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Customer Inter@ction Solutions Online Exclusive
August 2001

Integrated E-Learning And Quality Management

BY JACKIE WIEDNER, NICE SYSTEMS

Go Right To: [ Top Ten Tips For Targeted, Cost-Effective E-Learning ]


The concept is simple and widely accepted: better-trained contact center agents contribute more to the bottom line. Unfortunately, there is another well-known axiom among contact center management: training is one of the most costly undertakings in the contact center. According to Hackett Benchmarking Solutions of Hudson, Ohio, the combination of initial and ongoing training often accounts for as much as 10 percent of a customer contact center's annual budget.

Because contact centers generally have high agent turnover rates, more complex business processes and desktop applications requiring higher-skilled agents, the absence of even the most basic training system can cripple a business. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers, 70 percent of Fortune 1000 companies cite lack of trained employees as their top-ranked barrier to sustaining growth.

Meanwhile, the Olsten Corporation, a provider of staffing services to multinational companies, reports that the average annual turnover rate in call center is 33 percent. But contact centers that implement a specific training regimen for at least one month have an annual turnover rate of 20 percent versus 55 percent for those with less training.

In a typical contact center of 500 agents, person-to-person training is simply not a viable option. Classroom training is also difficult to schedule because only one-half to three-quarters of an agent workforce is working at any given time and managers are faced with continually pulling a large percentage of that group off the floor, in rotation, to train every agent.

As a result, contact centers are now adapting e-learning to save both time and money. The beauty of e-learning is that is can be highly targeted and self-administered. But to truly reap the benefits of e-learning, the entire program should be linked to your quality management solution. In any group-learning environment, the instruction must be addressed to the lowest common denominator, which limits those on a faster learning curve, causes redundancy and uses up valuable agent time. Integrating e-learning with quality monitoring evaluation scores provides the ability to trigger the delivery of specific training modules to agents based on their overall quality scores. More pivotal is the ability to drill down further and trigger agent training based on the evaluation scores of specific topics, categories and even specific questions. This enables the contact center management to prioritize training and focus initially on those areas that require it most, thus leveraging time and saving money.

Let's clarify the definition of e-learning by borrowing one from WR Hambrecht & Co:

E-learning covers a wide set of applications and processes, including computer-based learning, Web-based learning, virtual classrooms and digital collaboration. We define e-learning as the delivery of content via all electronic media. On-line learning constitutes just one part of the technology-based learning and describes learning via Internet, Intranet and Extranet.

For the most part, this can be represented by training pushed to agent desktops via the network, Internet, Intranet or Extranet. The good news is that the use of this technology overcomes a number of key challenges in the contact center. Specifically:

  • E-learning itself saves time, money and training resources, through self-administered, targeted training consistently delivered to, or accessed by, agents during low call volume periods and scheduled learning breaks. This reduces the downtime required for classroom training and daily information briefings, and because much of the training is automatically delivered and/or self-administered, it empowers CSRs to learn independently and improve their skills without the intervention of a supervisor.
     
  • Integrated e-learning and quality management enable the automatic deliver of focused training and coaching directly to agents based on their individual needs identified through evaluation results. There is no need to train to the lower common denominator and no redundancy, as is typical in a classroom setting.

Training requirements are uncovered based on agent quality management scores. Needs are identified as agents are scored on various skills for randomly selected calls. Questions in which the agent's score falls below pre-defined thresholds will indicate that training is required. Based on these results, either existing training modules can then be sent to the agent's desktop, or if training does not already exist, it can be easily created with an e-learning tool.

E-learning increases retention levels significantly. By providing "as-needed" training directly to agent desktops, contact center managers are able to deliver shorter learning chunks more efficiently, making it much easier for the agent to then remember. Delivering training in real-time, triggered by quality management scores, displaces communications latency with timely as-needed training. Since agents receive customized learning material based on their own needs, they get only the material they need in smaller learning "chunks." According to WR Hambrecht & Co., customized e-learning leads to a 60 percent faster learning curve, compared to instructor-led training. The delivery of content in smaller chunks contributes further to a more lasting learning effect. Whereas the average content retention rate for an instructor-led class is only 58 percent, the more intensive e-learning experience enhances the retention rate by 25 to 60 percent. Higher retention of the material puts a higher value on every dollar spent on training.

To maintain agent knowledge, agents can train and retrain themselves on their own time. Self-administered e-learning empowers the agent to take the reigns of his or her own career path. If proper incentives are in place, self-administered training can be professionally motivating for the agent and can help reduce turnover. This is aided with periodic tests and quizzes pushed to the agent desktop by management.

