By Jodi Beuder

When we use the words training programs or seminars, we almost always are referring to those classroom-type sessions, usually with a projector up front and a captive class listening (if not snoozing) to an assigned speaker or instructor. A skilled instructor would encourage participation–by asking questions and maybe including timed breakout sessions where participants are asked to work in small groups.

There is nothing inherently wrong with these methods. Trainings like these do increase skills and eventually affect productivity and performance, but how much of the learning do participants actually remember, much less use, in the workplace?

We can learn a thing or two from John Dewey, a philosopher and psychologist from the 19th century, who is widely recognized as one of the strongest proponents of learning by doing. He famously said: “Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself…Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results” (Dewey, 2011, XI).

Pragmatism, as such method is called, is a philosophical tradition centered on the linking of practice and theory. Dewey’s belief is in experiential education, where focus is on the process of learning by constructing meanings from direct experiences.

There is wisdom to be had from this for contact center agents’ training. We can lecture for hours on end about what we want our agents to learn but nothing comes close to training them by making them actually do what they need to learn.

Here are some guidelines for training design and execution of training for contact center agents that could help any customer-service-oriented organization to make the most out of training.

Keep Training Programs Relevant
How many of us have cursed complex math subjects because we questioned their practical value in our daily lives? If we are going to squeeze a good amount of mental juices to find the value of X and Y, it better be worth the trouble!

Similarly, you need to take time for a training needs assessment with your teams. Identify the needed skills, not only from the management perspective, but also from the agents themselves. What do they think they need to learn to be better at what they do? Then design a training program based on that and you can be sure that X and Y are worth the trouble.

Keeping things relevant in training programs also tears down that learning barrier that many participants raise when they are being taught something that they do not think they need, and, in fact, do not need.

Once training needs are identified, keep the following ideas in mind:

Use Visuals
“We think in pictures, not in words.” (Carlaw, 1999) While words are the primary currency of communication, they are not often the best way to help us remember items. A pic­ture paints a thou­sand words and helps us to remem­ber nearly as many.

In any contact center encounter, you want agents to have a strong set of skills for a given scenario. To achieve this, you can tell them what to do, but it is definitely better if you can show them what to do, maybe in the form of videos, pictures, or even physical objects in the room. After training, participants are likely to remember what they learned if there was an image associated to the data or activity. Use the images in a post-training video or book­let the participants can refer to any time they need.

Learning by Doing
Let’s go back to the idea of pragmatism, or relating concepts and theories to practice.

In any training program, the real, and perhaps the only, test of retention is when the participants are actually able to do and apply what they learned. This is where the training design needs to get creative. Maximize use of breakout sessions during training. Have participants come up with their own scenarios. Role-play the scenarios. Simulate a realistic workplace environment.

Engaged and involved participants are likely to retain more of the concepts than passive ones. Different methods of training can help to improve performance of the trainee. Adding games centered on skill learning and skill use is a fun, motivational way to engage trainees and encourage their performance once they get back on the job. According to Carlaw and Deming (1999, IX), “We’ve consistently found that employees look forward to [training] games and become fully immersed while playing. They build confidence, lift morale, spark enthusiasm, stimulate creativity, and ultimately achieve results in real-time customer service.”

Another great training method is role-playing. By assuming roles and acting out circumstances that might happen in the office, employees can learn how to handle various situations before they encounter them on the job. Employees are likely to put their newly learned skills to work when they identify fun and great memories in their training experience.

Feedback and Follow-through
Finally, what is most important in any training program is the takeaway once every participant leaves the training room. Ask for feedback, make periodic assessment of skills, and conduct follow-up sessions as necessary.

References
Carlaw, Peggy, and Deming, Vasudha. (1999). Big book of customer service games. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Dewey, John. (December 2, 2011). Chartering new identities. Retrieved from http://mindmaps.wikispaces.com/John+Dewey

About the Author

JodiBeuderJodi Beuder, customer experience advocate at Impact Learning Systems, believes customer service exists not just outside the company, but inside, too. “Having excellent customer service skills and knowledge are paramount to creating strong working relationships, whether you are in an office or out in the field.” With over 17 years in marketing executive roles, Jodi has dedicated her career to assisting companies to grow their brand presence and sales and, most important, their customer retention and satisfaction.