Once thought to be too expensive for the call center, e-learning is hot. Through the Web, E-learning allows your customer service reps to brush up on customer service skills or training between calls and shifts. This is the first in a three-part series on the value of e-learning.
Olivia has managed the Merritt Catalog Care Center since 1997, and she has never been busier. Her vice president recently acquired new responsibilities for the center’s 130 agents—they are now authorized to approve and adjust credits that had been handled by other departments. Three of her best agents moved out of state, and she is trying to keep them on the payroll working from home.
She leads an improvement team coordinating with another department’s call center to standardize performance and provide a consistent customer experience. Turnover and company growth have required her to hire a second dedicated trainer just to keep everyone up to speed. No wonder that when someone asks her about E-learning, she doesn’t have time to listen.
Three or four years ago, she flirted briefly with e-learning. She acquired some licenses to test a system, but it had too many bells and whistles; it failed to load on the computers. The IT guys stripped it of its sound and interactivity, and, for a few months, agents were trained on a program that was less like “e-learning” and more like “e-reading.”
Until 2007, e-learning was too complex and pricey for the small and medium call center market; modules were too long and not relevant to the call center. And program modifications seemed to require a Ph.D. in engineering and instructional design.
Gartner, the IT analysis group, says: “The e-learning market is poised for explosive growth.” To their credit, managers who we have worked with have been translating the benefits e-learning into hard-dollar savings. Training is a difficult budget item to defend, and is typically one of the first items to be cut. Even though most companies say they have a customer experience strategy, they continue to tighten their belts. Executives ask how an initiative will affect the company’s bottom line. The market is trying to get Olivia’s attention to tell her about a new wave of e-learning that has reached the shore. It takes advantage of voice-over Internet protocol VOIP and applications as fundamental as Microsoft PowerPoint. Developers have finally created affordable, easy-to-use, entertaining, and cost-effective systems that are scalable for the smaller center.
E-learning provides measurable returns in reducing and mitigating employee turnover, helping a center increase its value, and reducing day-to-day management expenses.
Call centers grapple with astronomical employee turnover—more than 40% annually . This level leads to decreases in employee morale and unsatisfactory customer experiences. Organizations know that if they invest more in training they can lower their annual turnover. Studies show that effective training can mitigate the damage caused through attrition by:
- Reducing the time necessary to train new employees; and
- Increasing tenure through improvements in employee morale.
Managers can calculate the cost of training an individual agent by summing the cost of the training resources, cost of facilities (allocated or leased), cost of materials, cost of predeveloped training; and new hire labor costs.
Call center agents want to succeed; they want to handle their customer interactions well. As former call center agents, we know that, regardless of our hectic days, we wanted to provide the best service for the customers we served and for the organization we worked for. As former call center practice leaders, we know first-hand that most call center agents feel the same way. One of the reasons call center turnover is so high and many agents are beleaguered is because they are not receiving the proper capabilities that will make them “successful.”
Success for a call center agent can be interpreted in a variety of ways: for some, it is career path from call center agent to director; for others, it is the acknowledgement by management of their loyalty and dedication. Regardless of the reasons, call center managers should understand that call center agents have basic needs to fulfill beyond compensation and incentives; beyond the organization’s need to do more with less.
Ensuring that agents are not experiencing burnout can help the call center to experience more satisfied customers and happier agents. It can even reduce call volume because fresh, responsive agents are more willing to serve the customer completely so he or she will not have to call back.
Today’s agents are more accustomed to learning online than they have been in the past. Many have engaged in university-based distance learning. They may become frustrated with too many traditional classes, preferring the pace of electronic modules.
Many companies and centers use university tuition as a perk to keep their employees engaged; they realize that people have become lifetime learners. As e-learning becomes embedded in the center, management teams can expand their offerings to enrichment classes and certification programs that employees will treasure, for example, executive education, leadership training, courses in Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA, and many others.
Art Hall is a consultant at Atlanta-based consultancy Alvarez & Marsal and Kathryn Jackson, Ph.D. is founder of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corporation