E-Learning is an excellent and increasingly sophisticated tool to teach agents valuable new skills and upgrade their proficiencies and to educate them about new product and services, equipment and procedures. The method gives personnel opportunities to practice at their own pace so that they can bring up their own knowledge and skills to what is expected of them, and beyond.
From a performance standpoint, e-learning delivers this training without requiring agents to leave their desks, thereby making them available to handle more contacts; they can be taught during slack periods. e-Learning is therefore also invaluable in training home-based and informal agents so that they do not need to travel into the centers, which may be hundreds of miles from their homes.
e-Learning is not, however, the universal answer to contact center training needs. There are strong motivational, inspirational, informational, reinforcement, and feedback value in live interactions both in-person and through conference calls or webcasts.
For contact centers, the challenge is deciding when and how best to apply e-learning. This article offers general insights on e-Learning in the contact center space. TMCNet will have a follow-up article with views on technology and on applying e-learning to training supervisors, home agents, and ‘CRM agents': those that answer the complex calls from customers who have been through self-service solutions.
Mark Brodsky, President and CEO, Ulysses Learning
e-Learning can be used effectively to conduct initial, update, and reinforcement training to develop the contact center agent's knowledge and skill in areas ranging from the company's products, services, policies, procedures, technology and operating systems. e-Learning that's properly designed and implemented is also an effective training method for developing an agent's core and advanced customer conversation skills required to optimally handle sales and service calls as well as develop the essential skills coaches need to monitor, evaluate, and provide coaching to their agents.
e-Learning used by itself is typically less suited for training in areas that may be radically new, involve an emotional component, or may be potentially controversial for the organization. An example would be training agents on a new, more restrictive policy on how customer returns or claims will be handled and customer reaction is anticipated to be negative. In this example, it would be far more effective for agents to be involved in a facilitated training session to raise questions and discuss their concerns along with sharing ideas on ways to implement this new policy and mitigate any negative customer reactions.
Yes, e-Learning is increasingly displacing face-to-face training because: the advancement of the internet; the general population is far more computer-savvy; and the promise that this method will provide training at greater speed, consistency, and cost-effectiveness than possible through face-to-face training. This trend is both good and bad. It's good when e-Learning is the appropriate learning method given the training objective. It's bad when the intent is to capitalize only on e-Learning's speed and cost-effectiveness regardless if it's the right method to accomplish the training objective at hand. Sadly to say, we see this happening in some contact centers today.
Though e-Learning continues to replace face-to-face learning, face-to-face learning is not going away, nor should it. We've done extensive research in contact centers over the years determining which training methods are right for measurably improving service, sales and coaching skills. To that end, [Call Out] we've found the optimum mix to be 80 percent simulation-based e-Learning thoughtfully blended with facilitation, coaching, and performance improvement consulting.
It's important to note that many contact centers might be looking in the wrong places when it comes to improving their service and sales results regardless if they're using e-Learning or other training methods.
The fact is that agents are often trained on their company's products, services, policies, procedures, and technology but they often fall short on knowing what to do with all that information when they're handling a call attempting to solve a customer's problem.
Agents can dramatically improve their proficiency by developing core customer service skills including knowing how to: take control of the call no matter what the customer emotion; quickly and effectively get to the root of the customer's problem by asking the right questions and listening; resolve the problem within the company's policies and procedures; ensure the customer accepts and feels good about the solution; and do all that in one customer contact! Through a combination of simulation-based e-Learning blended with other applicable learning methods, agents can develop these core skills.
The role of the supervisor is among the most important factors that will determine if the e-Learning initiative results in sustainable performance improvement over the long-term versus just a short-lived training event. And the most important role for the supervisor is their ongoing call monitoring and coaching of the agent's use of the newly acquired skills.
With regard to call monitoring after training, it's worth noting that many supervisors fall into the trap of looking for the agent's exact, literal use of the newly learned words or call flow, which may actually sub-optimize the learning and customer experience. Instead, focus should be on the agent's intuitive interpretation of the customer experience, which will have the most positive impact.
And the final key is that supervisors need to provide coaching to agents both immediately following the training and over time to ensure the skills are applied and developed over time. A matter of fact, contact center supervisors should be spending at least 50 percent or more of their time coaching their agents
If I was forced to choose between great e-Learning or great coaching, I'd choose great coaching every time because that is the key to sustainable learning and performance results.
With all the focus on the e-Learning technology, its real effectiveness will be gauged by only one determinant – the strength of its practical content! Before spending a dollar on any e-Learning application, contact center executives need to ask, "Is the learning content validated and proven to bring about the desired performance improvement results?" If the answer isn't definitive, look elsewhere because the odds are good that the e-Learning won't be useful or used!
When seeking validated e-Learning, you need to look for: practical content and behavioral models that have been researched, analyzed, and validated using a large contact center population; content that is based on tested "best-practices"; and again, the use and blend of other applicable training methodologies that have been validated through extensive research and client results.
INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO West 2008 — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year — concluded Thursday in Los Angeles, California. Thousands of attendees flocked to the event for three valuable days of exhibits, conferences and networking opportunities. Mark your calendar now for ITEXPO East 2009, February 2-4, 2009, in sunny Miami, Florida.
Brendan B. Read is TMCnet�s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan�s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Tim Gray