First Class Technology

When training is in order for new technology, cataloger/retailer OfficeMax heads to the classroom. The Itasca, IL-based office supplier, which has six call centers and 1,600-1,700 reps, has two classrooms and two dedicated trainers in each of its facilities, says vice president of customer service Mary Dunnam. Each class consists of no more than 15 reps per trainer. Each worker has a computer in front of him with access to the training materials on the company intranet while a proctor leads the class through online exercises and tests.

The structure provided by the classroom setting helps make the training of vast numbers of workers more feasible, says Dunnam. In 2001, for example, the company made use of its training program to teach all its reps how to use new customer relationship management (CRM) software. The technology allows the reps to instantly pull up on their computer screens the history of a customer’s interactions with company, ranging from calls in which a question was asked but no purchase was made to calls in which returns were facilitated. It does this by assigning each customer an identification number the first time he calls.

Readying the reps for implementation of the CRM tool meant having them get used to using the personal ID numbers to improve the quality of the interaction with customers, says Dunnam. Reps practiced looking up the “pending requests” file on each “customer” — other reps — who called in during the run-through. In addition to making sure the callers had no unfulfilled requests, the reps practiced making product suggestions based on order history.

The classrooms are made to look as much as possible like the actual call center rooms in which the reps work. “Ergonomically we want them to be structured so that they’re not just working on a folding table and a chair that’s pulled up,” Dunnam says. “The training spaces are equipped with all the latest technology so that when they take ‘orders’ we can mirror what the environment will be like at their workstation.”

When the trainees finish their program they continued to be monitored carefully, says Dunnam. Each trainee is first teamed up with a fully trained rep whom he shadows before taking calls himself. Once a rep does start to take calls on his own, each is assigned a more experienced mentor rep who is on hand during the trainee’s call center shifts.

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