Virtual training is here to stay! With many contact centers going hybrid or staying fully remote, how do you ensure training keeps people engaged, encourages interactivity, and effectively improves their skills?
To find out, I interviewed five contact center training experts. Their responses below have been lightly edited for clarity.
Q. What do you see as the biggest overall trend(s) for virtual contact center training for the second half of 2022?
“Creating and designing effective blended learning for both virtual and in-person learning” is the biggest trend, according to Clare Santos, Senior Manager, Training,
Building upon that, Afshan Kinder, Partner, Switchgear Consulting, notes “The need for eLearning will increase, since some companies are extending their geographic recruitment reach.”
Sangeeta Bhatnagar, Principal, SB Global Human Capital Solutions sees that “Top-tiered companies are adapting to WFH (work-from-home) contact center agents. They empower them through the training process instead of having training be a one-way information sharing process. Companies understand training MUST be engaging to minimize early attrition.”
To combat attrition at every stage, Melissa Hurley, Vice President, Learning & People Development, Bill Gosling Outsourcing says “Having a suite of soft skills eLearning available in your LMS (Learning Management System) library is key. It empowers employees to grow, uplift their skills, and learn something new. It also shows how an organization values their employees’ interests.”
Q. What have you done to improve interactivity and participation during virtual training?
Sheri Kendall, Training Manager, Wayfair cites the book, Brain Rules by John Medina, noting from it how “research shows exercise increases brain power, while stressed brains don’t learn the same way.”
Sheri, in her company, followed the advice and “used movement to increase brain power in face-to-face environments. But, during the [COVID-19] pandemic it was necessary to find ways to replicate this approach.”
Thankfully, she implemented virtual “dance breaks, stretching activities, and treasure hunts that required learners to move around their homes to find items.”
Sheri also found that “stress is significantly reduced when a trainer creates a psychologically safe learning environment.
The first step is to create a sense of belonging.
“In a virtual environment a sense of belonging can be difficult to create,” she says. “Trainers must be present, mindful, and committed to inclusive practices. Inclusivity is the first step in creating a sense of belonging and fostering a psychologically safe learning environment.”
Afshan found that “most people are hungry to interact and socialize. Always pair or group people for any exercise. Remove the solo activities.”
“Don’t have a group of 20 to 25 in one session,” she warns. “It allows people to hide and be quiet, therefore driving inconsistency in learning. Keep the groups small!”
Clare recommends “teaching learners how to effectively use virtual platforms (such as Zoom or Teams) during training.” She discovered the hard way that “most people don’t know how to use videoconferencing.” As a result, “an onboarding basic for Day 1 is to introduce new hires to these tools.”
“…effective blended learning for both virtual and in-person learning is the biggest trend.” —Clare Santos
Melissa goes even further, offering workshops regularly for facilitators, leaders, and support teams that facilitate meetings. These workshops include how to:
- Use different emojis to respond to questions.
- Leverage animations.
- Update content to appeal to virtual learners.
- Use polls after “content heavy” modules to break up learning and check for knowledge retention.
- Leverage whiteboard sessions for brainstorming.
- Play games related to content, such as scavenger hunts and icebreakers.
Sangeeta uses polls to interact with learners. “This helps with informal assessments and provides insights on current challenges.”
She also loves the whiteboard feature in Zoom, saying “I use this in breakout rooms to encourage group participation and ensure all voices are heard.”
Sangeeta also increases interactivity through chat, which many introverts prefer. “I read chats at the same time as verbal discussions.”
She adds “What you recognize, gets repeated. So, recognize when people with lower confidence, or who are introverted, start to share! This increases interactivity and engagement.”
To build even more engagement, Clare sets expectations about webcam usage. She realizes “no one loves being on camera all the time.” However, “seeing a person’s face helps build relationships.”
She likes how “participants can see someone’s body language and connect it with what they’re saying. That builds trust.”
To create interactivity, Clare likes using tools such as “Kahoot or Sli.do for reviews or generating word clouds.” She finds “Sli.do is great for this” that also provides a quick “temperature check” of participants.
She also uses Sli.do “for asking quick Level 1 (Kirkpatrick model) feedback on how people feel about a lesson.”
Finally, Clare finds adding more breaks is crucial.
“We give two 15-minute breaks and a lunch, “she says. “However, we give added breaks between modules if we have heavy content. Time away from the screen helps people process what they've learnt.”
Q. How can you increase employee engagement during virtual new hire classes?
Afshan says “Engagement and participation go together.” She recommends you:
- Give the team control of the agenda. Ask advanced participants to teach others or take over the class.
- Everyone likes a good story. Instead of teaching a concept, tell a story showing how this concept applies.
- Have fun and inject humor.
- Give the team a break, even if it is for just five minutes.
- Add music and energy into the start of the session.
- Ask for permission. (People do not like being “voluntold” to do something.)
- Ask the team to share their feelings using GIFs and emojis.
To continue building engagement, Clare suggests trainers “ensure new hires meet with leaders and teams they’ll interact with in their roles.”
She says “Priceline.com does a fantastic job of this.” While Day 1 is meeting with people from Human Resources, Compliance, and IT, Days 2-5 are “meet and greets: with the new hires’ immediate teams.”
Lastly, new hires meet the CEO, senior vice presidents, and department heads to understand what they do. Clare says, as a result, “your newly hired people understand what each department does, no matter which department they’re actually joining.”
Q. What advice do you have for running successful breakout rooms with WFH team members?
Afshan advises trainers to “be clear on what you want them to do.” She gives the following expectations for virtual breakout room exercises:
- What does the breakout group need to solve or practice?
- Where do they write their thoughts?
- How long do they have for the exercise?
- What will they need to share when they come back to the main room?
- How can they apply their learning to their day-to-day role?
Sangeeta warns trainers to “Be mindful of “Zoom fatigue. Give occasional exercises where the camera can be off for a while” to give participants a break.” Also, “keep popping into different breakout rooms to check-in and encourage attendees.”
Lastly, she believes in “debrief, debrief, debrief” to ensure understanding.
Melissa has also used breakout rooms for a different purpose. She found using “breakout rooms for job shadowing is a creative way for our most successful agents to influence more than one person (we use three agents per mentor).”
Her advice is to set up a job shadowing session for a particular purpose, so it is “focused on recent topics they have learned in the class.”
Q. What is the one thing you wish you had known, before using Zoom, Meet, Teams, or another platform for virtual training?
Melissa wishes she had known “there are different licenses for webinars versus training.” She recommends, from her experience, that you take the time to “understand the additional functionally” with each service, since Zoom, Meet, and Teams all have different strengths and challenges.
For Afshan, key things she wishes she had known years ago are:
- Internet speeds vary, and best laid plans do not work out. So, have a Plan B to connect back with the class (in case of internet issues).
- Have materials available for everyone to easily access.
- Practice how to use features beforehand.
- Show up at least 10 minutes before the starting time to set up music, breakout rooms or your attendance list.
“Have a Plan B to connect back with the class…”
I want to thank Afshan Kinder, Clare Santos, Melissa Hurley, Sangeeta Bhatnagar, and Sheri Kendall for sharing their advice about contact center virtual training. Their tips will help make your training more engaging, interactive, and effective!