There are many differences between a physical and virtual contact center. The training process is one of them. Some contact center operations require virtual agents to make the trip to the facility to do their training on site. There are a number of reasons for this, but the one most often mentioned revolves around making virtual agents team players by immersing them with the physical center team. Another is the perspective that the company will have more control over the agents if they train them onsite.
Unfortunately, this not only increases costs and limits the talent pool from a location perspective, but it trains them in an environment in which they do not work. Instead of a hybrid approach to a virtual contact center, consider the benefits to be gained from creating a virtually comfortable team by keeping their experience 100% virtual—from hire through training to working. After all, learning is a function of the activity, context, and culture in which it occurs.
By incorporating the best techniques for adult e-learning that’s social, hands-on, and focused on problem solving, the ramp time for virtual agents can be both streamlined and more effective.
5 Must Dos for Effective Virtual Training:
- Develop a multi-modal curriculum. Different people learn better through different mediums. Some may prefer to watch an instructive video; others may prefer to read a narrative that explains the tasks they will perform and the approaches to doing so. Yet, still others may learn better by reviewing the coursework in an online question and answer chat with their peers and trainer. A combination of live session presented in a webinar fashion with interactive testing and tools and additional materials and exercises provided in a variety of formats can not only accelerate training, but also provide continuing self-service education as agents return to improve upon skills based on the feedback about their work.
- Employ problem-based instruction. People learn faster by doing than by observing. Create problem-based scenarios representative of what agents will encounter on the job and put them to work solving those problems. Tasks should require agents to create a genuine work product and synthesize information. Feedback loops are extremely important to evolve the critical thinking process your virtual agents apply to problem solving. Learning a new skill needs practice accompanied by coaching and correction by an expert.
- Provide social learning opportunities. From conference calls for discussions, to message and discussion boards, to online chat and social networking “water coolers,” your virtual team will find plenty of collaboration opportunities when working from home. In fact, some agents report that there’s so much to do and so many tools and coaching support available that a feeling of isolation never happens. Additionally, it’s important to help virtual agents to help each other by answering questions and sharing insights that can make the difference at the moment of issue resolution.
- Enforce live, hands-on training. Role playing in a physical classroom environment can also be played out in a virtual training environment. All agents must get used to performing the tasks of their jobs. This is especially critical when the agent serves as the “face” of your company and is judged by the type of experience they deliver successfully to each customer in resolution of each issue. Requiring agents to work collaboratively in teams to collectively solve a problem through conversation and/or negotiation has shown to be very effective in an e-learning environment.
- Evaluate performance using a blended approach. Learning must be reinforced to develop and environment of continuous performance improvements. An integrated learning management system helps to accomplish this, as well as to track progress and participation. It can also serve as a tool to improve agent retention by keeping them involved and focused on honing their skills. This is not an “ingest the information and pass an exam” approach that treats skills training as a once-and-done effort. For best results, evaluate employee performance based on the whole picture, including individual learner progress and class participation.
Virtual training is a science in and of itself. The training used in a physical classroom setting will not translate directly to a virtual environment with the same effectiveness. Chances are that due to the need for self-directed engagement, it will need to be even more active than a physical classroom. Ensure that your outsourced virtual contact center provider has the expertise and e-learning capability to transition agents from initial hire to full productivity. The success of your virtual contact center will be a reflection of the training and coaching processes put into practice.
Navigating Home-Based Agent Services
“The growth of home-based outsourced agents as a business model of choice has been amazing over the past five years, and shows no sign of abating. The vendors that will succeed in this space will be those that are capable of demonstrating long-term value along with competitive pricing. This was borne out in Ovum’s most recent Decision Matrix, in which SYKES was ranked in our leadership category of firms that provide outsourced virtual agents. The competition was stiff, but SYKES’ legacy in this space, coupled with its ability to use home agents across multiple verticals and in both traditional and emerging functions propelled them to the top tier category. It is clear that home-based agent services in one of SYKES’ strongest competitive differentiators.”
–Peter Ryan, Principal Analyst, Ovum