers today and how technology can help address them.

See related: How AI can level up virtual care performance evaluations

Key takeaways:

  • Contact centers face significant challenges in hiring, training, and retaining staff, which can be costly and time-consuming.
  • To address these challenges, contact center leaders should work to create more hands-on, interactive, and engaging training programs to help new staff learn more efficiently and retain information better. This can lead to less frustration, higher confidence, and lower turnover.
  • Key to successful training is improving access to information and focusing on “learning-by-doing” methods.
  • By leveraging conversation intelligence and AI, contact centers can give staff immediate access to the information they need during calls and provide real-time feedback on their performance — a potentially best-of-both-worlds training approach.

Talent challenges at contact centers

Hiring new call center staff is an expensive and time-consuming process, with a Deloitte survey showing that it takes about $12,000 to replace the average non-professional or frontline staff member and nearly three times that to replace a management level employee.

And even if you’re lucky enough to find, recruit and hire talented people, your work is only getting started. Once a new staff member is hired, the challenge becomes training them to be effective and efficient in the face of a uniquely demanding contact center environment.

This is arguably both the highest priority for contact center managers and their biggest time sink. The training itself takes a few weeks, sure, but getting a new staff member to proficiency can take far longer.

According to data from Procedure Flow, more than half of call centers spend 6 to 12 weeks training new staff, with 42% of staff members taking 2 to 4 months to become fully proficient and 33% taking as long as 5 to 7 months. Indeed, less than 10% of staff members reach proficiency in less than two months.

Quite the burden — but the work is still not over. Once a staff member is trained, the challenge becomes retaining them. Call center agent turnover is notoriously high, with most agents aged 20 to 34 having a tenure of only a year and turnover rates averaging between 30% to 45% across the industry.

As these numbers make clear, contact center leaders are always just a few departures away from a full-fledged labor crisis. It takes a ton of time, energy and money just to find new staff, and once you do, you may spend months training them only to have them leave months later.

With this in mind, optimizing staff training should be a top priority for any call center leader. Retention can go hand in hand with these efforts, as more effective, efficient training can create more skilled and confident staff who are more likely to excel in their new roles and stay for the long term.

See related: Why optimization is key for virtual care success 

Keys to successful contact center training

Improvements in training can not only help staff reach proficiency faster, but also keep staff engaged, leading to higher job satisfaction and longer tenures. Unfortunately, many contact center training programs rely heavily on memorization and a one-way, lecture-style presentation that leads to disengagement and poor information retention.

To bring new staff up to speed faster and more reliably while curbing the need for repeat training sessions, contact center leaders should focus on building more hands-on, interactive and engaging training programs. This can help new staff learn more efficiently and retain information better, leading to less frustration, higher confidence, and lower turnover.

Increase access to information

According to data from ProcedureFlow, nearly 70% of contact centers agents access post-training information via passive and time-consuming methods like how-to videos and knowledge base articles.

This requires them to manually search for information by scanning long articles or scrubbing through training videos — an impractical process if they’re looking for quick answers while on the phone. Often, agents will need to follow up with a customer after the call or put them on hold for an extended period while they search for information.

To address this, contact center leaders and managers should

  • Prioritize systems that help staff get the answers they need quickly and easily during calls.
  • Make information more easily digestible, with training resources that provide quick, clear answers to common questions (instead of long knowledge base articles or hard-to-scan videos)
  • Ensure information is accurate and consistently reviewed and updated
  • Ensure staff have the information they need to answer questions whether they’re in-office or remote

These steps can not only help staff be more effective during calls, but also improve the customer experience and lead to higher staff job satisfaction and lower turnover.

Ditch the lectures and memorization

Along with making information easier to access, contact center leaders should work on implementing more engaging and effective training methods to help staff retain information better.

According to ProcedureFlow data, 70% of contact centers rely on lecture-style training, which requires staff to memorize large volumes of information. Such a passive, one-way form of training is a recipe for inefficient learning, as staff are unlikely to retain the information presented long term (in fact, according to the forgetting curve, employees forget 50% of presented material within an hour). This leads — at best — to repeated training sessions, extra coaching and lost time as staff search for information covered previously.

Instead, contact center leaders should invest in more “learning-by-doing” methods, which can be more effective than traditional lecture-style training. Scenario-based training, role play and other forms of learning-by-doing training can have a retention rate of 75%, giving staff the information and experience they need to feel more comfortable with the situations they’ll encounter.

Not only will this lead to more efficient and higher-quality interactions, but also more confident staff, who feel prepared to do their best work.

A role for AI

Technology can play a huge role in making these training improvements a reality. By leveraging conversation intelligence and AI, contact centers can give staff immediate access to the information they need during calls and provide real-time feedback on their performance.

This not only ensures staff never have to search for information, but also represents an ideal method of “learning-by-doing,” allowing staff to continually improve through nearly-invisible ongoing training.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most obvious use cases for AI in contact center training:

  • Real-time feedback for staff — Once trained on an organization’s best practices, AI can analyze live calls and alert staff members when they’ve missed key steps or suggest responses based on the caller’s needs and the context of the interaction. This continually reinforces training while gently ensuring compliance, reducing the need for follow-up training or extended manager supervision.
  • Auto QA on 100% of calls — With AI, managers can automatically assess staff performance on every call, instead of manually auditing only a fraction of calls and offering asynchronous feedback. This makes it easier to spot trends and opportunities and provide training in a timely, focused and personalized manner.
  • Surfacing relevant resources — By integrating AI with an internal knowledge base, call centers can instantly surface appropriate supplemental training material for staff, saving them from digging through thousands of pages, scanning videos. This can also reduce the need to follow up separately on caller questions or place callers on hold for extended periods.

See related: Virtual care QA is no longer just a “nice-to-have”

Bottom line: A better way in sight

Training, and retaining staff at contact centers can be costly and time-consuming. However, by using technology, managers can build more effective and efficient training programs that can help improve retention and reduce turnover.

By increasing access to information, moving beyond memorization, and ditching the lectures, managers can create a more effective training experience for their staff, which in turn can help improve customer and staff satisfaction.

Waleed Mohsen

Author Waleed Mohsen

Waleed Mohsen is the CEO and founder of Verbal. He has been named a UCSF Rosenman Innovator and has over 10 years of experience working with leaders of hospitals and medical institutions in his business development roles at Siemens and Cisco

More posts by Waleed Mohsen