The contact center is the frontline of a company. It is often via their
interactions with the contact center that customers form their impressions
of a company, so it is paramount that they have a favorable experience.
Since there is a high turnover rate in contact centers, a large percentage
of agents are novices, and if these agents don't know the best way to
handle specific calls, they may get flustered, frustrating and upsetting
both themselves and the customer. To avoid this scenario, agents must
learn to handle calls before being put in the contact center crossfire.
This having been said, there is nothing better than training through
hands-on experience. Classes and discussion groups do help agents when
starting their jobs, but simulation products serve the vital purpose of
simulating situations new agents might encounter.
In an effort to serve customers better, Ulysses Learning's CallMentor
offers a general simulation training suite. It prepares new agents to take
charge of calls, meet customer needs and enhance the company's
relationship with customers. This element of CallMentor is provided in a
training program called ServiceMentor. Once the agents become efficient at
their jobs, they or supervisors can coach novices through appropriate and
proven methods. These methods are taught in a program called
CoachingMentor. With this combination, CallMentor attempts to improve the
performance of every representative in the contact center.
In general, CallMentor works by simulating an entire call between either a
customer and agent or coach and agent. In ServiceMentor's case, the
customers speak a greeting and their initial comments, and the agent
chooses from three or four multiple-choice responses. That choice is
graded from 1 to 5, depending on how good the response was. After agents
make a choice, they speak that response so they or their supervisor can
hear their voice played back at a later time. Then, as if the interaction
were taking place in the real world, the customer 'reacts' to the
agent's choice of a method of handling the situation by being calm and
friendly if the agent responded well, or becoming hostile or confused if
the agent responded poorly. Another set of multiple-choice responses
appears after the customer finishes speaking, and the agent again chooses
the best. This procedure continues through more call segments until the
conversation has ended and a final assessment score is given. By working
on various aspects of the call, the agent should improve as the training
CallMentor can be delivered by one of three methods: CD-ROM, within an
Intranet or via the Internet. The installation for each of these methods
is simple. Via CD-ROM, the software is loaded in the same manner as most
applications. ServiceMentor and CoachingMentor are separately loaded onto
any PC. Through a company's Intranet, the software is only available to
those who have access to the Intranet. On Ulysses Learning's Web site,
the software can be accessed through any browser with the use of an
assigned password. This last method is the most common, and the one TMC
Labs chose to use. In each of these cases, Java Media Framework must be
installed on the PC being used for the programs to work properly.
While an implementation guide is available, CallMentor does not need
much documentation. The implementation guide does emphasize the values of
CallMentor and discusses the programs, but a specific user's manual,
administrator's manual or even help files are not necessary. The
graphical interface for both ServiceMentor and CoachingMentor are
step-by-step processes that are intuitive enough to eliminate any
difficulty for users navigating through them.
When first accessing ServiceMentor, agents-in-training are given three
random examples of simulated calls in which they can actually take a call,
choose from a list to select the choice they think is the most appropriate
response and record their voices to hear how they sound on each call. In
this fashion, agents will know where they stand going into the training
program. This is the pre-assessment stage.
The agents are scored from 1 to 5 on three different parts of the call (5
being best). This helps assess where agents' strengths are and where
they require the most training. There are three psychological pathways
that are assessed and then examined more thoroughly through individual
modules: chill, identify and satisfy. The chill module helps agents take
control of a call in a polite manner. The identify module helps agents
quickly determine the customer's issues and needs. The satisfy module
allows agents to learn the best solutions for given situations. Each of
these skills is taught separately using basic and more advanced simulated
calls, given to agents depending on their pre-assessment skill-level
Each module helps representatives learn why the specific step is
important and prepares agents with practice calls that cater to one
specific aspect of a call, whether it is the chill, identify or satisfy
component. On a basic call, a coaching interface appears with every
incorrect selection made. The interface guides the agent to the correct
course by stating how the response could have been improved. Upon each
selection, a rating is given for each response and an overall rating of
the entire call is kept, as well. If agents miss any part of what a
simulated customer said, they can replay that part of the call. They can
also hear a recording or see a text transcript of the entire call.
Once these skills have been developed, there is a 'putting it
together' section, which again allows agents to take a complete
simulated call to assess the agent's growth. Finally, there is a 'demonstrate
mastery' component, which allows agents to show their mastery of the
training program. This whole step process is detailed as a typical home
page, which comes up after the initial assessment is concluded.
