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E-learning solutions, those ever-popular multimedia learning tools used for online training and education, are seeing increasing adoption in the contact center, as companies are discovering the advantages they offer for improving agent performance. These solutions, which often come bundled with other contact center applications, are used to deliver initial training to new hires in the training room as well as ongoing, "just-in-time" coaching to agents while they’re on the contact center floor. With their ability to deliver short, multimedia training sessions just after an agent has finished a call, today’s e-learning solutions are playing an increasingly valuable role in the contact center software ecosystem.

Before delving into the advantages of today’s e-learning solutions, though, we must first differentiate between content and delivery. These are the two main elements of any e-learning solution. However, most e-learning solutions providers don’t offer their own content. They provide the software needed for delivery, but typically work with third party providers of pre-packaged training programs, in addition to providing authoring tools which let companies develop their own custom training modules. For the most part, organizations are using pre-packaged Web-based content, sometimes blended with custom content, for initial training, and custom content when it’s time to deliver just-in-time coaching. An organization can decide to go only with pre-packaged content, develop its own content, or do a combination of both.

Also essential to any e-learning solution are storage and testing. Obviously, you need a place to store your content - which is why most companies now building a “training library,” which typically resides on a dedicated server for the purpose of delivering on-going, automated just-in-time training modules to agents. In addition, the content needs to be paired with some testing tools so you can test your agents and measure their improvement. The aforementioned authoring tools round-out the basic elements needed to complete an e-learning solution.
Now let’s take a look at the advantages today’s e-learning solutions bring to the contact center:

Train Agents Faster, More Effectively

Without a doubt, this is a top advantage and the number one reason companies are increasingly adopting e-learning solutions for the contact center. Research has shown that e-learning solutions, when properly blended with one-on-one, personalized training, deliver initial agent training faster and more effectively than traditional methods. With interactive multimedia presentations and expertly crafted simulations being delivered right to their desktops in the training facility, new hires can roll through their training at their own pace while getting personalized training. Those who complete modules and pass follow-up quizzes at a faster pace can progress to new levels of training and get to the floor sooner, while slower learners can go through modules at their own pace. Testing is a snap, too, as tests and quizzes are delivered and graded automatically, plus scores can be immediately viewed by the supervisor. Through increased automation, training now requires much less supervision and moves along at a brisker pace.

But the more important functionality delivered by today’s e-learning solutions is the just-in-time coaching — fast, targeted training that can be delivered to agent desktops and which results in better trained agents. With this new capability, agents can get feedback, training and testing immediately after a call, while the training is still relevant. For example, once a supervisor identifies a problem, perhaps through call monitoring or speech analytics, he can take a portion of the recorded interaction, make a sound clip of it, annotate it, attach additional files (such as a test) and then send it to the agent. Because the agent gets this “coaching” right after the call, retention is improved — in other words it is more effective than if it was delivered the following day or week.

In addition, supervisors can send links to training modules which come from the initial training content (stored in the library), and have the agent re-take the module that corresponds with the call scenario that just took place. Some software requires the agent to “accept” the training before he or she can move on, and the supervisor can see the status on whether the agent has accepted or completed the training and/or testing. And thanks to the power of IP, these solutions now allow supervisors to deliver personalized training to each and every agent, regardless of location, which means remote agents get the same training as agents in the center.

Patrick Botz, global director of marketing for Voice Print International, which offers e-learning as part of its suite of contact center solutions, said one of just-in-time coaching’s biggest advantages is that “you don’t have to take the agents off the floor for classroom training.”

“And, for the agents that are doing really well, and understand the products and promotions, you don’t have to train them,” he said. “Because, let’s face it, you could take everyone off the phone for classroom training, and half of the agents won’t get anything out of it, because they get it already. This way, you’re only sending the targeted training to the people who really need it.”

Connie Smith, chief evangelist for Envision, which offers e-learning with its comprehensive portfolio of contact center solutions, said the ability to deliver just in time coaching is really what distinguishes today’s e-learning solutions from those of a few years ago.

