Home > Columns > CRM Columns

Taking eLearning and Agent Training to the Next Level

CRMXchange

Presented By: CRMXchange



Online Education Solution Providers Offer Innovative Options that are Changing the Face of Agent Training   

It’s a conundrum that has plagued the customer service industry since its inception. Contact center agents are the front line of any business and their performance has a major impact on productivity, effectiveness and customer satisfaction. But they also have a far tougher job than most people imagine and too often, reps are hired in an expediency process and then rushed into the trenches with inadequate or ineffective training. This results in confusion and frustration which inevitably leads to an unacceptable attrition rate that dramatically increases the cost of contact center operation.   

col_1.march2016Adding to the dilemma are the challenges of providing productive educational experiences for outsourced personnel with different cultural backgrounds. But perhaps most problematical of all is creating programs that are relevant and produce the desired results for millennials raised in an environment where self-esteem is more important than achievement. Marie Ferrer, Senior Director of Training for Florida-based Great LearningWorks summed it up “The key is keeping millennials engaged”.   

While there is mixed opinion among psychologists on whether millennials (those born between 1981 and 2004) will be vital contributors to society or a factor in its downfall, there is agreement that this generation learns differently than any of their predecessors. In a culture that has been inundated with multimedia stimuli that turns everyone into a multitasker and attention spans that have been dramatically shortened, a talking head in front of a class or onscreen is not going to hold their interest.    

Forward-thinking education providers in the contact center space have taken note of this phenomenon and have developed training solutions geared to today’s changing educational needs. Among the key strategies in the mix is microlearning: personalized, bite-sized learning content in short bursts (anywhere from 90 seconds - 4 minutes), delivered several times per week, or even daily. Learning content can be accessed on a variety of devices over the Internet. “Microlearning addresses the needs of agents who must quickly absorb information and retain it while still engaged in the learning process,” said Ferrer. “It enables businesses to break down complex ideas and skills into simple learning topics. We call it Learning Bytes.”   

Great LearningWorks’ Ferrer has had an up-close and personal view of the evolution in contact center training. The position that shaped her career was a 9-year stint as Training Manager for American Express where she often walked the contact center floor to assess employee performance. “When I started, we had to physically move agents into the classroom and include the walk time as part of their schedule,” she recalls. ”It’s come a long way over the years, and while it’s widely accepted that delivering information to the desktop is a more efficient learning method, there are still a surprising number of companies who still do it the old-fashioned way by taking their staff away from their stations for sit-down classroom sessions.”   

After broadening her perspective at a major BPO, Ferrer was hired by Great Healthworks, a provider of direct-to-consumer health and wellness programs to create an internal training department, which stared out as strictly a brick-and-mortar operation. But as she began to develop content, it not only morphed into a digitally delivered program, but went far beyond its original scope. “Ultimately, it was viewed as an entity to outsource all training needs and we spun off as an independent company.”    

The program is based on what they refer to as a VAK model (visual, auditory and kinesthetic), designed to allow learners to hear, see and touch their materials to promote the achievement of learning objectives and optimal knowledge retention, providing gap analysis in cases where a significant portion of the learning group is having specific problems and can be customized to the individual. Great LearningWorks offers complete hosting services with fully managed bandwidth, storage, backup and recovery as well as global content distribution. In addition, they are able to provide HTML5 for multiple viewing options.  

col_2.march2016Axonify, based in Waterloo, Ontario (Canada) offers microlearning as part of what they term an ‘Employee Knowledge Platform’, based on the latest brain science research, gamification and adaptive learning. The solution allows employees to follow their own unique knowledge path that adapts and expands as their level of comprehension grows. “It’s an end-to-end experience that produces results. It enables employers to set day-to-day objectives and have a clear picture of both what employees know and how they perform,” said Axonify President and CEO Carol Leaman. “Via what we refer to as ‘knowledge on demand’, employees can access supplemental information and job aids whenever they need it for the job. This is pulled from a   constantly renewed repository of information that is populated by a company’s subject matter experts and crowd-sourced by its employee community.”   

Customization is one of the main advantages of Axonify’s program. ”What we offer is definitely not one-size-fits-all content,” said Leaman. “Our program can adapt questions to what agents knew or didn’t know the day before. No matter what the size of the organization, whether it’s 50 or 50,000, everyone starts the same, but then changes based on knowledge. Each individual follows their own learning path designed to provide remediation of their capabilities. Unlike most eLearning programs that stop after delivering the content, we can track individual behavior on the job and measure if desired business outcomes are being met.”   

