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TMC Labs
May 2001



Ulysses Learning
Mooresville, NC
Ph: 800-662-4066; Fx: 704-799-7209
Web: www.ulysseslearning.com

Price: $99 to $349 per seat for a one-year license with unlimited use, depending on number of seats.

2001 Editors' Choice Awards

ServiceMentor: 4.75
Administration: 4.25
CoachingMentor: 4.25
CallMentor Overall: A

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 progresses.

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 scores.

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 playing it.

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 training.

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.

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.

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