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Virtual Training is not the Problem with Your New Agent Performance

The pandemic exposed a lot of weaknesses in processes, procedures, and tools for companies across the globe. Suddenly, we got really familiar with conferencing tools like Zoom, Teams, and Meet. Mostly, we saw them as a necessary evil, but some found them more productive than in-person meetings.


Virtual and remote became the norm for most business activities. If it could be done from home, it was done from home.


As we began to learn more about how to deal with COVID-19, many companies began to strategize on the move back to the office. Many said training wasn't as effective in a virtual environment. The contact center world was no exception. New agents struggled to get up to speed and, clearly, training was to blame.


I would argue, however, that training was part of the problem, but likely not because it was virtual. In fact, for lots of contact centers, the training was already bad when it was in person. Trainers are often plucked from the agent population just like new team leaders. And like new team leaders, they often get thrown into their new role with little to no training, themselves, on how to do this new job. Then they're evaluated with a Likert-scale survey that measures how the new trainees felt about the training. Often, the survey ignores the methods employed by the trainer to facilitate learning.


What does a new trainer do in that situation? They model what they've seen as best as they can. They read PowerPoints. They execute mock calls. They build rapport. They teach to, and then administer, tests. And they have the class Y-jack with tenured agents on the job. Guess where trainees learn the most?


You guessed it - they learned sitting with tenured agents who are doing the work. And that, some will say, is why virtual training doesn't work. 


But it's a myth. And it's not the only myth about training.


Myth 1: Some People are Born Trainers


Trainers are not born, just like team leaders, managers, directors, and CEOs are not born. There's a large suite of skills people need to acquire and hone to become effective trainers. Then, there are even more skills required to become effective trainers in a virtual environment. They can get these skills from a variety of professional organizations, or, if your organization is large enough, from your own L&D team. But it's highly unlikely they have these skills developed on the first day of the job.


Then, like agents, they need regular feedback on the performance to maintain and improve it. And when I say feedback, I don't mean useless "smile sheets' that ask trainees how they liked the training. You need to evaluate the trainer's execution of tasks that are known to facilitate knowledge and skill transfer. You need to do this through thoughtful, purposeful surveys, and through direct observation.


Myth 2: You Cannot Effectively Y-Jack in a Virtual Environment


Not only is this a myth, but the virtual version of this training is also superior in many ways. Plugging in with another agent to observe them on the job is called many things: Y-jacking, nesting, side by side, double jacking, shadowing. Have you ever asked a trainer about the difficulties in this process? You may be shocked about how bad it was! Broken and lost headsets; undesirable agent behaviors; trainees left alone during breaks and lunches; and a debrief that included so many different experiences that it was difficult to answer questions without necessary context. And don't even get me started on complaints about how their nesting partner smelled or spoke inappropriately to them!


The virtual experience eliminates all these issues. Sharing technology enables a shared experience. Whether you use a select few handpicked agents or the trainer to help customers, the class can all observe the same interaction in real time executed at a high level. After each interaction, the trainer can run a debrief on a shared experience. With the ability to remotely take control of someone else's machine while sharing, you can even allow agents to take turns "driving" the system during live interactions. 


Myth 3: You Need to Cater to Learning Styles


You’ve probably heard of learning styles, most likely VARK - Visual, Auditory, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic. The idea that people only learn best when they receive information in their preferred learning style is a stubborn myth, likely because it seems intuitive. 


What does work? Engaging learners with a multimodal approach to encourage active thinking is impactful, as is spaced repetition. Look back at Myth #1. We should evaluate a trainer’s "execution of tasks that are known to facilitate knowledge and skill transfer." To do that, we need to know what's effective. While there are still many mysteries to be uncovered about how our brains work, we know a great deal about how to effectively build skills and knowledge. We should be using methods that are shown to work.