As a trainer, I’m usually good at reading facial expressions and body language to determine if someone is getting the point or needs a break before explaining the next concept. Our face-to-face new-hire training session, with a median class size of six to seven trainees, typically takes about a month to complete. It covers details about the health programs offered, training on various processes, compliance with company policies, call documentation and customer service skills.
Like many companies, COVID-19 forced us to make a sudden change from an on-site classroom to remote training. However, since our center assists callers with health-related information, we encourage agents to cover their webcams.
With new agents coming on board and no access to webcams, I found myself needing to rethink my strategy to ensure that my class has the required knowledge and skills to be successful on the phones.
Have you ever been in a new situation where you’ve been given a whole bunch of information to learn, mugged up the material to pass a test, were given some mentoring time and then were expected to perform the job well? For new frontline agents, the moment of truth is when that phone rings and they think: Who do I go to for help? What should I do? I think I know what I’m doing.
Uncertainty is the worst feeling a new-hire can experience. This feeling may be common for the first few calls they take, but if it lasts for more than a few days, their morale will suffer. In these instances, a new-hire starts looking elsewhere for opportunities, and we may, at times, call it a bad hire when he or she leaves.
I knew that I had to help our new-hire class be successful despite COVID-19 challenges, so I brainstormed ideas with my team, researched online tools, and came up with a structured curriculum.
Similar to our previous new-hire classes, I provided the participants with a training binder that they could use to take notes, copies of crucial quick-reference guides (QRGs), and job aids. This particular class had six participants, so we decided to bring them into the office for orientation, where we divided them into two groups of three in order to adhere to all the CDC guidelines. The on-site session covered steps to set up their laptops and some basics to help them understand the applications they would need for training.
10 Strategies & Tools for Delivering Efficient Training
Following are some of the strategies and tools that I adopted to deliver efficient training to my trainees during the COVID-19 pandemic, and which I continue to use:
1. Online Whiteboard
To tangibilize my words, I made use of an online whiteboard through Skype where I could deliver a concept, and at the same time, write down those keywords or ideas and add images to help the learners stay engaged. After explaining this, I saved the image and shared it with my class.
2. Virtual Exercises
I wanted to ensure that my class received the intended message and identify any knowledge gaps. So I converted all of my Microsoft Word exercises into PDF format using Adobe Acrobat DC Pro. I created fillable forms that trainees could complete and then email their responses. These exercises included scavenger hunts, end-of-module exercises and practice sessions.
3. Making Learning Fun
They say that repetition is the mother of learning, so including games—such as Jeopardy, online gamification knowledge checks, crossword puzzles and treasure hunts—make learning fun and allow learners to revisit the information. Also, including short videos in your presentations, similar to those you see on Facebook or YouTube, will engage your audience and help break down complex concepts. I learned that, in a virtual training environment, the class gets disinterested quickly and it isn’t easy to tell. Injecting more than the usual amount of knowledge checks into the middle of presentations helps to keep the class engaged and makes learning a two-way exchange of information. This ensures that what you’re saying is being understood by your audience.
I recall one treasure hunt exercise that required the trainees to navigate our website to find the answers to some knowledge-check questions. Upon completing the treasure hunt, the agent was awarded a “Treasure Hunters Badge,” which they were all excited to receive. I also used an online learning platform called Quizziz to create quick quizzes for my class. I noticed that these fast-paced quizzes injected engagement into a training presentation.
4. Surveys and Polls
These are great tools for getting feedback, identifying training needs and engaging the class. Also, people appreciate the training session when you ask for their feedback and consider including it. To create these surveys and polls, I used MS Forms, which is available through an Office 365 subscription.
5. Leverage Recorded Calls
We played recorded calls and dissected each call to help the trainees understand the call flow, where did the agent get the information from, and discuss the level of customer service. We would stop the call to ask questions, or provide the class with the steps to find the information; this provides trainees with an understanding of what is happening during the call. We played the good calls as well as the not-so-good calls, bleeping out the agent’s and caller’s names so it didn’t identify any particular individual in the call center or customer.
6. Role Play
Role-playing helps trainees to get familiar with scripts or greetings, navigating through the systems, and familiarizes them with the typical call types. I started with already created role-playing scenarios but later allowed the class to come up with their own plots.
7. Reflection Exercise
At the end of a training day, we spent time reviewing what we learned in the trainee’s own words. One person took notes and then sent the completed reflection exercise to the class.
8. Take Your Time
In the virtual environment, it’s good to take your time with trainees to help them understand the required knowledge to be successful, tools available, and the expectations of your call center. Even if the trainee has tons of relevant experience, they need to learn your call center’s processes. The time that you spend upfront bridging knowledge gaps will make the trainee more successful—and, in turn, your center. In my last class, I noticed that the trainees needed time to understand a process such as determining if a procedure code is covered. I first showed them the steps, provided them with a copy of a quick-reference guide which outlined the steps, and then asked them to show me the steps in the form of a teach-back.
9. Individualized Feedback
This is essential for your class since everyone learns differently, and we all have our own experiences that we bring. By reviewing exercises and surveys, we can structure feedback that’s beneficial to each trainee’s growth. In my last class, one trainee wasn’t sure of the steps to properly document a call, but with our call documentation exercise, I could have a one-on-one training session, which helped the trainee understand the required steps.
10. Adding Variety
It’s important to add variety to the training day. A usual day would include instructor-led training (ILT) for about two hours. For the next hour, we have an exercise, then listen to recorded calls before lunch, and perform some role-playing for an hour. That is followed by course completion on the learning management system (LMS), two hours or so with agents listening to calls and watching their screens. We spend the final 15 to 20 minutes before the end of the day reflecting on what was covered. Note: Throughout the day, make sure to sprinkle in a few pauses in addition to regular breaks and lunch so that trainees can walk away and then re-engage with the material. Otherwise, you will find yourself talking to a class that has already checked out for the session.
Make Learning & Development Ongoing
Even when the new-hire class transitioned from the classroom to the call center floor, we continued to have weekly check-in meetings and surveys to understand what they needed in terms of additional knowledge or skills training and to gain an overall understanding of their comfort level with the calls.
The pandemic definitely has created a complicated environment for new-hire training. We must strive to meet these new challenges in this unique situation we find ourselves in today. How? By leveraging our resources to make remote learning work for our new-hire classes, assisting with replacing agents due to turnover, and ensuring that exceptional customer service continues to be our top priority for our callers.