Highly Successful Organizations Schedule "Me Time" for Professional Development

When your business measures the productivity of your call centers and inside sales teams, it just might be leaving out one of the most important factors.

We’ve found the metrics that companies use often revolve exclusively around how much time team members spend on the phone. But surprising as it may sound, time they spend off the phone—in coaching, self-reflection, and professional development—can ultimately lead to the greatest spikes in their success rates.

How can that be? Let’s start with analysis of what this work really entails.

High-Skilled Work

“Those who think of call center employees as low-skill labor have never worked in a call center,” elearningindustry.com explains. “It’s nothing of the sort. It’s a demanding line of work, where success lies in a combination of skills.” Those skills include problem-solving, empathy, communication and more.

To do a great job, these hard-working employees need to hone their knowledge and skills. And for that to happen, they need time. So learning needs to be a standard part of the workday.

As an executive from Vorsight explained in describing why his company gives employees time for professional development, “We all share our calls in ExecVision and learn from each other. Learning from call recordings is part of Vorsight’s culture. I’ve gotten a lot better and made more money because of it.”

Improved conversion rates are only one way that businesses benefit from carving out time for professional growth. There’s also another big impact on the bottom line.

Recruitment and Retention

These kinds of businesses often have very high turnover. Research has found that “the average annual turnover rate for agents in U.S. contact centers ranges between 30-45 percent, which is more than double the average for all occupations in the U.S.,” dailypay reports.

All that attrition is very expensive. “Each new agent hire is estimated to cost the contact center $10,000 to $20,000 in training, direct recruiting costs, and lost productivity during ramp up,” McKinsey reports. “Companies that can keep service agents on the job longer not only reduce operating costs but also improve customer satisfaction,” McKinsey adds.

Pay and benefits often aren’t enough to retain these workers. They want to feel engaged in their work. And one of the most important ways to keep employees engaged is through career development.

This helps explain why 77% of companies say mentoring programs are effective in increasing employee retention, and 35% of workers who don’t experience mentoring start looking for another job.

The desire for learning is especially strong among younger workers. As Gallup puts it, “millennials want jobs to be development opportunities.” And these younger workers make up an especially large share of call center workers. One call center study found the average age is 30, and even younger among subcontractors and financial service centers.

'Me Time' For Self-review and Self-coaching

Training and development don’t have to involve classrooms or 1:1 coaching sessions. Some of the best and most powerful learning experiences are self-directed.

Carole Mahoney, a sales coach who joined us on the Cut the Fluff Call Camp, recommends that people listen back to their own calls and identify what they can improve before they ask their managers for help with a skill. And with a wide variety of free resources for learning and knowledge available at people’s fingertips, workers will often be able to find ideas, advice, and answers they need when they need them, freeing up leaders to focus on other tasks.

In fact, ExecVision Co-Founder Steve Richard says the best practice a sales coaching program begins with each representative identifying two of their own calls—one in which they struggled, and one that they believe went well. The rep pulls up the recordings, listens, and considers what worked and what did not. “Self-reflection and self-discovery, even for 10 minutes a week, makes an enormous difference,” Richard says.

Then comes time with managers, who provide helpful feedback. And sometimes, group events can be useful as part of the learning process as well.

For example, we’ve found that “call of the month” contests can work wonders. These are great opportunities for BDAs to listen to recordings of their own and others’ calls, discuss them and learn from them. The winning calls then go into a folder that others, including new hires, can listen to and identify keys to success.

Scheduling and Prioritizing

You may think that while this idea sounds well and good, there’s a big problem. Your managers are already under pressure to meet KPIs like C-SAT and quota attainment. The last thing they’ll want is for their employees to spend less time making calls.

This concern is understandable. That’s why it’s up to top executives to make the priority clear.

In the Harvard Business Review, a CRO recommended that the leadership provide “top-level guidance and metrics.” Let managers know how much time they expect employees to spend learning during work hours. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, for example, has stated that workers should spend five to 10 hours a week in online learning.

Also, it helps for executives to include attrition levels as a measure of productivity. That way at the end of each year, managers are judged not just on how many calls and conversions their teams made, but also how much money they saved the company by holding onto good employees.

So while learning does require an investment of time, the reward is tremendous: a workforce full of sellers who are constantly upping their game, increasing their success rates, and making (or even beating) their quotas.

Does your organization do a good job of driving learning and development? Share your thoughts in the comments.