Training new customer service reps to use a CRM system quickly is
crucial not just to a contact center or customer service effort, but to
the entire company, as well. Often, a service rep is the first contact
for new customers, or for existing customers who have problems with a
product or service.
Having a new rep stumble through an unfamiliar system is the last thing
a call center manager wants to see or hear. So, what can be done to
help newbie users master your CRM system?
Tip #1: Get Real
In some training sessions, service reps go through standard scenarios
involving slightly disgruntled customers, or listening to canned
responses. But Gartner analyst Michael Maoz thinks it’s time for
companies to get real.
"You see these very highly scripted scenarios, but what would
help more is for a rep to see a day in the life of a customer," he
says. For instance, a rep could go through a session where the customer
looks for information on the Web site, doesn’t find it, and then gets
frustrated trying to navigate the automated voice response system.
"By the time they get to the rep, the customer is irritated,
and now the rep knows why," says Maoz. "Understanding the customer will
help reps understand the system and what information needs to be
More realistic scenarios have significantly cut the time that
it takes for an agent to learn and to do the job, and it streamlines
functionality, Maoz says.
Tip #2: Invest Upfront
Another way to help service reps is to hire the right reps in the first
place, Maoz adds, and to pay them well once they emerge from training.
Many companies are turning to reps who want to work from home
or in small call centers close to their homes. Often though, companies
pay remote reps lower wages than those in a centralized office.
Also, Maoz has found that the training investment for remote
reps and telecommuters is usually less than for others in the industry.
"Companies give lip service to the issue and say they want to
improve customer service, but budgets for training and salaries remain
static," Maoz notes. "If you hire the least expensive people you can
find, it’s like hiring the cheapest brain surgeon. Do you really want
to cut costs for something so important?"
Tip #3: Avoid Overload
One of the biggest difficulties in getting new reps trained
quickly is that CRM applications have a number of different
communication types that need to be learned, such as email, phone, and
Rather than trying to get a rep to learn all of them, it’s better
to focus on one type and then build from there. For example, teaching a
new rep how to handle phone calls first can lead later to folding in
email and other communication platforms.
"If you try to throw too many communication types at them, an
agent ends up being average at all of them," says Mike Betzer, vice
president of service CRM at Oracle. "Let these guys digest the stuff as
Also, Betzer suggests doing away with any time restrictions on
phone calls. Not only does unlimited time make an agent more relaxed
and helpful, but a customer will leave the call feeling happy.
"Let the customer get off the phone and be thrilled," he says.
"It’s easier to retain a customer than a get a new one, so teach the
rep to solve their problem, not just handle the call."
Tip #4: Learn from Your Pros and Your Newbies
For companies that have only recently implemented CRM and have
to get all their service reps up to speed at the same time, the
training challenges can seem especially daunting.
One of the keys to streamlining training is to garner user
acceptance, says Tim Bolte, product manager for MySAP. That, he says,
can be done more effectively by emphasizing easy-to-use features and
tweaking the application as opposed to delivering hour after hour of
classroom or online education.
A user interface that is specifically designed for call center
agents is helpful, and Bolte notes that managers should observe how new
hires as well as established employees are using the program. Those
observations can be particularly helpful for identifying changes to
help optimize the system. If the application can be modified to better
meet user needs, rather than asking users to learn a new set of
behaviors, it can facilitate them using the system faster and more
Tip #5: As Always, Keep It Simple
Bolte points out that at many companies, service reps tend to
write down notes on pads of paper, jotting customer names or
information as they jump between screens. Those notes, which could
contain valuable data, are often thrown out at the end of the day
instead of being input to a CRM application. Rather than asking reps to
log in the info, however, it would be more efficient to simply include
a digital notepad in the software that automatically captures the
"The big thing is to have a unified agent desktop that is geared
toward how the agents work," says Bolte. "For instance, you could have
a little electronic business card in the corner of the screen that has
a customer’s name so a rep doesn’t have to write it down when they
change screens. Little things like that can go a long way toward
helping a rep learn a system fast."
After the application has been tweaked, Bolte suggests that
processes should be examined again for minor changes that could help
service reps. "You should be able to explain why a process is designed
the way that it is," he says. "When you combine the rollout of design
with processes, it creates an integrative approach that’s very