Providing individual ACD stats at the agent desktop ensures the optimum use of agent time. Agents can view real-time stats regarding their personal activity such as average talk time, average hold time, calls in queue and similar statistics relating to the entire contact center. In addition, training-related data keep them abreast of the training modules they've completed, their evaluation scores and training they need to complete. When call volumes are low, they can simply click into the next training session.

The essential link between your quality management application and e-Learning solution takes place between the online evaluation form, where questions and score requirement are determined, and a "rules wizard" for setting training criteria built within the e-learning application. Using the e-learning application, the supervisor can define rules that determine when and where the e-learning module is triggered.

For example, an evaluator reviews the list of training material that a trainer has developed for the contact center. He then compares the training list to his evaluation forms and decides which question or section on the evaluation form should be linked of the available training modules. The evaluator then decides what minimum score must be achieved by the agents and what frequency or threshold should be set. The evaluator creates a rule that triggers the training module for "proper hold procedures" pertaining to question three on the evaluation form, only if missed two consecutive times. As a final step, the evaluator decides to whom he wants to apply these rules: the entire contact center, a group of agents or one specific agent.

Now that the training rules have been set, whenever an agent fails to meet the specified criteria, training will automatically be sent the next day. The training will appear on the agent's desktop -- accessible through the agent's "desktop dashboard."

Another advantage is that the quality management application will uncover new training opportunities based on trends uncovered in the evaluation of specific questions.

Using today's e-learning applications, training content can be easily compiled and created by the trainer. Multimedia objects, such as charts, graphs, voice files and/or video files can be imported into the training module. As stated earlier, quality monitoring applications that record agent voice and/or desktop screens enable the trainer to import those interactions into e-learning modules as examples of good and bad calls. Now the agent can see and hear the precise behavior that is expected by the organization in specific situations.

Meta tags and SCORM, which are industry standards for tagging and flagging content, can also be used to easily import existing content available from numerous providers. Ready-to-service lessons on topics ranging from harassment, dealing with irate callers, how to cross-sell, etc. are available for fast implementation.

Any effective training program must also incorporate testing and quizzes to monitor progress. Fortunately today's e-learning applications provide mechanisms and applications to ensure this process takes place easily and efficiently. Easy-to-use wizards allow for the fast input of yes/no, true/false or open-ended questions that can be pushed to the agent's desktop during scheduled periods. Naturally, quiz results and data are available for management analysis and follow-up.

While e-learning brings many new benefits and efficiencies, corporate trainers report that e-learning and live classroom learning (c-learning) are blending rather than one ruling out the other. That is, the strongest use of online learning seems to be an extension rather than a replacement for classroom learning.

Regardless of the mix, a healthy component of integrated e-learning and quality management can only better server your agents, your customers and your bottom line.

Jackie Wiedner is the global director of product marketing for NICE Systems, a provider of customer experience management. CEM is a business strategy and technology platform that incorporates integrated quality management and e-learning applications along with other solutions to capture, evaluate, analyze and improve the customer experience.


Top Ten Tips For Targeted, Cost-Effective E-Learning
  1. Link training to quality evaluation scores. Eliminate redundancy and immediately train those who need it most, where they need it most, when they need it most.
     
  2. Deliver training automatically. Use the automated features available with your e-learning application to trigger and deliver timely training directly to the agent desktop during non-peak periods.
     
  3. Provide instant access to training and key information - make it all available on their desktops so they can monitor their own progress or jump in at a moment notice with no delay.
     
  4. Give them the opportunity to excel. Allow your agents to advance their own career with access to self-administered training of training materials, even if they have not been triggered as needed. This way, they can train themselves on their own time to prepare for new job opportunities and career advancements.
     
  5. Show them what you really want. Import previously recorded customer interactions into your training modules, provide examples of real calls and agent screen session demonstrating best practices.
     
  6. Test and re-test. Use your e-learning system's automated tools for testing and quizzes to ensure agents are retaining information.
     
  7. Don't reinvent the wheel. Make sure your e-learning applications can easily import ready-mix content using industry standards such a meta tags and SCORM. Any existing internally created training materials should also be easy to import into your e-learning application.
     
  8. Reporting. Track training progress of agents as well as training statistics such as number of times specific training is sent, completion times, etc. to help adjust, improve and tweak your training material to make it most effective.
     
  9. Bite-sized training chunks make it easier to learn and makes content more memorable.
     
  10. Blended training. Use a variety of training techniques to get the best results, and best trained agents -- classroom is good for some things like new employee training where there is a lot of material to cover and everyone is at the same point on the learning curve; use e-learning for smaller concepts, refresher courses and highly focused topics.

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