Accelerating Time to Competence of Customer Service Representatives – Part 2

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Part 2 of 2: Continuous Learning and Performance Support 

In the first article of this 2-part series, I wrote about the importance of employee engagement as a way of getting the most out of customer service representatives, and getting them up to speed as quickly as possible.  In part 2 below, I examine what a continuous learning strategy entails, and why empowering your customer service representatives with performance support during their actual daily work is an effective and value-driven strategy.   The Post-Training Gap improvementSo you’re the manager of a customer support team, and you’re frequently facing the following challenge: Your group of new representatives has gone through training, which on the surface passed successfully. They were attentive and responsive, and seemed to fully absorb the wealth of information they heard from the trainer on how to use your company’s software, even demonstrating an ability to operate it successfully. However, as training ended and you’ve assigned them to their daily tasks, as they begin the grind of the typical work flow, they are struggling.  They make repeated mistakes in operating the software, or they are asking others for assistance, resulting in frustrated customers who they are tending to, as they process inevitably takes much longer than desired. Some customers are simply giving up and hanging up, and while others may stick with it, they obviously aren’t going to be left with a very positive impression of the level of customer service. It’s the basic truth that in just about any organization, whether you’re talking about customer service employees or those in other positions, there is a gap between the end of training and the moment when employees reach full levels of proficiency and independence in performing their work. That is true even in the case of effective training sessions, conducted by engaging and interesting trainers, with interactive content. It’s just the nature of how people learn, by repetition as opposed to simply hearing new information, grasping it, and mastering it immediately. For most at least, it simply doesn’t work like that.  So you’re faced with a new challenge. How can you get your customer service representatives to transfer what they learned in training and apply it to their every-day work? How can you raise their performance without the need for further training, separated from their required work?  In other words, how can you bridge that gap between training and performance proficiency? How Continuous Learning Helps Boost Performance While in the past, employee training was seen more as a one-time event, following which employees would work proficiently, increasingly companies are striving to establish a continuous learning strategy, one in which learning development continues long after the initial training sessions have ended. Not only that, it embraces the realization that MOST learning takes place outside of formal training, but rather within the context of work.  The key idea is that employees need to continue to learn and grow in order to support their work performance.  As the environment in which business operates is constantly evolving, there is a clear need to foster a workplace that is open to adaptation. customer service rep1Technology used in the workplace is changing at lightning speed, and we live in an age where a flexible and adapting workforce is essential. Technology is the gateway to new learning opportunities Continued advancements in technology clearly have made continuous learning more possible and viable. There is a wide variety of technology options for enhancing knowledge and providing performance support.  These include a range of e-learning software, m-learning, which provides form learning materials to be accessed from any type of mobile device, webinars, YouTube videos, and other social media channels. These all, to varying degrees, have enabled so-called ‘informal learning’, outside of the basic framework of office activities, to evolve. In-work learning software, such as WalkMe, enables managers to provide step-by-step guidance software which continues to train employees within the moment of work. Through a series of tip balloons displayed onscreen, your cusomter service representatives receive clear and simple instructions on how to perform any tasks, not matter how complex. It helps to reduce the time need for training (as managers can get their customer service professional to their tasks quicker), reduces costs, and lowers the need of the reps to ask for assistance, as the guidance is right there in front of them onscreen. Some great performance support tools to provide in-work performance support include New Relic, great for facilitating a truly crowdsourced workforce, Librato, good for integration with other learning software to track training or constant learning environment, and PacketTrap RMM, a great way for IT managers to track problems with infrastructure or to spot where customer service representatives are having trouble with their systems or learning proficiency with them. Improving customer service performance All of these tools, and others like them, have not only helped shift the discussion in learning circles in recent years away from the training->work formula toward a more long-term strategy. happy womenThey have also, according to company testimonials and independent industry studies, helped increase overall performance. In the customer service world, the value is clear. From the managerial perspective, you can slash training costs and time spent away from daily tasks. Perhaps as important, you can alleviate the frustration of that post-training period mentioned above, as employee errors are reduced, and proficiency levels are reached much more quickly. Your employees as well will noticeably perform better in operating enterprise software and websites.  These types of performance support technologies also play a significant role in employee engagement, which I discussed in detail in the previous article. They help directly tie learning to performance, increasing motivation, sense of ownership and empowerment. They also of course help relieve both customer service representatives’ frustration and confusion, and most importantly for your business, they lower customer frustration. Customer service managers would therefore best take this message to heart.  Look at your team’s learning and growth as continuous process, one which allows them immediate support when needed, while increasing efficiency and performance levels.

Provide your team with the tools and support to allow them to feel fully engaged and motivated to perform well.  And you WILL see the difference.

Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog