Transforming Agent Training Through Performance-Based Learning

Sep 25, 2007 7:23 PM  By

With the market demanding shorter time-to-proficiency for customer and technical support staff, customer care organizations can no longer afford a lengthy ramp-up period for agents.

An approach called “performance-based learning” provides companies with a better alternative to traditional, academic style training. PBL improves and accelerates the learning experience, thereby shortening time-to-proficiency, which results in training cost reductions, quicker revenue capture, improved agent satisfaction, and increased longevity on the job.

PBL connects knowledge to real-world performance with an engaging classroom environment. The curriculum blends several learning delivery methods, including instructor-led training, e-learning, simulation, and performance support systems. During training sessions, students learn and use skills needed to ensure their success on the job. Through role-playing, new hires are quickly engaged in relevant job content and concepts, and the learning curve of each student is better addressed.

Agents are empowered to do a great job from Day 1, without the steep “on the job” learning curve, that can affect contact center performance and revenue streams. The cost of training itself plummets. Agents start work with the skill sets, knowledge, and confidence to boost customer service levels and quickly expedite and increase revenue through effective cross-selling and up-selling.

PBL helps companies create, sustain, and improve contact center capacity. The strategy helps companies overcome the typical “new hire ramp” by ensuring a continuum of proficient contact center agents. It empowers the company to meet business priorities by focusing agents on learning the customer care practice, not just applications. As it builds an adaptive agent population, improving the flexibility of agents – and trainers, too – to adapt readily to business priorities.

How does PBL work, and what is the roadmap for agent transformation? Successful PBL hinges on a comprehensive methodology. Among the leading methodologies is a proven, five-part system called “ADDIE” – analysis, design, develop, implement, and evaluate. Each aspect of ADDIE is essential to the success of the program:

Analysis presents a detailed picture of the current training scenario, based on situation assessment, performance needs assessment, task analysis, and technical assessment. Analysis tells management what they face today, crystallizes needs and goals, and assesses whether current systems and processes are adequate.

The design phase addresses the components of the new training solution: scope and sequence of areas such as content outline, learning objectives, delivery approach, evaluation method and course duration; and the solution blueprint, which takes into account the outcome from the phase 1 evaluation, and the technical environment. Template customization and selection lays out specialized e-learning exercises, simulations and training database exercises, while scripting/content writing provides tailored materials for each course module.

Development gives form to the design components, for the scripting and authoring of e-learning content, and the creation of instructor-led materials.

Implementation begins with “training the trainer,” and provides floor support for rollout of the new training solution, handling change management, and communications during the transition.

Evaluation assesses the solution via automated testing to get practical feedback on learner reaction, organizational impact, and return on investment.

Based on initial experience with several Fortune 500 enterprises and other large organizations, PBL and agent transformation have a cascading effect, driving significant improvements in training that, in turn, materially benefit contact center performance, customer satisfaction, and the enterprise as a whole.

The first to benefit are the contact center and agents themselves. Training time declines. Quality, first call resolution, and average handle time all improve. Most eye-catching are the dramatic gains in time to proficiency, graduation rates, and 60-day attrition rates. The benefits add up quickly. Forecasts project operating expense reductions of $1200 per agent and $10 per training hour as a direct result of PBL and agent transformation in several companies where it has been initiated.

Agents that are better prepared are more comfortable with the work and more likely to stay with the company. That is why transforming contact center training will reduce costs and improve agent performance and retention and that’s why companies should look to fundamentally transform – rather than incrementally improve – agent training.

Marianne Langlois is vice president of Convergys Learning Solutions, a customer care services and human resources services provider.