For example, Axonify’s solution can determine if agents are giving out too many appeasements which have a financial cost to a company and determine if it’s due to lack of knowledge of procedures or policies. Axonify has multichannel capabilities and can provide detail on any interactions. The Axonify solution relies on brain science, which brings principles of brain-based learning into the corporate training environment. It operates on three core principles:   

Spaced repetition. This is the process of taking information/knowledge and repeating delivery of it over predefined intervals. Spacing is well-documented and proven to help learners retain access to memorized information. A spacing algorithm is used to shrink time between the same questions.

Retrieval Practices. Axonify leverages repeated retrieval practices to dramatically reduce knowledge gaps. Studies prove that retrieval practices (the act of quickly learning a concept, being tested on recall, quickly refreshing the knowledge, then being tested on recall again) produce superior learning to other learning methods. “It solidifies the pathways of learning,” noted Leaman.

Confidence-based assessment. Researcher Dr. James Bruno identified a link between knowledge, confidence and behavior and concluded that it’s the fusion of knowledge and confidence that leads to appropriate behavior, and empowers people to act. Confidence-Based Learning Methodology is a 2-dimensional assessment in which each question generates a metric for correctness plus confidence. This assessment model identifies what people know, and how confident they are about their knowledge. “Often people with high confidence and low knowledge are prone to making mistakes, whereas the converse are sometimes hesitant in their interactions,” said Leaman.   

One intriguing aspect of Axonify’s program is its use of gamification. “We’ve incorporated it as a foundational element within our platform, and employ 20 different game mechanics to drive participation,” said Leaman. “It may begin as mindless game play for 2-3 minutes, which we call a “slow start” but content is embedded within the game and it explodes out as it progresses. It opens the mind to learning and pushes out distraction, allowing the learner to focus on the content.” Axonify provides immediate feedback through the reinforcement of right or wrong answer selection, continuously engaging the learner. For participating and doing well, employees can accumulate points used to redeem prizes, further enhancing the overall experience    

col_3.march2016 Gamification is also one of the techniques used by Education Folder, a rising three year old cloud based software education solution designed specifically for contact centers. Its goal is to provide a structure for performance improvement, help simplify processes, engage the agents as well as provide management reporting to measure results.    

The eLearning platform includes audio and video courses in a Learning Management System (LMS), with Agent Assignment of courses and tracking, online testing for comprehension and Agent and course status reporting. It also offers Quality Assurance scoring offering the capability to perform QA audits with online delivery to agents, electronic review and acceptance as well as management reporting. “Our solution records coaching sessions and provides a line chart on agent performance,” said Education Folder CEO Craig Preston. “It can be overlaid with training quality assurance and coaching vs metrics for individualized agent evaluation.”   

Like Great LearningWorks’ Ferrer, Preston’s roots are firmly in the contact center, with a background of executive positions at major BPOs with knowledge of WFM. He launched the company  on the premise that most businesses struggle with a number of tools required to deal with agent performance and that most supervisors don’t take the time needed to improve it. “Drive-by coaching doesn’t count,” he said. “In many places, agents are simply paid to attend, and rigidly controlled with limited time slots for training. There’s a need to spend quality time to effect real change and our cloud-based solution allows for that.”   

Unlike Axonify or Great LearningWorks, which develop training content for the companies they serve, the Education Folder solution is a delivery tool for partner-developed content.  Although they do plan to incorporate content creation up the road, right now they adapt and augment their clients’ training content via a number of methods, including microlearning videos, game-based learning and a social media tool with a Facebook emulation that enables clients to post positive agent accomplishments along with birthdays, announcements and other internally meaningful posts. “We took into account all of the pain points involved in managing contact center agent performance,” said Preston, “then put the means to deal with them into one highly affordable tool that requires no IT involvement to implement.”   

While it may be a bit early to gauge the full benefits of these advanced training solutions, Education Folder, which is working with a major BPO as well as Direct Buy, reported that one team using their solution had been consistently paying penalties for service problems was able to stop completely. In another example, the sales conversion rate increased by 30% within six months of implementation. Axonify, which is involved with Telus, one of Canada’s leading communication companies among others, has heard anecdotally that associates who were learning more felt better and that attrition was consequently lower. Great LearningWorks noted that their solution was able to increase learners’ comprehension of KPIs by 11% in one implementation while contributing to an overall attrition reduction of 5.8% in another contact center using their services.