Why Training Programs Fail and How to Avoid It Happening to You


Why Training Programs Fail and How to Avoid It Happening to You

We considered starting this article like this: “Two grizzled training veterans walk into a bar…” but that’s not exactly how it happened. We are experienced (not grizzled) training consultants. We’ve never met in a bar, but that could happen someday! We have, however, met in professional circles, and we’re big fans of each other’s work. And we share a core belief: In well-organized training programs, agents can and do develop new customer service and sales skills. Training works.

However, for reasons outside the training program itself, training doesn’t always work. Both of us have seen training programs fall short, and it’s heartbreaking. Read our 10 reasons why training programs fail, so you can avoid it happening to you.

1. Not putting managers in the training. (Mike)

“We don’t need to put our managers and team leaders into training. They already know this!” That is a common response when I suggest leaders attend the same customer service or sales training as their agents. Yet, many people promoted to team leader or manager do NOT understand these skills. They need the same training as their agents. Even leaders with great skills need to understand specific terminology used in their agents’ training course. Otherwise, how can they properly coach and reinforce these techniques?

Some managers fear their attendance may prevent agents from speaking freely during class. To address that concern, managers and team leaders can be trained in separate sessions. So, leaders learn the skills and role model the right behaviors for their team. There is one additional benefit to having managers attend training: their presence signifies training is a priority. After all, if managers do not attend, agents may feel this training is not important.

2. Not planning for QA to support the training or not preparing your QA team to coach the behaviors taught in the training. (Mike)

Quality assurance (QA) coaches must learn the same skills as their agents. How can QA coaches reinforce the right behaviors if they have not seen the training course? QA staff must understand those skills BETTER than their agents, so they can analyze agent calls and chats, with the goal of coaching those skills. In addition, frequent calibration sessions are required to ensure consistency in scoring across the QA team. Coaches must reach agreement on how behaviors should be scored and coached. Nothing will ruin a training initiative faster than conflicting or inconsistent coaching as agents start to apply their new skills on the job.

3. Not updating the QA form to account for (or include) the behaviors taught in the training. (Mike)

A good quality assurance scorecard captures the right behaviors. So, it must be updated to incorporate new skills or techniques taught in training. The QA team and training team (or the external training vendor) need to work together to revise the QA form. Otherwise, the existing scorecard may actually discourage agents from using skills learned in training. An example of this is training agents to upsell using a new call flow, and then punishing them on the scorecard for not using the old call flow.

4. Not lowering the contacts per hour metric in the days and weeks immediately after the training. (Leslie)

Your agents have just completed a training program that successfully helped them gain new skills. But it will take them some time to apply those new skills effortlessly. They’re going to be less productive immediately after the training, so managers must reduce the number of calls, emails and chats they expect agents to handle per hour or day. If you use pre-training productivity measures, you’ll stamp out the effects of the training. Agents’ newly learned skills are the wobbliest. They just won’t apply what they’ve learned if they have too many calls to handle per hour.

5. Not updating the knowledge base, email templates or call scripts. (Leslie)

You can’t bake a new cake with old ingredients. Managers can’t expect agents to apply new sales or customer service skills if they must rely on the same old sources of stored knowledge (knowledge base articles, templates or scripts). Imagine, for example, that a team of frontline tech support agents at a web hosting company has just been trained to offer their company’s new professional services to customers who contact them for tech support help. These tech support agents will need easy access to content they haven’t used before. If the KB isn’t updated—before the training—to include that professional services content, the tech support agents won’t be able to use the skills they learned.

6. Not scheduling the training at the right time. (Leslie)

Training can be disruptive, and it’s difficult to find the “perfect” time for it. But some managers delude themselves that training can succeed even if it’s held at what everyone knows is the wrong time. For example, a manager schedules a training session on how to handle irate callers just a week before the contact center deploys brand-new CRM software. The challenges of learning to use the new software will eclipse any benefit of the handling irate callers training. Or the manager schedules email writing training that’s based on updated email templates, but the templates haven’t been approved by Legal, so they’re not available for agents to use immediately after the training. When managers have the attitude, “We’d better do the training now, even though now is not the perfect time,” they pretty much guarantee the training will fall far short of its goals.

