Ubiquity’s SVP of Learning Services offers insight into how customer service operations can adapt onboarding and training to a virtual environment.
By Megan Porter, Ubiquity
Moving existing customer service agents to a work-from-home environment is one thing. Onboarding and training new agents virtually is something else entirely.
With many new clients opting for Ubiquity at Home, our Learning Services department has rethought our approach to our curriculum and training processes. Designing successful onboarding and training for remote teams demands technology tools, but a human touch is just as important. And when done well, the benefits are substantial.
Onboarding plays a pivotal role in shaping an employee’s long-term relationship with an organization. Not only does effective onboarding help new hires get up to speed 50% faster—which can have measurable impacts on customer experience—but onboarding also lays the foundation for long-term employee retention. Research shows that 69% of workers are more likely to stay with a company for three years or more if they experienced an optimum onboarding process, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.
To provide that optimum onboarding experience for remote teams, keep the following strategies in mind:
1. Communicate prior to start
Even if your onboarding documents and welcome kit are all digital now, consider sending an actual letter as well. Don’t just talk about their role but about what it means to be part of the organization. (I’ll talk more about the importance of culture later.) Our in-center agents are big fans of branded swag to show not only Ubiquity pride but their pride in the client brands they represent. There’s a lot of friendly competition within teams and among teams, and you can start building that sense of belonging immediately. Sending a branded T-shirt, mug or mousepad might seem small, but little tangible touches can go a long way in welcoming new hires and making them feel connected to the company and to the brands and customers they serve.
Regular communication before new team members start, during training and in their day-to-day work is also key. Clearly, communication is necessary for coordination of work for virtual employees, but it also increases motivation.
2. Get technical setup finished early
Technology can make or break the virtual training experience. When you’re trying to build excitement and camaraderie for a team of new recruits, the last thing you need to deal with is a technical glitch. Make sure that your employees have all their equipment ready to go and that they’ve had a chance to test it before training, especially if they need access to specific systems. Make sure you’re not spending valuable training time troubleshooting credential, audio or video issues. Knowing this, our training and implementation teams worked in tandem with IT to develop a testing checklist to ensure system access, technology features and internet are ready to go prior to training.
3. Connect trainees with your culture
Culture—the values and guiding principles of your organization—is so much more than words on a page. And when you can’t experience culture in person, the impact of a written document diminishes even further. Giving new hires a handbook or your mission statement is not enough to help them truly understand how to embrace and embody your culture. Creating a multimedia experience with video and interviews that showcase leadership as well as agents can help bring your culture to life. In addition to videos, consider guest speakers from different areas of the company to spend some time with trainees. By finding creative ways to engage new hires, we’ve been able to create additional excitement about their roles, how we’ll support their growth and what kind of personal impact they can have on colleagues and Ubiquity as a whole.
We also have Engagement Specialists whose primary focus is to drive engagement initiatives that help connect employees to Ubiquity and to one another. In addition to keeping a consistent cadence of outreach and engagement campaigns flowing, our Engagement Specialists manage our internal Wiki and private Facebook groups. Although the latter traditionally were used for hiring, they’ve become an important channel to help remote employees feel more connected. And in the absence of our onsite sports leagues and social events, we’ve fostered connections through virtual game nights, book clubs and fantasy sports. A remote talent show also is in the works. Consider establishing an engagement council of employees across your organization to ensure your outreach efforts are in tune with the interests and concerns of your wider workforce. And, make sure it includes onsite and remote workers.
Organizations with engaged and satisfied employees reap substantial rewards. Not only do they enjoy better morale and long-term employee retention, but it’s also better for customers. Engaged employees are 3.3 times more likely to feel empowered to solve customer problems compared with those who are not, according to McKinsey & Company research.
