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TMC Labs
July 2001


StarTrainer 3.0

Simtrex Corporation
Atlanta, GA
Ph: 678-589-9100; Fx: 678-589-0200
Web: www.simtrex.com

Price: Base system starts at $100,000; specific price depends on implementation, services and options

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

Installation: N/A
Administration: 4
Features: 4.5
Usability: 4.5
Overall: A-

Simulation training is a relatively new idea in the contact center, but its benefits are already becoming apparent. Studies have shown that customer service and satisfaction are greatly enhanced because of these training programs, but the degree to which these programs help depends on the specific program and how it is implemented. There are programs that offer anything from general simulation, that may be geared toward a contact center but not to a specific company or industry, to those that are implemented based on a company's particular contact center needs. Ulysses Learning's CallMentor, reviewed in the May 2001 issue of Customer Inter@ctions Solutions', offers an example of more general simulation. Now, TMC' Labs offers a look at a product from the other end of the simulation/training spectrum -- Simtrex's StarTrainer.

StarTrainer is separated into three different components: StarDesigner (the developer software), the Student Administrator and StarRunner (the client software). When StarTrainer is implemented, Simtrex works with the customer to plan and develop a training program, which closely simulates a specific system and situation that a contact center representative would experience when dealing with a real-world consumer. StarDesigner is a developmental tool used during the implementation stage, which usually takes approximately six weeks to accomplish. In this time, scheduling and planning is conducted, content is collected, a set of scenarios is developed and an average of two weeks of training on the new system is provided. There are usually six scenarios with each simulation varying in terms of what is being said, the caller's voice and other variations of a call.

Student Administrator. While we did not look at StarDesigner because it is primarily a development tool, we did log into the Student Administrator and added a few users to the system. To create a new user, we simply used typical Windows conventions, typed in general information and selected the type of user from a drop-down list (trainer, student, designer, etc.). New departments, classes and courses can be established if the server is set-up for this type of entry. Reports for simulation topics such as course content, lesson scores and user assignments can be created. In addition, the lesson status can be tracked and observed through the Student Administrator and scores can be rated so the student's level of achievement can be assessed. Overall, while a bit simplistic in nature, the administrator is easy-to-use, especially with the assistance of the help files. While it can benefit from more advanced tracking functionality, the Student Administrator does handle the administrator or supervisor's basic StarTrainer needs.

StarRunner. The bulk of StarTrainer is the client, StarRunner, which is the actual training sequence of the program. When the initial implementation is complete and Simtrex installs the appropriate server applications (SQL and Simtrex's audio, design and student) on an NT Server, StarRunner can be run from the server. Shortcuts to StarRunner can be created for any PC used for the training.

Upon entering the appropriate user name and password, we selected remote audio and entered the identification number for the headset we were using. We were set up through a switch that was connected to a 1 amp max power supply. An Amphenol cable links from the switch to an extension box, and then analog cables are connected to special headsets. When turned on, the identification number is spoken to the user over the headset. After this number is entered at the prompt, the headset is linked with the client and the StarTrainer audio server.

Lesson Plans. At this point, we were ready to examine a demo of an actual client system from a healthcare insurance company. This system is very similar to other implementations of the StarRunner client. This particular system was separated into seven lessons. The first three lesson plans we saw consisted of an introduction, a model call and coaching instructions about what should generally be done with most calls and, more specifically, how the model call should be handled. The model call depicts both the caller and the representative taking the call. The representative speaks in a clear, cheerful voice and tone, answering the caller's questions according to company procedure and enters the data into the system in the appropriate manner. This call acts as a 'model' to demonstrate how the call should be handled. The instructions are separated into many segments so the user can repeat particular recorded learning sequences to obtain a better understanding of the information being given.

The next four lessons we reviewed were the keys to the overall success of the program, as these are exercises during which trainees actually perform the tasks instead of merely listening and memorizing. The first of these lessons allows trainees to record their own voices to replace the voice from the model call. Trainees read off a script when prompted, essentially replacing the model representative. The second lesson allows the trainees to listen to their results over the headset. They can hear where the recording sounds weak or strong and how their tone of voice sounds in order to improve on their communication techniques. Supervisors can also listen to the recorded prompts. The third lesson focuses on using the keyboard and mouse effectively while taking a call. By typing and selecting the appropriate actions to be accomplished during a call simulation, the trainee learns how to use the company e-service software effectively with speed and precision, which would most certainly benefit the employee when taking a live call. The fourth lesson allows trainees to use all the skills learned in the previous lessons so they can handle the entire simulated call -- appropriately speaking, listening, typing and clicking when required.

The final lesson of the training demo is an actual evaluation to ascertain what the trainees learned from the simulated call. The trainees take a final quiz and then are given a summary of how they performed in simple graph format. In addition, the summary reports the number of errors for a trainee's data entry and for navigating the software (keyboard and mouse technique) and a call handling time that indicates how quickly they performed a simulated call. This time may be compared to the call handling time of the model call.

Since the interface and the format of StarTrainer depends on what the customer wants, it is difficult to assess how well the system works. The results are varied based on who is using it. However, the training demo we examined has the trademark of a quality simulation product that can help medium-sized to large companies with customer service and contact centers. The strength of StarTrainer is its ability to plan and be flexible with Simtrex's customers to deliver a sound training program that can be used for many different employees. Representatives would be prepared for many live call situations, and companies can benefit greatly from the StarTrainer simulation-training program.

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