Active Learning Gets Agents to Lean Forward into Higher Performance
July 06, 2015
July 06, 2015
Author: Jesper Sjogren, Director, Strategy and Marketing
Successfully training customer service agents is based on the agent’s ability to retain and use the knowledge transferred to them during the training. Agent training must go beyond the need to understand a concept to developing the ability to solve customers’ problems and acclimate to the company’s culture. Traditional training programs are classroom and lecture-based, where the teacher tells the agents the information they should know, often supported by a slide deck. Putting the information into practice, as agents will be required to do when they move from learning to production is allocated only a small period of time.
Contact center operations must get beyond the idea that content is training. Content is merely information, not training or learning. Reading or hearing about something doesn’t bring it to life unless you experience it. Active learning is about facilitating job-related activity, not pushing content.
Research has proven that this allocation should be “flipped” to move the emphasis from the teacher telling to the learner doing. In How the Brain Learns, author Dr. David Sousa, an educational neuroscientist, cites research about the percentage of learning that students can recall after 24 hours. It was found that the type of learning had an impact on retention. Verbal processing returned the lowest retention rates with 2% for lectures and 4% for reading. Verbal plus visual learning showed improvements with 7% retention from audio visual methods, 11% from demonstrations, and 18% for students who participated in discussion groups. But, by far the highest percentage of recall was found in students who learned by doing (27%) and by putting the knowledge to work immediately by teaching it to others (31%).
That traditional classroom learning is passive for the agents can be one reason that retention is so low. It can also be a contributor to the customer service agent attrition level that consistently hovers around 30%. This can be partly due to agents not being fully engaged in practicing and perfecting the skills they will use in production, increasing the stress and difficulty they have in performing their jobs.
Transitioning instructor-led training to an active learning approach that includes Lean Forward participation for learners can help to get agents into production faster and with higher competency.
“Sykes new lean-forward pedagogy + learner centered Learning Management System (LMS) drives the “flipped classroom” that demonstrates tremendous increases in program outcome. Reason for using these proprietary technologies and adopting these design principals is that it drives better learning outcomes and production performance”
John Kruper – Sykes Chief Learning Officer
Reimagine Agent Training
Rather than starting the training by deluging the agents with information to absorb, allow them to begin by solving a problem independently. The agents will immediately “lean forward” into the learning to discover what they need to know to do so by interacting with resources provided that engage them with stories about the task, technology walkthroughs and other activities. In addition to the resources, agents learn to solve the problem by interacting with sophisticated simulations that provide feedback and coaching.
Once the learners have worked through the problem independently, the class comes together to discuss the assignment. The instructor becomes a facilitator, asking the agents to share what they have learned. By enabling agent-driven discussions, the facilitator can assess what each agent has learned and understand who may need more guidance for putting the learning into practice. The facilitator also asks questions of each learner by name to hold them accountable and monitor their progress based on their answers.
The accountability process is built into active learning, yet it also allows for the agents to discover for themselves why what they’re learning is important for the job they will be performing and show that they know. Peer-to-peer exchanges of information along the way can help the agents cooperatively find the answers. Lean Forward learning is about creating a simulated, realistic, and safe environment where learners can try, make mistakes, ask questions, receive genuine and specific feedback, reflect, try again, and then repeat this process as they reach proficiency. The dynamic for learning is shifted in a big way as training is no longer about being present but being participatory.
Incorporate Culture into Agent Training
Along with teaching new agents the skills they need to serve your customers, you’ll also want them to represent your company or brand culture to provide a seamless and consistent customer experience. While you can use a traditional classroom setting to introduce the company’s mission, brand and history, it’s also an imperative that agents understand the customers they will serve.
Understanding customers must go beyond just learning about the types of problems and complaints they may state over the phone when they place a service call. To develop their soft skills, agents need to understand a richer background about the types of customers they will be helping. By using real stories about customers and bringing them to life through video, including anecdotes shared by colleagues, new agents can learn how to be sincerely engaged with the person on the other side of the call.
By expanding the insights shared to include perspectives across the company, new agents develop a well-rounded and broader base of knowledge to work from than if they learned about the culture in a traditional classroom where one teacher shares his or her perspective with the class. This type of immersion into the culture of your company will help agents to be more responsive and agile when new situations arise.
Active Learning is the Path to Higher Customer Satisfaction
Studies show that adult learners retain more information in a hands-on environment. By reimagining mundane training materials into rich, lean-forward activities, the ways and pace at which agents learn can be transformed. Everyone learns at a different pace, active learning puts the learning experience into the hands of the learner versus the traditional trainer-led classroom. By creating training that both instructs and delights new agents, they will become more engaged, highly productive and self-sufficient. The impact of highly-engaged agents on your contact center’s operational performance will be reflected by increased customer satisfaction.