The Benefits of Simulation-Based Call Center Training

Using simulation technology to train customer contact agents can improve their productivity and effectiveness, according to a research study by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The project, independently designed and conducted by Dr. Goutam Challagalla, Ph.D, and Dr. Nagesh Murthy, Ph.D, of Georgia Tech’s DuPree College of Management, compared conventional training vs. a simulation based training approach. Simulation training uses the agent’s actual working environment – telephone, computer, system and workspace – to teach agents to effectively listen, think, talk and type at the same time.

Traditional training in contact centers puts management in a Catch-22 situation, according to Challagalla: “Historically, these centers use their best agents to help train new agents, resulting in serious productivity penalties.”

The research shows that contact centers can benefit from by using simulation-based training to build new hire skills. That’s because “new agents get superior training without robbing days or weeks of productive time from experienced agents,” Challagalla says.

Challagalla and Murthy were conservative in designing the experiments. “For example, at Firm ‘A,’ the training content for both groups over eight days was identical except for 1 to 1.5 hours near the end, when one group used [simulation based program] StarPerformer and the other used role playing,” Murthy says.

Two Fortune 50 companies participated in the study and worked closely with Challagalla and Murthy to develop valid call scenario situations. Specific methodologies and metrics were designed for each company to adjust for their unique circumstances. Here’s what the results revealed.

Applied Study – Firm “A”

Simulator-based training reduces agents’ call handing time. Post-training call duration, on average, was at least 13% shorter for agents trained with StarPerformer than for the group trained with conventional role playing. Among the six call scenarios measured, the maximum mean reduction was 22% – from 215 seconds for the conventional group to 168 seconds for the simulation group – a reduction of 47 seconds.

Simulation-based training provides more uniform results when taking perceived usefulness into account.Agents from both groups who rated the usefulness of their training favorably processed calls faster after training, as opposed to agents who gave less favorable evaluations. In the StarPerformer group, those agents giving the lowest “usefulness” ratings still performed faster than agents from the traditional group who gave high marks to their training.

The simulation group handled post-training calls more pleasantly. Reps in the simulation group, who could listen to how they responded to calls, scored higher on Firm A’s “pleasantness” metric after training. This can have a positive affect on customer satisfaction.

Experimental Study – Firm “B”

The Firm “B” experiment focused on a single performance measure—accuracy. Participants in the StarPerformer group scored 8% higher correct responses than participants trained with role playing methods.

The “accuracy gap” between the two groups increased as the complexity of the call scenario increased. What’s more, the StarPerformer group gave higher ratings for usefulness than traditional training.

Kathryn E. Jackson, Ph.D, is president of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

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