ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Role-Play to Check Training Effectiveness

talkingBest of ICMI in 2022 - #7

Anyone involved with contact center frontline training - designing it, delivering it, investing in it - wants to know how effective it is and if it will make a difference in employee performance. Knowledge tests and assessments in which we ask learners to demonstrate what they have learned are two of the most straightforward methods to answer this question.

But simple knowledge tests aren’t sufficient for every training scenario. A true-or-false quiz at the end of a refresher email to test reading comprehension is adequate. A knowledge test to demonstrate understanding of HIPAA compliance requirements may be sufficient. But when you’re preparing new hires to handle complex customer interactions, knowledge checks alone aren’t up to the task.

Role-plays are a method of assessment in which a learner demonstrates skill competency within a realistic simulation. Role-plays can be automated, using a tool like Rehearsal, or face-to-face with a live “customer.” They can serve as a culminating assessment which a learner must “pass” before completing new hire training, or as a module check to demonstrate facility with specific skills, such as “de-escalating a difficult customer situation”. A role-play assessment might include all aspects of a customer service interaction - systems, knowledge base, and customer handling skills - or it might focus on a skill subset, such as customer handling skills or completing a return in the system. Regardless of breadth, the goal of the role-play assessment is to create an environment comprehensive enough to assess if the learner is prepared to be successful on the job.

Follow these guidelines to make your role play assessments as effective as possible:

Introduce the role-playing format early on.

Waiting to introduce role-playing to the end of training likely will provoke learner fear and anxiety. Instead, introduce the basic format of practice role plays early on, including scenario format, scoring rubric, room/video setup, and customer role instructions. Allow learners to get comfortable with low stakes self-evaluation and peer-evaluation before you introduce formal evaluation or the concept of pass/fail.

Crowdsource role-play scenarios and test them ahead of time.

No need to write complicated role-play scenarios; instead, ask tenured employees or quality team members to share sample scenarios, add your format and flourishes, and you will have validated, front-the-trenches role-play scenarios. Build a library of role plays and learn which ones resonate with learners and will work well for practice and evaluation.

Create role-play scenario examples.

For each scenario, create sample “positive” and “negative” scripts, or develop scripts based on call recordings.

These positive and negative examples provide evaluators with a validated “correct” standard and leverage scenarios for additional insight after the role play is complete.

Create a rubric or use your quality monitoring form to provide a standard evaluation scale.

All role plays should have a scoring rubric that summarizes the skills being evaluated and ensures performance evaluation is consistent and fair. For cumulative, new hire role plays, use your quality evaluation form to score role plays, to build familiarity and alignment with quality evaluation standards.

If it counts, set up your environment carefully.

When role plays count - like if they must perform well in a role play to complete training - make sure the assessment is completed in a quiet, comfortable environment and learners know exactly what is expected of them. Answer all their questions ahead of time about the parameters of the “test”, especially the criteria for passing, what happens if they don’t pass, and if they will be allowed multiple opportunities.

Keep it breezy, fun, and comfortable.

Your goal is to create role play scenarios and supporting processes that increase engagement and interest. Build chances for self-assessment and peer-assessment during practice role plays. Invite a personality-plus supervisor to play the agent role in front of the class to break the ice. Add engaging, humorous, or unexpected elements to your role play scenarios. Sprinkle some levity and lightness throughout your role plays, and learners will be more likely to relax, smile, and engage.

Role plays allow us to evaluate whether our learners are ready to apply newly acquired skills and knowledge in customer interactions. With a little bit of creativity and effort, role-play assessments are one of the best methods for evaluating training effectiveness and helping our learners make the leap to apply what they’ve learned on the job.