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Transitioning Knowledge to Deliver Customer Service

A successful Knowledge Process Outsource (KPO) program requires agents who are well-versed in their client’s complex line of business. However, knowledge is just the starting point of superior KPO delivery. Agents must be adept at blending business knowledge with the right mix of customer service skills while being supported by accountable quality management. Leave any of those ingredients out and the result can fall as flat as bread baked without yeast. Knowledge alone is academic; knowledge combined with the correct mix of abilities and quality management is what makes knowledge rise to the high performance standards that KPO clients expect.

SYKES manages successful KPO programs for clients in the mortgage, auto finance, insurance, banking and health care industries using this combine approach of:

  • Specialized training with subject matter immersion taught through adult learning techniques;
  • Hiring practices that effectively screen prospects for fluency in customer service and knowledge management skills; and,
  • An operational model that is forward leaning towards accountability and continuous improvement.

Hiring Practices

To hire agents who will be in the know you have to know who to hire. We have developed specialized tools that aid us in hiring agents who are predisposed to learn and who possesses innate customer service, relationship and knowledge management skills.

These assessment tools are part of the reason we can provide positive customer experiences in our KPO practice, for they help us hire the people who are best able to use the knowledge they gain from training.

One important screening tool gauges the ability of a prospect to engage in conversation fluently. A prospective agent must demonstrate the ability to relate appropriately to the customer on the phone as they deftly handle business knowledge. Being able to recite the “right” answer but without the appropriate degree of empathy leads to an impersonal transactional exchange. Robotic responses don’t build brand relationships. To connect, an agent must be able to deliver the right responses with the appropriate degree of personality.

This is especially important in an outbound call where making that connection can be the difference between a call completion or hang-up. To check for these skills, our screening process uses roleplays, checking on agents’ abilities to use and understand American idioms and vernacular; appropriate customer service orientation and cultural touchstones.

Problem solving and multi-tasking are additional skills we screen for. Prospective employees are tested on their ability to manage complex client information. One tool, “Uberwired,” tests an applicant’s ability to search for information and multitask. Another screening test probes for an applicant’s abilities to spot common inaccuracies on financial documents, such as a check. A different test determines if an applicant has the reading comprehension necessary to respond appropriately and quickly in a customer service chat scenario.

By appropriately screening new hires for the customer service prerequisites we have a new team ready to learn the knowledge we teach them through our specialized customer experience training programs.

Specialized Training

Leadership Immersion

When we begin a new KPO project, SYKES leaders are the first to get total immersion at a client’s site. Our leaders, including team lead, manager, training and quality assurance manager, visit the client’s operation, soaking up client’s business, culture and values.

They participate in training, listen to calls and observe transactions. They live and breathe the client’s business so they become a part of it. Helping coordinate this effort is a global implementation and project office that consolidates project management, best practice and core expertise in technology, client and operational implementations, across a global, regional and local basis.

By using this process, SYKES recently completed its largest client ramp-up in 25 years for a telecommunications industry client. The ramp-up involved training nearly 2,000 agents in brick and mortar and virtual settings, across six different operations in two continents, in only four months.

Active Learning

The information and values that trainees need to know are integrated into effective adult learning modules. The modules include a walkthrough of computer systems, interactive simulations with feedback and coaching, and videos with animated content told through storytelling. We also engage the trainees in coaching and instructing each other with the assistance of a facilitator.

The emphasis is on learning by doing, not learning by passively listening. Learning complex knowledge systems is not a spectator sport. We have found that active learning leads to greater speed to proficiency. Not only do millennials prefer to learn this way, studies show that adults in general retain more information through active learning. The National Training Laboratories found that only about 5 percent of information delivered through lecture is retained, whereas 80 percent is remembered when active learning techniques are used and students assist in teaching each other. This approach has proven effective at SYKES in complicated and diverse industries from financeinsurance and healthcare.

Simulations and Gamification

To further hands-on training we provide simulations which mirror the actual work environment in a live production site. This approach enables agents to reach their target metrics more quickly. Pioneered through our Manila, Philippines facility, simulations and gamification gives the trainees practice in using knowledge while navigating through the system in real time. Trainees learn how to multitask and deftly handle arcane program information while practicing customer relations skills. The client’s specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are factored into each training module.

Gamification has been deployed successfully across multiple accounts to train agents quickly and effectively. For example, a travel industry client with large seasonal ramp-ups used SYKES’ gamification capabilities to quickly train agents in complicated hotel booking processes. We moved a key compliance metric from 74% to 100% — saving the client thousands of dollars each month.

Emotional Profiling

Because KPIs are improved through an agent’s command of the subject matter AND an ability to be conversant in culture and mood, we train our agents to use the first 15 seconds of a call to listen to the emotions of the customer. Agents are trained to identify situational context by evaluating tone and voice in relation to:

  • Are customers irate and in need of empathy?
  • Do customers mean business and want to complete the call quickly?
  • Are customers confused and want education to help them understand something?

By equipping agents to evaluate mood of the customer, they can take command of the conversation and provide service-based knowledge in a way that matches how the customer wants to be treated.

Continuous Improvement

Hiring and training provide the foundation to providing superior KPO service. But proficiency cannot be taken for granted. SYKES applies Six Sigma and Lean Sigma principles to formalize continuous process improvements. Analyzing data, gathering feedback, and learning what works and abandoning what doesn’t is the basis for our continuing improvement initiatives.

The data we gather and analysis we conduct tells us if there’s something we need to improve. This could include modifying a training course, the way we profile new hires, or a new input for leadership development. We use statistics to provide a correlation to the value of an improvement. These outcomes are what allow our clients to prioritize improvements they choose to make toward developing agents. Six Sigma principles are also what enable us to formulate recommendations to clients allowing them to make the best decisions about contact center operations based on their goals and business objectives.

For example, we used data-driven case management practices to improve open ticket handling time for a client whose case resolution time was too long. We improved case closure time by 34 percent by uncovering roadblocks, revising reporting procedures, and using lean thinking to remove waste and bottlenecks.
These practices ensure we are applying the correct knowledge and procedures to achieve results that go beyond client expectations.


Knowledge is power, the saying goes. But knowledge is only powerful if it can be used effectively. SYKES transforms a client’s knowledge into effective customer service through a combination of hiring the right people, training them effectively in the client’s business and managing for continued improvements to success.

Cherry Wong, Vice President, Philippine District Operations, SYKES. With over 15 years of contact center management experience at SYKES, Cherry is a pioneer leader of the Philippines operation team. In her current role, Cherry leads a team of 4,500 employees, managing 20 clients over 5 support sites across the country. She plays a strategic role in building operational excellence, performance delivery, client management and service innovations. Cherry is a graduate of De La Salle University with a major in business management and is a registered FINRA principal with Series 7, 63 and 24 licensure registrations.  In her free time, Cherry love to cook and watch movies in Mandarin (what better way to learn to speak it).