Technology helps us learn every day. We consult Siri and Alexa to check facts in real time when debating with our friends. We log on to YouTube to learn how to remove wallpaper. We want answers on demand; we don’t want to sit through a lengthy lecture to get them. Our brains move quickly, and we expect our answers to be given just as quickly.
That need for informational speed aligns neatly with the call center environment. To be successful, contact center training has to keep up with what we’ve come to expect in the real world. Traditional lecture-based training methods aren’t right for today’s contact center employees.
But technology isn’t everything. We need to keep up with the evolution of technology, but traditional, person-to-person training still plays an important role in bringing new customer service representatives, or CSRs, on board. Some skills simply can’t be taught using technology. The best approach to contact center learning combines the quick retrieval of always up-to-date information from technology with the contextual understanding that person-to-person interactions can provide.
Why Technology Belongs in Training
On-demand technology and video have vastly changed the way we seek answers to questions. In the past, learning a new skill often involved signing up for a class or a workshop led by an expert. We’d learn the skills in class and go home and practice them. Now, we seek out a project, watch a video and intrepidly follow it step by step.
Since the process of seeking answers in real life and in real time has changed outside the classroom, training has to change too. Otherwise, trainers risk being left in a room full of students searching for answers faster than they can present information.
Viewing technology as a tool to enable learning allows us to harness its power. In older training modules, CSRs might have been required to memorize pages and pages of content to be considered up to speed and ready for customer interaction.
Harnessing technology changes that need for memorization. Using an intranet, for example, frees CSRs from memorizing content in isolation. Instead, they simply have to know how and where to retrieve the information they need to help customers. CSRs can be ready to serve customers more quickly — and more accurately — than they could before.
Using intranet-enabled search and retrieval systems also permits contact centers to update and implement information changes more easily. CSRs don’t have to unlearn any information hard-wired into their brains through memorization. Although the information might change, the process by which they access it remains the same.
Why Traditional Learning Belongs in Training
Technology simplifies and speeds up the learning process for trainees, but there are plenty of instances where CSRs need to learn in a more traditional environment. As valuable as technology is, it cannot teach interpersonal skills. Machines are also unable to teach CSRs about extracting context, or why customers need information in the first place.
Imagine a travel agency that provides customers with vacation-planning information. A customer named Ed calls in and wants to know the cheapest weeklong vacation he can take with his wife and two kids. The CSR asks where he lives, does a rudimentary search, and quickly transfers Ed to a different representative to help him plan a camping trip within driving distance of his home.
Had the CSR asked Ed a few more questions, he might have learned that Ed’s family took a camping trip the previous year with disastrous results. It rained the entire week, he and his wife disliked having to cook for themselves, and thanks to one child’s seasonal allergies and asthma, they spent more than one night at a local hospital. Ed really wanted a different experience for the upcoming trip, but the CSR didn’t ask any questions about past vacations, food preferences or health issues — all of which would have provided valuable context for the experience.
In-person training teaches CSRs to ask probing questions, to dig for the context of a query. Once the context has been established, CSRs know how to quickly find the right information they need to help customers, thanks to technology-based learning.
Why a Hybrid Approach Is Best
Admittedly, today’s technical solutions for the contact center can be imperfect. There are certainly improvements to be made in document retrieval, for example. But taking advantage of technology solves an age-old training problem: “People forget, and things change.”
Using technological solutions like intranets solves the change management process. Training via technology also takes advantage of skills and habits CSRs already have — the impetus to search for and apply information on demand. A hybrid approach of integrating technology into training and tempering it with in-person education for interpersonal and contextual skills is the best way forward.
This article was previously published in Chief Learning Officer by Doug Taylor, Vice President, Operations for HighPoint Global.