“When we talk about the advantages of e-learning, whether hosted or on-premise, it is the coaching piece that delivers real benefits,” she said. “I just read about a study done by the International Personnel Management Association which shows that training alone increases productivity by 22 percent. But if you combine that with coaching — such as the training that comes via the e-learning training clips — it increases productivity by 88 percent.”

Deliver Custom Content

Today’s e-learning solutions are also more flexible in that they can be used to combine almost every type of content imaginable: Send an instant message telling an agent how to access certain information; send an audio clip of a customer interaction just gone awry and explain to the agent how to stay on track; send an audio clip of that perfect cross-sell; or send PowerPoint presentations to update agents on changes in company policy, the launch of new marketing campaigns, the introduction of new products or a sudden product recall. With today’s e-learning solutions, companies can notify their agents the minute a new product is released — so these systems are being used for much more than just basic e-learning. Plus, with today’s advanced authoring tools, supervisors can quickly create customized “mash ups” of audio, video and text files which can be immediately delivered to agents as personalized training modules.

“One of the things that’s really great about today’s e-learning solutions is that they’re so easy to create, administer and manage,” Smith said. “And the content is so targeted, so specific, you can target it to address practically any need.”

“The really cool thing is that you can send an e-learning clip telling your agents where some information lives on your site,” Smith added. “And that information is always being updated. So, for example, let’s say someone has made a change in a policy — as long as that link is still good, the e-learning solution will take you to the new policy.”

Facilitating the ability to quickly and easily create multimedia presentations from a variety of disparate training files are e-learning content standards like SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), which enable all of the files in an e-learning library to be compatible with different software.

“We have a new release of our e-learning solution coming out on July 30, and one of our big initiatives with our developers and product management team was to make it SCORM compliant,” Botz said. “Basically it is a standard that lets all of the content be easily re-usable, and accessible, and interoperable with all the applications. So if a company goes to another e-learning vendor, all the material they created using our system is easily transferable to another software system.”

Obviously, there are a million different training programs for agents, all tailored for different market segments and industries, outbound and inbound and both — and companies need to choose wisely to make sure they deliver the best training content possible to meet their needs. The hot thing today is simulation-based e-learning — software which lets agents interact with simulated “customers” in a completely natural way, just as if they’re on a real call. One advantage of these solutions is that they allow for complete and thorough training and testing of agents before they go live on the phones — thus sparing a company’s customers from being used as “guinea pigs” for new trainees. As the agents interact with these “simulated” customers, “problems” can suddenly arise, and the agent must try to navigate their way out of the situation. Interestingly, the training piece of these simulation-based solutions is achieved through “just-in-time” coaching that is delivered through the training software itself.

“By simulating actual customer situations the agent can feel free to ‘spread their wings’ and practice new skills without jeopardizing client relationships,” said Mark Brodsky, CEO and president of Ulysses Learning, a leading provider of contact center training solutions featuring state-of-the-art simulations. “A well designed simulation-based e-learning system will get you very close to a live customer experience. What’s more, the learner benefits from just-in-time coaching on their performance within the simulated environment. This is often more in-depth and specific than what is realistic in a fast paced call center environment.”

Deliver Consistent Training

Another advantage of today’s e-learning solutions for the contact center is that they deliver consistent training to all agents. One reason traditional training methods get mixed results is because, let’s face it, not all instructors are created equal.

“Just as learners have different styles, so do instructors,” Brodsky explained. “In an instructor-led program, the quality of the program (or lack thereof) is largely determined by the quality of the instructor. E-learning takes this variable off the table which in turn leads to more consistent learning and knowledge transfer across the business enterprise.”
Consistent delivery of training is particularly important for companies which have geographically dispersed centers. Without e-learning, you could have someone who is good at training agents in one location, but have someone who is lousy at another, and end up with inconsistencies in agent skill levels. E-learning solves this problem by enabling companies to deliver consistent training to all agents, no matter where they’re located. (Furthermore, software doesn’t get tired the same way an instructor does when its his last class of the week after a Thursday night binge!)