7. Not adjusting the CSAT survey (or other metrics) to include the behaviors taught in the training. (Mike)

A prospective client once asked, “How will you measure the success of this (customer service) training?” When asked how they currently measure customer service, they replied, “We don’t measure it.” Their QA scorecard also did not reflect customer service skills. So, they had no way to track if agents were applying their new service skills. As for their customers, this company’s customer satisfaction (CSAT) survey only had one question about “customer experience.” But, it lumped the contact center’s service together with a customer’s retail store experience. So, it was not useful in tracking an agent’s progress. The key is to modify the QA scorecard and CSAT surveys, so you can capture the right information to reinforce newly trained skills.

8. Not providing incentives or rewards for agents to use their new skills. (Mike)

Do you agree that rewards and recognition motivate people to use new skills? Now think of the opposite scenario: Why would anyone bother to change if there is no incentive? Change is hard. It takes energy. Changing what you say on the phone and what you write to customers involves breaking old habits and building new ones. Agents will ask, “What’s in it for me?” Yet, contact centers continue to invest in training without investing in rewards and recognition. They mandate that people attend training; however, they fail to reward them for using new skills on the job. As a result, people become disillusioned and stop trying because they realize managers don’t care enough to create meaningful rewards.

9. Not getting buy-in from other departments on the new skills covered in the training. (Leslie)

Some managers hope their training project will fly under the radar of departments outside the contact center, but that hope is a delusion. The quickest way to stamp out all the new skills and practices agents learn in training is for leaders in another powerful department to learn about them after the training is complete and simply shut them down.

Some managers hope their training project will fly under the radar of departments outside the contact center, but that hope is a delusion.

For example, when the honchos in the Legal Department discover that customer service agents have been trained to express empathy in their emails to customers, they may balk and say, “No, we can’t express empathy! It increases legal risk.” The time to get buy-in from the Legal Department, the union, or the Operations Department is before the training happens. Managers don’t need to beg permission from other departments, but they do need to let them know about the skills and practices agents will learn, and they do need to ensure the other departments are on board.

10. Viewing the training as an end in itself. (Leslie)

As a training consultant, I feel great empathy and respect for my clients. Planning and carrying out a training project costs managers a lot (and I’m not referring to my fee!). A training project consumes managers’ and agents’ time, requires the use of virtual meeting technologies or physical meeting space, takes agents away from handling incoming contacts from customers, and requires follow-up coaching. It’s a lot!

So, it’s easy to understand why some managers feel profound relief after the training sessions are complete. They put their feet up and think, “Phew! That’s done! My folks are all trained up, and I can move on to the other hundred items on my to-do list!” But the training sessions are never the destination; they’re the start of the journey. What happens after the training matters as much—or more—to enable change.

We hope you don’t find this list of 10 training pitfalls discouraging or cynical. We are not cynical at all! We are two profoundly earnest believers in the benefits of training. We believe customer service and sales training programs work, agents can and do develop new skills, and a learning-focused organization retains its best employees. But we’ve also seen how easy it is to undermine training, and we don’t want this to happen to you.

Mike Aoki

Mike Aoki is the President of Reflective Keynotes Inc., a training company that helps contact centers improve their sales and customer experience results. A contact center expert, Mike was chosen by ICMI.com as one of the "Top 25 Thought Leaders for 2021." He is a frequent contributor to Contact Center Pipeline magazine and a member of their Advisory Board. In addition, he serves on the board of GTACC (the Greater Toronto Area Contact Centre association). He co-authored the Amazon #1 bestselling leadership book, "Called to Action."
Twitter: @mikeaoki


Leslie O'Flahavan

E-WRITE's Leslie O'Flahavan helps people write well to customers. She delivers customized training for frontline agents, social media managers, and contact center leaders. She is a problem-solver for all written channels: email, chat, text and social. Leslie is a LinkedIn Learning author of five customer service writing courses. Connect with Leslie on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.
Twitter: @LeslieO