In contact centers, the first 90 days is known as the critical make-or-break period for new agents. New-hires can quickly be overwhelmed with information about systems, processes, policies and procedures. Add to that the stress of interacting with customers when you’re still learning the ropes and it’s easy to see why so many new-hires exit early in the employee lifecycle.
An effective training and development program ensures new agents are able to drive customer centricity with customers from day one. No one knows that better than the Learning and Performance practice at TeleTech. The global customer experience, engagement and growth solutions provider’s focused approach to learning and development has long been recognized by the training industry as best-in-class, and more recently, it has won accolades from the contact center industry with a 2017 CCW Excellence Award for Best Training & Development Program.
It’s not just one program that sets TeleTech apart: It’s the close alliance between operations and the learning and development team which ensures that the training programs delivered to clients and the market are effective, and are built and tested in collaboration with their target audience—frontline agents.
There is a great deal of synergy between the two areas. The training and development of TeleTech associates is overseen by Vice President of Learning and Development Rich Herbst, while Lamont Exeter, Vice President of Product & Innovation, leads the team responsible for building new learning and knowledge solutions for clients and the market. Both have a long tenure with the company, and have been working closely together since 2009 to improve training and develop innovative solutions.
It’s a powerful partnership, says Exeter. “Every single strategy, product or solution that we sell or offer to our clients, we have launched, piloted, tested and perfected within our employee base first. Our clients get innovative, yet proven solutions out of the gate with minimal, if any, risk.”
“Real Plays” Replicate the Work Experience for Trainees
One such innovative solution significantly improves the success rate of new associates by replicating the contact center environment in the training classroom. It’s a solution that replicates the operations environment in a controlled, safe, PCI and HIPAA risk-free environment. Called Real Plays, it provides trainees with the real-world experience of what it feels like to handle “live” customer interactions.
In many training programs, agents don’t interact with a customer until they transition to the contact center floor. “Most programs utilize role plays or fishbowl scenarios in which a new-hire participates in a mock call using a script in front of a training class,” says Herbst. “It doesn’t give you the real job shock of talking to a customer.”
The company’s Real Plays solution does just that. The process starts on the trainee’s first day during which they take simple calls, such as basic information requests, which allows them to learn how to navigate the CRM system, processes, procedures, telephony platform and social knowledge engine. Each day, the calls get increasingly complex. Importantly, the CRM is fully recreated in the training environment, down to dummy customer data so that new-hires can complete end-to-end transactions while in training.
The Real Plays solution also includes an IVR system with prompts that replicate the client’s system. “We assign some trainees to play the role of customers so they can experience what it’s like for callers to go through the IVR prompts and then be placed on hold,” Exeter says.
For instance, in a class of 20, the trainer may assign seven trainees to handle the phones while the other 13 call in as customers. The first seven will be connected immediately, but the rest will be placed in queue. “That helps to build true customer empathy,” he explains. “When the trainees are then playing the part of the associate and someone tells them that they’ve just been on hold for 12 minutes, they can understand what that feels like. So, in addition to the technical process of taking a call, they are experiencing the emotional part, which is key.”
The trainees’ performance is tracked and measured by the clients’ contact center metrics and not just traditional skills or knowledge tests. “We use the data points that they use in their operations, whether it’s first-call resolution, customer satisfaction, handle time or NPS scores,” Exeter adds.
Ongoing Development to Build Professional and Leadership Skills
To complement the training that helps new-hires seamlessly transition to the contact center floor, TeleTech also offers leadership and professional development programs to keep associates engaged in their personal growth.
The professional development program focuses on job-related and soft-skill courses. TeleTech’s course catalog includes more than 150 digital courses on topics like how to decrease handle time, learning to use internal systems and trouble-shooting skills, as well as more universal skills like communication essentials, presentation skills, internal and external selling, and team management.
Associates who have leadership aspirations can participate in TeleTech’s Leadership Institute Series, which focuses on role-based training and development. The series includes certification programs for roles like trainer, team lead, manager and director.
“In addition to providing our associates with the competencies they need to excel in their roles, we’re also seeing to their professional development to help them to become better overall employees, managers and leaders,” Herbst says.
Closed-Loop Feedback Process for Continuous Improvement
The learning and development bar is always rising at TeleTech. A closed-loop process ensures that training programs are continuously reviewed and improved. Frontline feedback is highly valued—the company has created formal and informal methods to ensure that their voice is heard.
New associates are surveyed at 30, 60 and 90 days of employment. “We know that the key timing in the employee lifecycle is from hire to 90 days,” says Herbst. “If we can get an agent through a training program and through 90 days in production, we think they’re going to stay and become a productive member of our workforce for a long time. So, it’s important to gather feedback from them, not only on their experience at TeleTech, but their recommendations and ideas for how we can improve it.”
New-hire touchpoint surveys ask for input on the training process, the content, the trainer, the trainee’s feeling of engagement, tools that are provided, and whether they feel like they’re going to be successful on the job.
Importantly, the feedback is not just collected and stored. Every single survey is reviewed by the entire training team, as well as team leads, managers, human capital and QA, who meet weekly to discuss what’s working and what’s not working.
“Our closed-loop process involves multiple people from different departments assessing our training experience, but a big piece of the feedback comes directly from our agents,” says Herbst. “That flows into our client quarterly business reviews and recommendations that we provide to clients about the training experience and the curriculum.”
The information is also reviewed by Exeter’s team, which then develops products and services to improve the training experience.
In addition to the formal process, informal feedback is collected through a social knowledge engine. “We have taken a traditional knowledge base and have added social elements that you would find on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube, such as the ability to add comments, feedback and rate content,” Exeter says.
As new associates read through knowledge articles about products, policies or procedures, they can provide immediate feedback if there is content that is unclear or confusing. The feedback is instantly available to the product team and is also posted so that other associates, team leads or supervisors can offer additional comments, explanations or recommendations.
Feedback that drives procedure changes or best practices enhancements is rewarded through integrated gamification. “Employees who make recommendations get credit for it, which drives ongoing feedback, collaboration and tribal knowledge gathering. In most organizations, these types of conversations take place by the water cooler or in the breakroom so it’s never captured,” Exeter notes. “Once we capture it in the social knowledge engine, we reply to associates within 24-48 hours. They feel more engaged, and clients get feedback that they’ve never had before.”
Living the Vision
What makes TeleTech’s training and development stand out? Herbst believes it’s the company’s strong focus on improvement, development and innovation. “That’s our perspective on training,” he says. “We’re continually coming to the table with recommendations for improvement that we can actually develop and implement.”
Exeter agrees, adding that: “We live what we offer. Every training program that we offer to our clients, we live it and we use it in-house. We’ve had considerable success in driving a 90-day performance target for new-hires, as well as providing our associates with development programs for a personalized learning journey. Wrap that around the metrics that we hold, our drive to innovation and our focus on empowering associates—those are just some of the things differentiate us.”