In this new column dedicated to investigating what to think about when buying a particular piece of technology, we ask three key vendors for their advice. This month we kick off with e-learning, with some interesting responses from Atrium Communications, Broadband Learning Solutions and Witness Systems.
Why a blended approach is key to any e-learning purchase
By Phil Dodds, group sales director at Atrium Communications (www.atriumcom.com)
Investing in an e-learning solution has the same internal difficulties as any other purchase: how much will it cost versus the benefits for your business. To justify the spend you have to show how the techniques used will improve your agents’ skills and knowledge, and answer the questions about why e-learning is more effective than classroom sessions.
The argument over which method of teaching is more effective can be endless, so the solution to look for is a blended learning approach that integrates the key advantages of different methodologies.
E-learning can bring you flexibility – in creation, distribution and reporting – to accommodate all your training needs, while a classroom approach can be most effective at developing key themes.
Coming back to e-learning and the flexibility it affords, you should note that hosted modules can be targeted at individuals or groups, and can be made available 24/7. Accessing training material through a standard web browser enables more effective workforce management as agents can complete training modules at their desktops during downtime. This lets them take modules at their own pace, and improves revenues through improved skills while controlling training expenditure.
The ability to edit and create your own training material will make programmes more effective, too. This functionality lets you make the solution more relevant to your agents through company branding and examples they recognise. The greater the relevance of the material, the greater the understanding your agents will have.
Moving on to traditional teaching methods, classroom sessions reinforce the skills and knowledge transfer that e-learning provides. E-learning is based on the principle of interactive modules teaching agents on an individual basis, with formal assessment and reporting. The less formal classroom environment encourages interaction and discussion. It is also an opportunity for agents to practise skills and behaviours in a safe environment.
The problem with classroom teaching, however, is that it is often too much of a one-off. A blended learning approach, meanwhile, uses e-learning to prepare your agents for a classroom session, then supports and supplements it afterwards.
Preparatory modules can provide your agents with a base level of knowledge that teachers will then be able to develop in the classroom. This is also an effective way to identify the key areas that need to be worked on in the classroom; e-learning can meantime allow thorough monitoring and reporting capabilities.
The discussions in the classroom sessions reinforce and develop the themes your agents have encountered through e-learning, which helps ensure greater longevity for their knowledge. Any areas that agents do not fully understand can be discussed until they have sufficient knowledge on the issue.
E-learning enables you to run refresher courses at regular intervals to further reinforce the key themes from the training. It also allows you to update online modules with new and relevant information. This ensures that the training day remains relevant, and that the knowledge that your agents have gained is retained.
The key steps to making e-learning work
By Tim Preston, principle consultant at Broadband Learning Solutions .When thinking about buying e-learning, you first need to ask yourself some questions to examine the real objectives.
- Why are you in the market for an e-learning solution and what is the business problem you are trying to solve?
- Do you have known issues or skills gaps, or is it just about managing the churn of personnel that typically occurs in call centre environments?
- How can you establish what return on investment (RoI) you will get for any expenditure or investment you make?
- Do you have the skills in-house to generate a meaningful set of requirements, or will you need professional services’ input to undertake a learning needs analysis?
Once you have answered these questions, you need to assemble your stakeholders. A core tripartite arrangement will be needed of HR, Operations and IT – who natural bedfellows do not make – and you need to establish what the benefits and risks will be for each discipline. Benefits will need to be understood and communicated while risks and objections will need to be mitigated for a successful project.Operations will want to know what impact it will have on business improvement (gain), but also on pperational efficiency – in particular any disruption during implementation (pain).
IT will want to know how rich the content is and its impact on bandwidth – in particular, how the work involved will map on to their technology roadmap. You will also have an interesting intermingling of technology and content, so consider the integration aspects and costs. Carefully consider configuration and customisation. How much do you really need, given that most customisation is a future ‘throw away’ when software is upgraded or you look to replace an element in the mix?
For HR, consider placement. If you are open-plan or have low divider walls, then someone viewing rich media (video/audio) is likely to cause prairie-dogging. Consider culture and absorption; maybe ‘learning corners’ would be a better option than having learners learn at their stations.
As for working with potential suppliers: firstly, you shouldn’t keep them at arm’s length. Working closely with potential suppliers, and giving them as much information as you reasonably can, enables them to do a better job for you.
Having said that, when a vendor makes a claim about their product or service, seek evidence from them, their clients or your industry network. Establish your core criteria and evaluate solutions. Shortlist before you finally select. Look for suppliers that treat relationships as a partnership and a stepping stone in to the future.
Finally, for RoI, always look to the bottom line or business improvement, not just how many have been through a given course. Get these measures agreed and understood early on and build the measurements in pre-implementation.
Also, look for more than simple RoI on cost savings. Understand what effect you want the learning to have on culture, skills and performance and how you will measure and review that, post-implementation.
Start small, learn from a pilot, and roll out a well thought through and rigorous implementation plan.
Optimising contact centre performance through disposable learning
By Bill Byron Concevitch, chief learning officer at Witness Systems (www.witness.com)
As the pace of today’s contact centres continues to accelerate, the need for immediate knowledge and skills transfer is becoming increasingly important. Agents are now handling more complex problems and questions, using more and more systems, and they’re engaged more in the up-selling and cross-selling of products and services. All this means there is a growing requirement for continual training and education.
The same agents also need a range of additional skills, including the ability to operate sophisticated CRM systems and communications channels, and an in-depth awareness of their organisation’s latest promotions. In such a complex environment, keeping staff trained is one of the best ways to ensure they are confident and able to consistently deliver first-rate service. The challenge is finding time to develop and administer training programmes and co-ordinating with agent schedules.
In the contact centre, e-learning represents an automated way to bring training and development courses directly to the agent desktop. This environment enables companies to augment existing one-on-one coaching and training sessions that will continue to have an important role in the development process.
Further, it utilises newer methods that allow agents to drive their own training needs while learning at their own pace. Research has shown that e-learning is retained at a rate of more than three times that of classroom training, largely because agents become active participants in their own development.
A growing number of organisations are now choosing to create segments of training from actual customer interactions captured in their contact centres – all through software that requires minimum time and training development expertise. This ‘disposable learning’ requires little time or skill to create and may be ‘retired’ even after minimal use due to the low overall cost to produce and deliver.
The concept was designed for the unpredictable call centre environment, in which companies launch new campaigns and service offerings weekly and, in some cases, even daily.
Such disposable learning can become key to higher productivity and enhanced customer service levels in today’s dynamic contact centres. But how is it done? The answer is by simply taking advantage of the software that enables them to edit actual recorded customer interactions. Within a few hours, they can create a customised piece of learning based on the real-life scenarios encountered by their agents every day. They can also create a high quality, interactive learning session in just hours that becomes part of their e-learning resource library.
This editing/authoring software produces low cost, highly-focused learning, which means companies can quickly create high quality training sessions. Use it while it is relevant – and dispose of it when it’s not.