E-learning Pays, Part 2

Aug 23, 2007 12:41 AM  By

This is the second in a three-part series on e-learning. Last week, we talked about how e-learning reduces and mitigates employee turnover. To read that article go to, 3 Ways E-learning Pays. This week, the authors take a look at how e-learning increases the value of the call center to the company.

Corporate leaders obsess about their customer relationships and recognize the value of keeping loyal and profitable customers. Every day, millions of customer relationships are either strengthened or injured because of the interaction a customer has with the company’s agent.

Executing strong service delivery is a competitive differentiator in an age where commoditization blurs the competitive landscape among businesses. Forward thinking executives realize that competing on price and product is not enough; delivering a compelling service experience that makes customers feel good about having a relationship with the organization is critical for winning more share of the customer’s wallet.

Our research indicates that call centers can support customer relationships by:

*Assuming additional responsibilities from other departments so that the customer experience is streamlined and the level of first contact resolution increases.

*Implementing outsourcing and virtual agent models. In the past, call centers outsourced to cut cost; today, they outsource for business reasons such as being culturally close to customers, providing excellent service 24 hours a day, and accessing customer contact and language skills. And recently, Aberdeen Research reports , that the need to increase efficiency while reducing operating costs is the number one pressure driving companies to implement a distributed agent strategy.

Having a more strategic call center is a worthy endeavor, but if managers take on more responsibility and control activity in more time zones, they can increase productivity only through leveraging technology. When managers demonstrate to chief executives that the company can cut costs in other departments and serve customers universally, it is music to the ears. But presenting a traditional whopping training budget to accomplish the transition hits a bad note. Now that e-Learning is cost effective, small and medium centers are choosing it rather than sending their training teams to Bangalore or 243 Oak Street to ensure everyone is on the same page.

The drive to “go virtual” began in large call centers that had worked their way through the limited workforce populations of their locales. With the emergence and growing adoption of Internet Protocol (IP), call center practice leaders now have an alternative to captive call centers and business process outsourcing – virtual call centers. Virtual call centers are gaining momentum in the marketplace as a viable strategic option. According to industry research from IDC, the number of US at-home agents will triple with an estimated 112,000 in 2005 to 300,000 in 2010.

There are a number of tangible advantages in migrating to a virtual call center model. First, the ability to drive down costs and increase efficiency is a huge win. Recently, a CIO was sharing with us that employing a virtual call center model saved him 40 percent in the first year in operating expenses compared to a captive model. Managers also benefit from having the ability to support an increasingly diverse and distributed workforce and improving the work/life balance for call center agents, which could be a significant driver to employee engagement. Customers of virtual call centers can easily be supported across multiple time zones, allowing organizations to employ a 24×7 approach.

So where does E-Learning fit in a Virtual Call center Model? E-learning is an ideal training approach for any organization implementing virtual call centers. At-home call center agents need the same level of emotional engagement with an organization so the need for new or ongoing training is just as important to at-home call centers agents as it is for captive or outsource call center agents.

Here is a hypothetical example.

A major catalog company intends to deploy a virtual call center model to support diverse and complex customer interactions nationally. Customer demand not only differs across time zones but certain products and services appeal to certain customer segments across time zones. The catalog company not only has to implement different customer treatment strategies nationally, but must decide how to develop, customize and deploy training material to the agents based the customer treatment strategies.

Rather than implement a “one-size fits all” training approach, the managers customize the training and deliver it through an e-Learning system that enables the virtual call center agents to have relevant conversations with their customers. The potential benefits for customizing the e-Learning content to match customer and agent need are numerous: improved brand value proposition and customer perception, increased agent loyalty, greater share of customer wallet, and improved operating expenses.

Alignment: An Intangible Return on Investment

“Alignment” is a word used so frequently in today’s strategic planning meetings that you would think creating alignment in traditionally siloed organization is easy to accomplish. Aligning a call center to an organizational strategy is difficult because traditionally the call center has been viewed as a necessary evil for most companies—it has, by design, been disconnected from enterprise strategy. An added benefit of e-Learning is how it supports alignment. It allows for the consistent delivery of uniform content. Every single employee will receive the same message in a timely manner.

Art Hall is a consultant at Atlanta-based consultancy Alvarez & Marsal and Kathryn Jackson is founder of Ocean City, NJ-based contact center consultancy Response Design Corp.

E-learning Pays, Part I

E-learning Pays, Part III