Skill levels in the contact centre can vary considerably and product knowledge can often be poor. With the internet and social media we sometimes find that the customer is more knowledgeable than the agent they are talking to.
So how do we encourage a learning culture in the contact centre? Sarah Mackie provides some pointers.
While most of us in the learning industry would agree that lifelong learning is stimulating and rewarding, when meeting with customers I am frequently reminded that in today’s busy commercial environment, the desire to learn is often put on the back burner in favour of the achievement of day-to-day deliverables and commercial objectives.
Here are a number of tips to help you generate interest and engagement in your learning interventions, none of which have to be elaborate or expensive – just well-conceived and relevant.
Build some interest
First of all, you need to build up some interest – remember the privatisation of British Gas? Did you “tell Syd”? This campaign ran for weeks before the launch of one of the biggest share sales in history. The idea was to get the UK talking about what it might be. And it worked!
In one financial services company I worked with, the operational management told us that “nothing was secret” and that their culture was very gossipy – so we let some selected people know that something big and exciting was about to be launched by the learning team and within a week everyone was asking about it and speculating as to what it might be. In fact, we incorporated it into the programme because the imagination and relevance of that speculation was spot on!
Another way to gain interest and encourage participation is to create some form of event or theme day – encourage people to dress up or enter into competitions to raise the profile of a new or improved course.
Have you seen a trailer for a new movie or watched the celebrities line up to go to a premiere – it’s all about the hype. If there is a ‘scored’ element to your learning, encourage senior managers or subject matter experts to challenge learners and publish the ‘high scores’.
If elements of your learning are business critical, try the approach favoured by Great Ormond Street – if you fail to complete an online learning element which is mandated for your role/time in the organisation within the defined deadline, the department is charged £50.
People believe people
In the workplace, anything handed down from ‘management’ is likely to be viewed with scepticism, whereas YouTube-style videos and “Ted’s top tips” (assuming Ted is a respected member of the team) embedded into learning programmes provide credibility to materials, and you may well be surprised by the value-add you receive!
Loyalty-building for continuous learning
When learning is ongoing or requires refreshing consider a loyalty-building or collectable element. One automotive retailer told us that the branch staff would happily spend their downtime playing cards but wouldn’t go anywhere near the computer to tackle the online course material. The answer was simple – a playing card was used as a reward for completing each module and the best poker hand at the end of the month won a day off – simple, cheap and very effective!
Encourage people to connect
Encourage the process of shared learning and open discussion about topics, acknowledge progress by asking line managers to include this in staff meetings, and, most importantly, invite high achievers to meet or lunch with a member of the management team and publicise the meeting.
Learning as collateral
Learning, particularly e-learning is all too often used as a tick-box exercise: health and safety, induction, process and documentation. Many call centres have a fluid workforce to cover seasonal peaks and all too often the investment in the “mandatory” learning is lost as people come and go.
One retailer we work with uses a passport approach to learning, whereby every course completed is stamped in a passport as well as being logged on a central database. When looking for new recruits the passport is used as collateral by applicants (particularly university students) who may have held a summer job in their home town and a term-time job in their university town – wherever they are, the passport is recognised by that company as a fast-track to employment and as a result saves money and encourages retention of even casual labour!
What I want, when I want it
Providing Educomms or educational communication pieces as preparation, reinforcement or crisis management tools can be a really effective way of supporting your learning at the sharp end.
Use the internet or intranet
I am a big advocate of the internet because it satisfies an immediate need for information that libraries just don’t! A learning portal that has a familiar and friendly look and feel and that incorporates common interest groups, news updates and a really effective search engine combined with videos, top tips and learning materials already discussed make it a ‘destination site’. That is to say: if everything is in one place, is easy to find and provides reliable information IT WILL GET USED – think Google.
Perhaps the most important way of encouraging an engaged, learning culture is to encourage the stupid questions.
In essence, an engaged learning environment is one that encourages involvement, supports the individual as an individual and provides a vision of their future within the company.
Our contact centre industry is envied and emulated across the world – perhaps it’s time that it was recognised as a genuine career option in its own right.
Sarah Mackie is Commercial Director at Infinity Learning