Simulation-based Training for Contact Center Agents

Using your customers as “guinea pigs” to train your call center agents isn’t an option anymore. These days, every customer counts, and retention has become paramount for every organization.

Research shows that for every customer a company loses due to poor service, it loses another two to three simply through word of mouth. That’s why every agent in your contact center must be trained to handle every customer service situation imaginable.

But with human nature being what it is, how do you train every agent — especially new and incoming agents — to handle every scenario like an expert, without doing it on a “trial and error” basis?

One solution is to use simulation-based training, which is basically a subset of e-learning and involves special software that simulates live interactions with customers. Agents get on the phone, or don a headset, and interact with computer-simulated characters that are as lifelike – and often as unpredictable – as real human beings. The software can be delivered via the Internet – or it can reside on one of your contact center’s servers.

Typically, simulation-based training is used to help agents master basic customer interaction skills – also known as soft skills. It can teach your agents how to be helpful, polite, empathetic and understanding. It can teach them how to upsell and cross-sell, as well as how to handle delicate or unpleasant situations.

The thing it can’t do is train your agents on specific products – or your brand. As you might expect, simulation-based training is more commonly used for inbound operations.

These systems are particularly useful for identifying those agents who, although they passed the initial interview, simply won’t make it once they’re live on the phones. They can also help you determine where to place new agents in the call center, in terms of level of skill or specific knowledge areas.

Typically the training sessions are delivered in a learning lab or classroom with computers, with a facilitator who explains the training and how to use the software. Very often the training software includes a pre-assessment stage that helps the facilitator determine each agent’s current skill level at the onset. Training with this type of software usually only last days as opposed to weeks.

Today’s simulation-based training systems are becoming more advanced. While most have the trainee respond to the simulated customer’s voice via multiple-choice buttons on the computer screen, some vendors are now using voice recognition to allow the agent to interact with the “customer” more naturally.

In either case these interactions are made possible through complex branching schemes, similar to interactive voice recognition (IVR), that guide an agent through a simulation.

At points during the conversation, the “customer” will try to draw the agent off track, and will then become angry or dissatisfied. If the agent stays on track, the “customer” lets them get to the root of their problem and solve it.

The complex branching is what allows the trainee to take the conversation in all different directions. Typically, when an agent goes off track, a pop-up will appear on the screen that gives the agent a tip on how to steer the call the other way.

One advantage of this software is that the contact center managers can view the results of any interaction at any given time, during or after the call. As such, these systems can serve as an accurate training assessment tool.

Managers can follow the interactions and measure how agents improve as they move through the training. Simulation-based training usually also incorporates a testing component, however this varies from system to system.

Next week we’ll look at selecting a simulation-based training system for your contact center.