Onboarding Customer Support Agents and How to Improve the Process

Feb 9, 2022 | Customer Service, Customer Support

A lot has been said (and documented) about the importance of delivering an extraordinary customer experience. But there is one critical component to the puzzle often overlooked: the support agents’ onboarding process. Hiring the right people is essential, but a well-designed onboarding program will set them up for success for many years to come. Onboarding gets new employees through a time of uncertainty and can turn them into high-performing employees. The onboarding process for support agents lays the foundation for delivering a great customer experience. I can’t stress this enough; after all, the better informed or knowledgeable your agents are, the happier your customers will be. 

The length of the training program and how many resources are invested in it depend on the business. Some products are more complicated and require more full-on training. For example, organizations with complicated products (high tech, industrials) or an extensive portfolio of products requiring individual training and familiarization on each one, will increase the amount of training. Ideally, most of the information a new hire will need to get up to speed on the solutions will be in a searchable and referenceable format. However, that is not the norm, and searching and finding direct information is not always easy with most organizations. Most agents end up reading documents where it will be just about impossible for them to retain the information.

Besides getting documentation in shape, some additional steps and considerations are usually part of an organization’s plan on onboarding. They all play a role, but there are some limitations to an individual’s capacity to learn and memorize that need to be addressed. Here are some key considerations.

Pairing with seasoned agents

Almost all support organizations use peers on the support team to train new agents, essentially as support “buddies” or “mentors” to serve as primary contact points for the new agent or a combination of the two. It is helpful for a few reasons. First, it helps integrate the new person into the team. Secondly, it also shares the training work amongst several people, sharing the responsibility among team members and avoiding tying someone up for weeks during the onboarding of new agents. New people might also feel more comfortable asking their peers where to find specific information than asking their managers.

However, it is crucial to consider that you’ll be pulling support agents away from their standard support duties, regardless of whether the training is being shared. Onboarding can decrease your team’s capacity for weeks until the new people are entirely up to speed. Many of the questions are usually associated with the products or solutions, so it would be nice to get those answers without interrupting others. Additionally, as questions come up from the new hires, you want to address them immediately and have them move on to the next thing, and that is hard since their peers may not be readily available, slowing down the process.

Technical training

Technical training ends up being a combination of 

  • reading documents or manuals, 
  • learning from subject matter experts either through online capsules or live training (online or in the classroom), 
  • shadowing a team member as they handle cases, 
  • and hands-on experience, where the new agent is handling some of the more uncomplicated cases. 

Each of these options is great, but it is hard to retain everything learned. Our capacity to retain information is not unlimited, and regardless of which program or combination of programs are used, the retainment levels will be low. Humans forget approximately 50 percent of new information they encounter within an hour and an average of 70 percent within 24 hours, cognitive science expert Art Kohn has shown this through studies. After a week, that average goes up to 90 percent. This pattern is common to us all. It is known as the forgetting curve and was first presented by Hermann Ebbinghaus in his book on memory. However, the rate can vary by person and the presentable quality of the content, which considers factors such as memory strength, how meaningful the material is, and other physiological factors, such as stress. Thus it becomes vital to have a way for agents to go back and find information or answers that they may not remember.

Rate of progression to independence

The goal of onboarding is to move the agent towards being self-sufficient as quickly as possible, without overwhelming them or compromising the quality of customer care. Rather than throwing them directly into the deep end, slowly remove their training wheels as they become more confident with their knowledge. The speed at which an agent progresses through the onboarding depends on the product and their experience level. By gradually reducing the amount of oversight, the agent will feel confident as they develop a sense of the customer issues and tones, and begin getting greater exposure to more unique situations. However, to strike a perfect balance between time and knowledge is just about impossible. They almost need to have a virtual assistant or some other assistance they can always count on, when they are going through the onboarding and even as their roles progress past the onboarding phase.  

Distributed teams (remote)

Transferring knowledge to a new agent is difficult enough when you’re face to face with them. It can be even more difficult when you’re working remotely. Remote onboarding brings a specific set of challenges. It can be challenging to get to know everyone on the team well enough to work effectively. If the employee hasn’t worked remotely before, they may feel isolated or cut off from their peers. Communication also becomes more difficult. Some things don’t translate well through text. New employees who are just learning to find relevant information might feel left out of the loop. With these challenges, it’s crucial to over-communicate and switch up the communication channel as often as possible. Sometimes a quick voice call can clear up a question faster than typing. However, all of these options require time, and it is even more time and effort than when employees are collocated. It is also amazing how employees don’t feel as comfortable reaching out through chat as they would when someone is sitting but a step away. These things inhibit the learning process.

Quark.ai approach to assisting on the onboarding and afterward

Agent effectiveness and satisfaction are strongly linked with how foolproof your onboarding program is. Even with the considerations and approaches that we have described to help on the onboarding, there are still some limitations on how much the agent can retain or the amount of time that can be shared by peers/mentors or management. As a result, Quark.ai believes that as part of the process, there needs to be a way for agents to get immediate answers to their questions and issues, to build their knowledge, but not make it utterly dependent on memory. Our solution can do that because of our unique platform and advanced Deep Learning, NLP, and computer vision technologies. We have unique capabilities to revolve inquiries with answers from all available documents on the products or solutions. Our capability to understand the content within the documents is genuinely unique in the market. We can do that because our solution breaks down source documents into comprehensible logical segments. These segments can represent tables (understanding the information within the table) and any paragraphs associated with the table. The segments represent precise information that serves as answers to questions/inquiries that share a high correlation. We interpret complex and common inquiries using our advanced NLP. The description in the inquiries can be from a sentence to several sentences.  

The Quark.ai solution decreases the time required for training and learning the details of the products and services, especially in high-tech and other complex products/services, ultimately increasing the ramp to higher agent performances. Using the solution after onboarding, we can continue helping the agents perform at a higher level, above and beyond average expectations, because there will always be some holes in their knowledge of the solutions and services they represent. These performance improvements will have an appreciable impact on the organization’s ongoing resource costs and customer satisfaction scores (CSAT). Support agents that can provide customers with faster service and possess the knowledge to gain customer confidence will provide superior customer experiences. Additionally, agents performing better and having more success in their roles usually stay longer with the organizations, reducing hiring and onboarding costs.