Administration Of ServiceMentor
To keep track of all of the ServiceMentor training through a database
within an organization, certain users can access a set of administration
Web pages. We looked at these pages and found them to be well organized.
They are separated into different categories: user management, voice
recordings, text reports, charts and tailoring tool. When we clicked on
user management, we were able to view the list of users and could add to
or edit this list. Once the voice recordings were uploaded from the client
PC, we could listen to any one of them simply by clicking on it and
Reports and bar or pie charts are easily built from the administration
interface. It takes only a few short steps. From these reports and charts,
such as summary user reports and score distribution charts, supervisors
are able to view details such as as pre- and post-assessment scores, the
number of scenarios attempted or a distribution of scores among a group of
employees. From this analysis, one can tell how the agents are doing and
if they have made any significant improvements as they progress through
the training. Supervisors can also assess the level of difficulty of a
particular scenario or be able to tell how often employees are using the
Another noteworthy part of the administration is the tailoring tool.
This tool allows an administrator or supervisor to update general
information, score thresholds or make changes to a specific scenario. By
allocating score thresholds, supervisors can set a minimum score for
completing a particular module. Once that minimum score has been reached,
agents then gain access to advanced calls and the ability to 'test out'
of a module. For example, a supervisor might want a trainee to test out of
having to do the chill, identify or satisfy module by achieving a
pre-assessment score of at least 4 (out of 5), or the supervisor may not
want a trainee to be able to test out at all, so would therefore set the
threshold for 6. While finding the exact portions of the scenarios may
take a few clicks through the preliminary selections, it is worthwhile to
use the tailoring feature to better personalize the text or fix
grammatical errors. The text would still be general to the contact center,
but could be more personalized with, for instance, the user company's
real name instead of a generic name.
For coaches teaching less experienced agents, CoachingMentor gives three
random recordings of calls between an agent and a customer. The coach
listens to that call and selects whether an agent trainee did well or not
on a particular skill. If the coach does not pick correctly, the program
will tell the coaches which choice is the correct selection and why.
Afterward, the coach picks the most 'pivotal' behavior for that
particular call. It is this behavior that is critical to the success or
failure of the call as recognized from Ulysses Learning's experience and
research. Choosing the pivotal behavior influences the way the coach would
speak to the trainee in a face-to-face meeting. If the pivotal behavior
was positive, the coach would select to reinforce that action. If the
behavior was negative, the coach would refine the behavior if it was not
too critical or redirect the behavior if more serious.
In the same fashion as ServiceMentor, but with the discussion being
between the coach and the trainee instead of between the agent and
customer, the coaches then select what they think is the most appropriate
way to handle speaking with the trainee. Advice is also given throughout
the exercise. While CoachingMentor does not give as many scenarios as
ServiceMentor (but probably does not need to), it is a valid method of
training an agent how to coach, especially since it is natural for the
coach to learn more just from the teaching experience.
Room For Improvement
Besides a few small flaws, there is little to improve in ServiceMentor. We
did see a few grammatical errors in the text that could be changed through
the tailoring tool. We also noticed that the response time was
occasionally slow and voice recordings did sporadically cut out. Since we
used a 600 processor with 128 megs of RAM and a T1 Internet connection, we
didn't expect this to happen much at all, but it was frequent enough to
be considered a minor issue.
We felt that CoachingMentor could have been helped with one last 'demonstrate
mastery' component. We also felt that a CoachingMentor administration
module could have been incorporated into the ServiceMentor administration,
especially since the coaches would have likely taken the ServiceMentor
training and would therefore be in the database anyway. Maybe the coach's
name could be clicked right from the ServiceMentor database so that
coaching reports, charts and tailoring tools could be accessed without
difficulty. In effect, this addition would allow the administration to be
a complete CallMentor management suite.
Of course, we also thought it would be nice to add 'SalesMentor'
or/and 'SupportMentor' programs to the CallMentor suite.
To The May 2001 Table Of Contents ]
In many ways, CallMentor is a one-of-a-kind product. While there are other
training simulation programs, no program that we know reaches the
complexity and randomness that CallMentor does for training an agent for
the general contact center environment. Ulysses Learning's CallMentor is
not meant to cater to every specific company. Instead, Ulysses uses its
knowledge of psychology and its contact center expertise to generally help
all companies that have contact centers. In this effort, it is successful.