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Call in for Reinforcements: The Best Part of a Training Initiative

To your customer, the contact center agent is the face of your organization. A well-trained agent can make all the difference when it comes to customer service and how well he or she deals with customer escalations, solves customer problems, and upsells or cross-sells your products. High-performing customer service organizations recognize this. It is no surprise then that they place heavy emphasis on training and developing their talents to effectively represent their brands. Even so, lectures and classroom training alone will not deliver the performance and productivity improvements required to raise agents’ competencies. Behind the training initiative lies a host of other factors that will determine the success (or failure) of the development program.

Let’s take a look at these factors that can make or break a training initiative. In the Impact Learning System, there are four interdependent stages that come into play:

1. Pre-work

Prep work accounts for approximately 25 percent of the effort. It includes customizing the training to make it specific and relevant to the participants; conveying the goals and objectives of the training to the participants to get them on board; creating handouts and cheat sheets on how to access the programs and utilize the training tools; and finally, having the participants go through the pre-course work to prepare them for actual training.

Managers play a critical role in preparing for the training. They help communicate the whys behind the initiative to gain trainee buy-in, and how the program integrates with the way agents will be expected to perform their jobs.

2. Training Event

Managers must serve as role models and communicate their commitment by attending the sessions themselves. Managers who train alongside their support team send a strong message that they are strong advocates of the program, and they acknowledge the impact it will have on their and their team’s productivity.

3. Coaching and Intervention

When the training ends, the coaching begins. What happens after training is as important as the training itself. Contact center managers and team leaders are the day-to-day face of training and must maintain mastery of product knowledge, communication skills, standard protocols and marketplace dynamics. Without this level of mastery, their credibility to lead – and ability to coach – their teams are significantly reduced.

4. Validation and Recognition.

At Impact Learning Systems, we are big proponents of experiential learning. Whether it’s playing the violin, speaking a new language, providing customer support over the phone, or learning a dance routine, people learn by doing. This learning method becomes even more effective when the learner gets validation and recognition for the progress made. We all naturally crave to be told how we’re doing; feedback lets you see yourself through the eyes of another.

Feedback is inexpensive but powerful; yet, it is one of the most under-utilized management tools.  As part of a training initiative, it is important to make managers and supervisors understand the value of performance feedback and train them on how to provide it to motivate their teams and correct deviations to the learning process.

Check, check, check, and check. Now what?

They say it takes 21 days for a habit to stick. Interestingly, there seems to be no agreement where this magic number came from. But, if we take this statement to be true, then the three weeks following the training become the critical period whether the skills learned in training will persist.

This is when reinforcement comes in

Even with the best of intentions to use and apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills, agents probably won’t retain three-quarters of what they learned during training. “Training amnesia” is far too common, especially when there are no follow up programs that were put in place during the training design phase.

Provide job aids

Make it easy for learners to use their new skills. Prepare a handout that highlights key points from the training. Use diagrams and pictures to promote visual recall. Create them as wall charts so employees can hang them up at their workstations for quick access.

Apply the new way, right away

Learners should be expected to use their new skills as soon as the training is over, or they revert to the old process. Encourage agents to embrace the new way as soon as they leave the training room. Allow for a period of adjustment but emphasize that the sooner they gain mastery of the new skills, the better for them and the organization. Managers and supervisors can reinforce the proper behavior through praise and feedback. It is a powerful coaching method to help solidify the learnings.

Show, Don’t Tell.

Well-designed training programs empower managers by helping them become experts in the application of the methodologies that their teams will be learning so they can lead by example. Managers can bring the training lessons to life by modeling the same behaviors and best practices they expect from their own teams.

At Impact Learning Systems, the stages involved in the training have been designed and refined to inspire long-term cultural change and produce guaranteed, measurable results. But training is a process, not just an event with a start and end date. The best part of a training initiative comes after the classroom instruction. No training program can be successful without leadership involvement and active reinforcement of the learned skills. Only when the desired skills and habits become second nature can an organization see significant improvements in efficiency and productivity.

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