This article originally appeared on Customerthink.com on March 6th, 2019.
Businesses today are deeply invested in improving the customer experience. After every brand interaction, customer inboxes are filled with requests for favorable reviews and five-star ratings. Apps prompt users with pop-ups for the same.
Successful brands aren’t just meeting their fiscal goals—they’re earning respect and social capital with their customers. People delight in the experience of interacting with employees so much that Forrester is measuring customer experience in a much sought-after index.
Delivering on this metric requires more than features and benefits that wow customers. It takes a significant investment in workplace education to refocus roles—particularly agents on the phone—so that customers hang up feeling supported, assisted, and willing to come back for more. And yet, according to research Oxygen conducted in 2018, many leaders don’t understand how to articulate the benefits they get from investing in employee training. Many invest because conventional wisdom deems it necessary. Corporate learning and development (L&D) has been measured as a $140 B industry, even though the C-level often doesn’t know what results to ask for or expect.
Training is Too Often Treated as Necessary Evil
The traditional “training” employees receive (if they get it at all) isn’t geared to help them succeed in today’s customer conversations. Instead, it’s more like a necessary evil, a checkbox to be marked before interacting with customers. Oxygen’s team spoke to hundreds of agents in Service, Sales, Billing, Repair, and even front-line managers. Almost all of them were forced to learn on the fly, either because they were bombarded with too much information when they were hired, or because they had no training at all. One interviewee said, “My onboarding was basically nothing at all, just being handed a computer and told ‘good luck!’”
Origins for traditional training are rooted in classroom methods and techniques that were not designed to help employees have modern customer conversations. They were designed and implemented decades ago. Those techniques do work for repetitive assembly line work; they categorically fail when they’re applied to training on improved customer empathy and interaction. A recent report from LinkedIn found that “Less than 1/4 of L&D professionals surveyed are willing to recommend their own L&D programs to peers.”
Ongoing Investment Tailored to Agent Realities
Customer experience improves dramatically when leaders invest in initial and ongoing learning that is relevant for their employees. High performing organizations have recognized that many agents’ work tenure probably began with suboptimal onboarding, followed by minimal support for ongoing development at work. This includes training that acknowledges and supports the realities of agents’ everyday experiences.
Improved customer experiences demand a new mindset when it comes to training agents (and really all employees). When companies invest in workplace education, they need to spend more time understanding their realities of their employees and the experience of trying to be successful in those environments.
One the first questions Oxygen asks our clients is, “Who is the audience you’re serving?” Aside from broad terms like salespeople or billing representatives, we find that many people responsible for creating trainings don’t actually know their audiences’ realities. They make assumptions based on outdated job descriptions, rely on rare success stories instead of common challenges, or lean heavily on their own expertise without gathering feedback first.
As an example: A large telecommunications company we worked with needed to upskill their call center agents and created a virtual classroom course with sound and videos to be delivered online, only to discover that most of the centers contained workstations that didn’t have video cards. Imagine being sent to complete a mandatory training during your first week of work, told that its completion was critical to your success, and not being able to see or hear it. Imagine the cost to the company—the price tag of the original design and delivery, plus a full redesign after the launch date.
Key Factors in Learning Experience Design
Oxygen has found that knowing three simple, human aspects about your agents can help immensely in creating relevant training that prepares them to deliver better customer experiences. By incorporating these factors into training design, employees will feel supported and more optimistic about their success, which in turn improves their customer engagements.
Do you understand the environment your agents work in? How do they get information, both at work and outside of it? What does a normal first week on the job look like? What are the regular activities of a top performer? What are the most common challenges?
Agent Roles Consider the existing job descriptions for employees on the phone. Take the time to vet existing job descriptions against reports from people who are in the roles. Are billing representatives constantly solving technical issues too? Are technical reps spending extra time telling customers about new features? Do managers of these roles feel like they have the support they need to lead?
Time-frame of the Role Over and over again, we see L&D organizations make the assumption that training should happen all at once, either all at the same time, or sometimes even in a single event. And yet, we know that human beings learn over time. Training should take into account the above two factors and also consider questions like, “What are reasonable expectations of someone in this role over their first 90 days?”The same research Oxygen conducted in 2018 showed that high performing companies have L&D organizations that are in frequent contact with the people they educate. And when employees start experiencing workplace education that prepares them for every day in the life of their role, happy customers become more than a fortuitous accident. They become repeat customers who drive success.
Juliana Stancampiano, author of RADICAL OUTCOMES, is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Oxygen. For more than fifteen years, she has worked with Fortune 500 companies, both in them and for them. Her firm’s clients include Microsoft, DXC, Delta Dental (of WA), Starbucks, F5 Networks, Avaya, and Western Digital, among others. Her in-depth experience, along with the research that Oxygen conducts and the articles she has published, has helped to shape the perspective that Oxygen embraces.