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Fix It Now:
Using On-Demand
E-learning To Stop
Bad Habits
By Henry Lach, Syntora

E-learning has gained momentum in call centers as a tool that is used in conjunction with classroom-based training to keep agents’ skills at the level required to meet customer service goals. While most e-learning is delivered on a scheduled basis to train agents in generic topics, ranging from new procedures to how to handle a disgruntled customer, a new and complementary model is emerging that can be used to correct the specific performance deficiencies of individual agents as soon as they are identified. This strategy is known as on-demand e-learning.

In contrast to the traditional definition of “on demand” that would suggest a system allowing agents to select e-learning courses as they see fit, “on demand” in this context refers to something much more useful: the ability to automatically dispense short e-learning courses to agents whenever individual performance metrics in a given area fall above or below a pre-defined threshold. With this method, agents can receive highly targeted training designed to remedy their unique performance problems on a “right now” basis.
This “nip-it-in-the-bud” approach to improving agent performance is a welcome addition to the call center manager’s arsenal of performance-enhancing tools. It can be used as an adjunct to scheduled e-learning to help improve overall call center performance, decrease agent turnover, and leverage a call center’s existing investment in e-learning technology.

Five-Minute Fixes
While scheduled e-learning is a practical method for delivering new information such as product rollouts, shipping policy changes or enhanced service offerings to the entire agent population, on-demand e-learning is tailored to individual agent weaknesses and tied directly to each agent’s performance as measured by the call center’s performance analytics software. It proactively leverages the performance metrics already being gathered to provide a system that not only flags unsatisfactory work habits but also provides corrective training before excessive damage is done.

Simply put, on-demand e-learning involves automatically delivering the right information to the right agents at the right time. It can be activated when an individual agent has a problem such as:

• Average talk time increasing by more than 20 percent over a two-week period;
• Month-to-date utilization falling below a minimum standard;
• Quality monitoring scores falling below a minimum standard;
• Low sales volumes;
• Poor promises-kept ratios;
• Or any agent-specific metric that is being measured within the call center.

If an agent fails to meet the thresholds set by the call center manager or supervisor, an on-demand e-learning system can issue an alert advising the agent that he or she is out of compliance on a given task and must take a five-minute remedial training course to address the problem. The system can be configured to instruct the agent to take the course immediately, in the next 24 hours, or at any time of the manager’s or supervisor’s choice.

Key Components
Different on-demand e-learning systems have different features, but in general these systems require four components that work seamlessly with each other. These are:

• E-learning content — electronic-based educational material typically developed by the training manager for delivery to an agent’s desktop.
• Learning management system — software that organizes e-learning content into reusable courses, assigns courses to agents, and then reports on their e-learning activity, including quiz scores.
• Performance analytics software — software that gathers all the performance metrics from the various telephony, business, call monitoring and scheduling systems upon which the call center operates.
• Rules engine — the piece of the puzzle that glues everything together, making it possible to automate the delivery of e-learning content based on agent performance.

Training managers define the rules that will trigger content delivery and then instruct the system which content to deliver when. Tests can be attached to the end of each course to assess the agent’s understanding of the material. Additional rules can be developed to alert the agent or the training manager if the problem persists. If that happens, the training manager can provide personal instruction to attempt to resolve the situation.

Multiple Benefits
One of the chief benefits of on-demand e-learning is that it can help offset problems caused by the decline in training being experienced by most call centers in the ongoing struggle to reduce operating costs. According to a recent benchmarking study commissioned by Dimension Data, a specialist IT services and solution provider, investments in agent training have fallen significantly in recent years despite a continuing broadening of call centers’ responsibilities.

“The length of agent induction training has fallen steeply from 36 days in 2003 to just 21 days today,” according to the study. “The ratio of coaches to agents in contact centers is equally worrying and stands at 1:46. Yet to achieve best-practice levels of six coaching hours per agent per month, the ratio should be at least 1:25.” The result is “growing customer impatience and decreased satisfaction” — both consequences that are hazardous to any call center’s health.

These problems are exacerbated by the fact that only 16 percent of contact centers have a dedicated coach while 74 percent assign training responsibilities to team leaders, based on the study’s findings. On-demand e-learning can help take up the slack in both financial and personnel resources committed to training by serving as a virtual coach. It can simultaneously keep costs low by eliminating the need to increase team leads and coaching staff to manually intervene.

Another benefit relates to the ability of on-demand e-learning to help reduce agent turnover and thereby minimize the costly two-week-or-longer process of training new hires.
The relationship between training and agent retention has been clearly documented in a study by the Olsten Corporation, a company that provides staffing services to multinational companies. The study found that contact centers that implement a specific training regimen for at least one month have an annual turnover rate of 20 percent, compared with 55 percent for those with less training. While the study did not specifically measure the impact of on-demand e-learning, the same principle applies: more training equals more successful agents who tend to stick around longer.

Training also has other commonly accepted benefits. In a sales environment, for example, investing in ongoing sales training will directly increase close rates. Providing agents with new product information increases first-call resolution and decreases the costs associated with callbacks. Better-trained agents provide better customer service, which customers view as a significant differentiator in a competitive market.

 On-demand e-learning can help in all of these areas by providing a new and cost-effective channel for helping agents polish their skills. It is a logical extension of scheduled e-learning. It provides highly targeted training designed specifically to strengthen an individual agent’s areas of greatest weakness. It can cure agent performance problems before they cause widespread harm to call center operations.

Most important, it can help drive agent productivity impro vements even in the face of constrained corporate budgets. It’s like having a personal coach for each agent without the salary — and a useful antidote to dwindling training budgets. CIS

Henry Lach is president of Syntora Inc. (www.syntora.com), a provider of agent productivity software for contact centers.

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