Build Agent Loyalty Through Self-Empowerment

This a huge advantage. To help keep agents happier and more engaged in their jobs, companies are increasingly allowing them to take control of their own performance improvement through solutions like e-learning. Allowing agents to learn at their own pace and re-train as they see fit gives them a feeling of empowerment — a sense of ownership over the contact center’s overall operation. Letting agents learn at their pace removes the pressure associated with traditional training and thus make agents more comfortable with learning and improving their own performance. Giving them access to the training library so they can self-train and use it to serve customers improves their performance, as they now have better command of the tools available to them and therefore can deliver a better customer experience.

“I used to be an agent many moons ago, and it’s so much more complicated now,” Smith explained. “There’s so much more to know. So by being able to feed the agents this targeted information, and by helping them get better at their skill gaps, they’re more confident and they’re more comfortable in their jobs, and that translates into higher retention rates. And the whole thing is, if you can keep your agents longer, it’s a win-win situation because their performance is higher, and their customer service is better.”

Smith said recent research shows that companies which have implemented e-learning solutions, combined with traditional coaching methods, “are 50 percent more likely to have lower turnover, achieve 27 percent greater profitability, and have a 56 percent higher customer loyalty rating — because their agents are knowledgeable, they’re faster and better.” She said agent performance has become a new area of focus for many companies “because these days everyone’s talking about customer satisfaction — that’s the big hot thing right now.” As a result, companies are learning that “it’s not just customer satisfaction, it’s actually employee/customer satisfaction.”
Joel Goldenberg, VP of contact centers for NICE Systems, which delivers e-learning for the contact center through its NICE Coaching solution (part of its Nice SmartCenter platform), pointed out that the contact centers that are making the most use of e-learning for agent training are those that are focused on delivering high quality service to top tier customers.
“Coaching tools help the call center improve the overall performance of the agent, which in turn affects the operational performance and the enterprise performance,” he said. “And at the end of the day, a high performance contact center helps lead to loyal customers that will stay with the company longer.”

Adding to their effectiveness is the fact that today’s e-learning solutions have greater appeal with the younger generations now coming into the contact center industry.

“We’ve now got a generation that has grown up with the Internet and gaming,” Brodsky said. “They are used to multi-tasking and very advanced simulations. To hold their interest, today’s e-learning experience has to be on par with the rest of their world. The challenge is keeping them engaged and wanting to learn new skills as they advance in their careers. High quality e-learning design allows you to do just that.”

Build a More Powerful Contact Center Ecosystem

It should be noted that the value of any e-learning solution increases exponentially when it is working in concert with other pieces of software. Think of the previous example, which is perhaps the most common, where a contact center supervisors uses call monitoring and speech analytics to identify which agents need additional training and then send them custom training modules to help them overcome barriers to performance improvement. In addition to this capability, today’s e-learning solutions can be integrated with a contact center’s performance monitoring software, so that when certain metrics aren’t being met by a particular agent (such as meeting a certain sales goal), training can be automatically sent to just that agent.

Botz said VPI’s customers tend to make great use of the company’s performance management software, which delivers a dashboard to each agent’s desktop showing them performance metrics for the group and for the individual agent, based on business rules defined by the organization. He said when certain metrics aren’t met, or a certain threshold has been exceeded, the system automatically sends the appropriate module to the agent’s desktop, and the agent must take the module before moving on to other work.

“With respect to the best way to improve agent performance, without question, the area with the greatest opportunity for impact on call center performance is customer interaction skills; namely service and sales skills,” Brodsky said. “And we’re not just talking about service and sales tips and techniques but rather deep customer interaction skills that enable an agent to make good decisions during the call and have the ability to quickly and effectively take control of the call and navigate it to a successful conclusion for both the customer and the company. This is where expertly crafted simulation-based e-learning comes into play because this method of learning is among the best ways to learn these skills in a safe, simulated environment. It’s even far superior to role playing or even attempting to learn these skills on the job practicing on real customers.”

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