4. Make it more interactive with more breaks
We took the same principle of engagement and applied it to our virtual training curriculum. While we’ve always prided ourselves on an interactive process as opposed to a dry lecture format, we had to do more to mix up the type of content we’re sharing—not just relying on PowerPoint—and getting agents to actively participate. Trainees need to be engaged and it can be a challenge to tell if they’re getting it or if they’re confused about something when you’re not in the same room. Sure, we take quizzes and assessments and do spot checks to ensure comprehension, but it’s vital to also help foster a sense of community and trust so agents feel comfortable participating and asking questions.
Smaller class sizes help. We recommend no more than 10 to 15 students in virtual training at a time. And while some training modules may be self-guided, instructor-led classes must take advantage of the group dynamic to aid in learning and team-building. Enable screen-sharing, so trainees can lead part of a session. Make sure computer cameras are turned on and, where possible, give trainers two monitors—one to see participants and one for presenting. By fostering a sense of community in training, agents are much more likely to keep learning from one another beyond training.
We also decided to build in more breaks during virtual training. People are juggling work and life in new ways right now. When you proactively find ways, even small ones, to support that balance, you’re letting new hires know your company is a safe place for them. We understand that agents have things that need their attention at home, and we’re going to make sure we do our best to work around that so they can be the best possible employees representing client brands. Employees have really appreciated that understanding—that feeling like we’ve got their back—when they need to take a few minutes to let the dog out or give the kids a snack.
5. Adapt Quality Assurance
Training isn’t the only place to innovate for virtual employees. Tapping into the versatility of our proprietary performance management technology, inTouch, our Quality team also adapted to bolster remote trainee support. Rather than a one-hour discussion of quality audits prior to certification, we’ve developed a two-part workshop that starts on day 2 of training. Introducing the Quality team and process early gives trainees more insight into how their performance will be scored and also helps them connect the dots between the material they’re learning and how to excel in different call scenarios. Prior to the second quality session, we audit calls and give detailed results and recommendations for improvement ahead of our live discussion, so trainees can come in with questions. We’re not just telling them how they’ll be scored but asking them to dig in and discuss how they would score a call. It becomes a more collaborative effort and is much more effective at helping them absorb the training material and reinforcing that the Quality team is there to help agents succeed. Rather than a simple markdown that says, “improve active listening,” we’re arming agents with specific tactics for success.
We’ve also augmented our quality reporting to include more detail on strengths, areas of opportunity and coaching tips specific to each agent. Expanding the team leaders’ field of vision has been a tremendous asset since team leads don’t have the usual in-person interaction with agents. Tracking all QA scores, notes, call recordings, agent performance and coaching documentation in one place enables us to have real-time visibility (which we can also share with clients) into an agent’s progress through training and into production.
6. Creating community
Build in time during training and/or set up separate sessions for agents to get to know one another. “Socializing” remotely might not come naturally at first, but most likely everyone has had some practice this year. And, bonding over similar experiences can have a lasting impact. Our managers have kicked off a daily series of games—puzzles, riddles and trivia—to drive engagement for our remote employees. There’s no reason to wait until training is over to start that friendly competition. Studies show that gamification can improve motivation during training and can boost productivity after an agent is in production.
Similarly, we’ve begun introducing team leaders to trainees earlier in the onboarding process. Previously, that would have happened during nesting, but we’ve found that it’s helpful to build personal connections sooner. It’s critical remote agents feel comfortable going to their team leaders for help. It’s not always possible, but we also recommend nesting in person even for teams that will operate remotely day to day. Face-to-face interaction can accelerate team rapport and help leaders pick up on physical cues that agents are frustrated or need extra guidance or tips that they might not see in a virtual setting.
Workplace culture and poor relationships with managers are two of the biggest factors in attrition. Nearly 20% of U.S. workers have left a job because of workplace culture, citing difficulty with a manager as the primary reason.
Virtual training—like its in-person counterpart—must ensure that agents are ready to handle any and all customer issues, but it’s also essential that they feel connected to your company values and are empowered to contribute to your mission.