Training Talks—How to Hire, Train, and Retain Reps: A Chat with Mike Aoki

At Lessonly, we’ve helped hundreds of teams across the globe learn, practice, and Do Better Work. We found that the best teams examine their training efforts through six key phases: Assess, Plan, Build, Learn, Practice, and Perform. That’s why we decided to create Lessonly’s Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training.

The Better Work Guide features tips and advice from industry experts and we love what they had to say. This post of Training Talks features the entire conversation between Lessonly’s VP of Marketing with Mike Aoki, President of Reflective Keynotes. Mike had great tips for customer service leaders as they look to hire, train, and retain the best reps in the business. Read on for more!

Mike: Hey, Kyle, it’s Mike.

Kyle: Hey, Mike. How are you doing?

Mike: Good. How are you doing?

Kyle: I am doing great. Thank you so much for taking the time. Let’s start with what you see are the challenges for customer service or support teams and let’s parse it out into two sections. Number one, what do you see the challenges now and what do you see the challenges being in the future?

Mike: The biggest challenges I’m hearing the most are about are how to integrate artificial intelligence or AI in the contact center. People are mystified by AI, but the practical application of it is to build the proper algorithms so we can anticipate what customers are asking for and then how to properly address each one of those things.

For example, with chatbots, if a customer goes to a website and types a certain question, can the chatbot analyze it? Then, does it have the right decision tree that’s been mapped out by humans to program it? Additionally, it has to be able to respond back to a customer’s initial response.

Chatbots require a lot of research and a lot of work in terms of how to anticipate client responses and how to be able to write the proper responses. All of that has to be done in the context of being able to respond very, very quickly in a live chat scenario. It just really makes a lot of challenges right now for the contact center.

Another challenge is really high expectations from customers. Customers are much more demanding than they were even two years ago. Their expectations are higher. They are much more likely to go and churn to go somewhere else. The expectation and the demands are so much higher right now in terms of how people have to respond back.

“That puts a lot of pressure on customer service teams to be able to help and satisfy customer needs.”

— Mike Aoki

Customers also seem more likely to bully or threaten to leave if they don’t get their way. In comparison to 5 years ago, we’re hearing a lot more of, “If you don’t give me this, I will leave.” Customers want credits, discounts, and more.

Now we have a perfect storm of higher expectations and demands from customers. Then, we’re trying to go and get easier, procedural questions to be diverted to AI. What it will mean is that what’s left for reps are the complex, tough, or unusual questions. So, you’ll see scenarios where 80% of those common inquiries are taken care of by AI bots or self-service. What will be left becomes that 20% of really tough, complex questions that are one-off situations. It’s going to increase the demands of the agents and customer service reps’ skills and ability.

See more customer service training tips from Mike and 15 other industry experts. Check out The Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training.

Kyle: For sure. That’s a great segue into the next question. I think that training and enablement help reps meet those increasing demands. Obviously, you have to hire great people first and the training has to also be great. If you hire terrible people and the training is great, it doesn’t matter. What are your tips for customer service leaders on how to best enable their team to meet technological, skills, and training challenges?

Mike: Well, you’re right about that. I agree with both parts of that. As you mentioned, the first step is going to be to hire better people. Leaders need to hire reps with more for emotional intelligence and complex, analytical skills. Because again, with those easy questions being done by AI bots, it’s going to leave all the tough ones for the reps. So they’re going to have to really increase both in terms of the skill level they hire for and the compensations they’re going to pay. That’s one tip. On the training side of things, leaders need to focus more on emotional intelligence, empathy skills, the ability to diffuse irate customers, and build loyalty.

It’s interesting when I look at a lot of current new hire programs. Most of them spend 90% or more of their time focusing on how to use the system, product knowledge, and procedural knowledge. The other 10% focuses on actual soft skills and how to relate to people.

That balance is going to have to change. It’s not enough just to know how to go and do a process on the system on the computer. It’s important to know how to speak with customers, listen to them, and how to really make them feel good and appreciated. Those things have to be in new hire training, and it has to be offered through continuous learning.

Kyle: Yeah, for sure. If you were consulting with a company where they say, “You know what, we have online and in-person training, but it’s pretty much one time.” What would be the steps you would guide them on to get them into a continuous training type mindset?

Mike: That’s a great question. It really has to come from the leadership team. One-time training is like going to the gym once and then saying you’re physically fit, right? You have to go every day at least three times a week to the gym to keep it up. It’s true with training as well.

“Training can’t be a one-time event. It has to be reinforced through different kinds of online and in-person training.”

— Mike Aoki

I’ve found that the leadership team is the biggest hurdle. Reps want the training and reinforcement. But for the leadership team, they think that bringing either in-house our outside training help for one day is the answer. They don’t understand the fact that training has to be reinforced continuously.

I’ve also noticed that from a leadership perspective, that there is a difference between efficiency metrics (average handle time, average speed of answer) and effectiveness measurements (customer satisfaction surveys, net promoter scores). It’s important for leaders to look at both types of metrics when it comes to training, not just the efficiency stats.

How does your team measure performance? Read The Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training for KPIs and metrics to consider.

Kyle: If you’re talking to a new customer service leader, what are some of the tips that you would give them when it comes to onboarding and decreasing employee churn that you have given other people that have worked?

Mike: One of the key things is to remember the intention of onboarding and training. For a lot of people, the intention is simply to go and train a new employee on processes, procedures, and product knowledge. Some companies basically view onboarding as a way to throw training at new teammates. There has to be better intention to make sure onboarding really is valuable to a new person so they know they’re joining a really great company.

A classic example that most of us have experienced is when we started at a new job and then spent half the day filling out human resource forms. That was then followed up with a history lesson of the company and policy announcements. That makes the first day boring and it’s a very common thing.

Instead, companies need to plan onboarding that features actual customers and teammates that’s engaging. When we look at the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training a new employee, it’s expensive to love them. There is definitely that kind of turnover in call centers. So, by having a proactive employee retention plan that features a strong onboarding program, there’s a better chance of retention.

Kyle: That’s great. Do you have anything else you’d want to add?

Mike: I think right now one of the biggest industry challenges is going to be retaining really great agents down the line. As we spoke about, the demands are becoming higher and it’s going to a tougher and more emotionally challenging job. Retaining the best agents and keeping them happy and productive is going to be really important. I also think that the really good places, the “best places to work” companies do a great job of focusing on that now.

Unfortunately, other places still go by an old training model where all of the agents can do the basics with three months. Then, they become a master within their first year. But now, with the complexity of products and interactions, it may take a couple of years before reps are really experts who know how to deal with different customers. Companies need to invest in that longer ramp-up time if they want to retain great employees.

Do Better Work with Lessonly’s Customer Service Training Guide

Customer service matters more than ever. Don’t miss your chance to get insights, best practices, and tangible steps to Do Better Work. Read The Better Work Guide to Customer Service Training and get started today.

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