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Improving Frontline Training Practices

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Research summary from the Ascent Group's recent benchmarking study of training practices for frontline customer service employees. Find out how companies engage employees through new hire and ongoing …

Research summary from the Ascent Group's recent benchmarking study of training practices for frontline customer service employees. Find out how companies engage employees through new hire and ongoing training and development.

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  • 1. Improving Front-line Training 2008 Customized and Personalized Training and training delivery systems are changing, evolving to take advantage of the power of the Internet, mobile communications, and handheld technologies—the technologies that are changing society itself. Technological advancement has made it possible and practical to shift from classroom training to individualized learning. In turn, corporations are expecting trainers to become performance consultants, with the goal of developing custom learning content to help individual employees achieve their desired outcome. As a result, companies are spending more per employee on training and the average number of hours of formal learning per employee is increasing. The use of technology to deliver learning content has increased and companies are also spending more on external services like content design, development and delivery or technology infrastructure. More and more subject matter experts are assuming the training role. More live instruction is being delivered remotely or online and more and more self-paced or computer-based training is being offered to busy employees, making it even more convenient to brush up on skills or learn a new procedure. Training that is portable, self-directed, and available on-demand is becoming popular, through pod casts, PDAs, or even mobile phones. Simulation technology is also being widely implemented, allowing learners to realistically “try the job” before actually on the job. Companies are expecting more from their training organizations—to maximize results while minimizing resources; to prove that the investment in training is paying off in employee performance; to develop content more quickly; and to deliver learning in such a manner that it is more accessible, even seamless with work duties. More so than ever before, an organization’s training function is being run like any other business function with increased attention on operational efficiency, accountability, and connection to organizational strategy. These challenges are reflected in the top concerns identified by training and development professionals in recent industry research: • Managing training costs and funding • Getting the most out of e-learning, learning development systems • Linking learning to performance • Increasing training comprehension • Aligning learning with business needs and individual employee competency needs. It's no longer acceptable to hope an employee learns something at a training session. The best performing companies are thoughtfully developing and engaging their most important resource: the people they employ. Engaged employees are the key to excellent customer service. Engaged employees are employees that feel as though they are truly valued at work; that their efforts directly contribute towards the mission and success of the company. Engaged employees are more productive and less likely to look outside of the company for employment. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 1
  • 2. However, employee engagement is beginning to deteriorate due to the failing economies of the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. A recent national study by Modern Survey revealed that that 21% of U.S. workers actively disengaged. Poor employee engagement can lead to absenteeism, a lack of teamwork, poor morale, and low productivity, among other concerns. It is becoming more and more difficult to find and engage the right employees. Tight labor markets are making companies think twice about compensation packages, benefits, and incentives. Turnover and competition are pushing companies to focus on ways to keep qualified employees happy and motivated. Customer service management’s top priority is attracting and engaging top-performing customer service employees. Learning plays a key role in helping employees to get and stay engaged. Many organizations have begun to rely heavily on the learning function for engagement support. While new-hire training can initiate an employee’s engagement with the company, refresher training and other personal development opportunities can help keep employees engaged. However, training and development alone does not guarantee employee engagement. Additionally a good relationship between employees and immediate supervisors is recognized as a top driver of employee engagement. Yet this is a problem area for many customer service organizations—frontline supervisors and managers lack the skills to effectively engage employees. As our study found, many customer service organizations do not offer basic supervisory training to frontline supervisors, much less tactics to improve employee engagement. Benchmark Study of Front-line Training Practices With all this in mind, the Ascent Group conducted research in mid- and late-2008 to better understand training and development programs for front-line customer service employees. This research was conducted in concert with additional research into the recruitment and hiring of front-line employees and performance measurement. The main objective of the study was to identify “best practices” for front-line customer service training. In particular, focus was given to understanding how best-in-class customer service organizations train and prepare their front-line, customer-facing employees. Secondary objectives included understanding: • What initial training programs are used? Duration? • What on-going training programs are used? Duration? Frequency? Pass/Fail? • What job rotation processes are in place? Are they effective in increasing productivity and customer satisfaction? • What technologies are improving the training process? We asked companies to describe and define the training provided to new hires and existing front-line customer service employees. Companies were asked to indicate the number of days of new hire training, both in the classroom and on-the-job. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 2
  • 3. Other items surveyed included: • Average Class Size, training budget, number of trainers • Days to Standard • Percent Instructor-based Training versus Computer-based Training • Use of training simulation software, training videos, and computer-based training • Use of assessments and certification during training process (testing) • Number of days refresher training – OJT and Classroom Participants were also asked to share management tactics and strategies, as well as identify any improvement in performance. The study also asked companies to include considerations, successes, and plans moving forward. The result of this effort is captured in this report. Study Findings The Ascent Group received 44 valid survey responses from a diverse group of companies. Study participants ranged from 2 to 6,000 frontline employees and from 1 to 1,900 new hires per year. Based on our survey, newly hired front-line customer service employees average 122 days to achieve standard performance. This figure varied widely among industries with Consumer Products averaging 45 days (quickest) to the Government sector averaging the longest (360 days). ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 3
  • 4. We asked participants to share any challenges overcome or lessons learned regarding their training program for front-line customer service employees. Overwhelmingly, more employee engagement through hands-on experiences is the most reported “lesson learned”. Additionally, participants reported more success with training customized to individual learning styles, smaller modules, and more self-paced training. Streamlining and revamping top the list of our participant’s plans for the future (68 percent). Participants report plans to: • Designing a new training model • Reducing training time by moving nice-to-know material to CBTs • More OJT in-between training modules • Progression-based training/pay program • Modularizing training • Adding accelerated learning module • Refining the demos/examples in the training module • Video taping subject matter experts • Revising supervisory training • Delivering more refresher training to employees. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 4
  • 5. Recommendations 1. Hire for Attitude, Train for Technical Skills. The best foundation for service excellence is your people. It is easier to teach proficiency than it is to change attitudes. Best-in-Class companies look for motivated and enthusiastic people who demonstrate a propensity to serve—hire for attitude and train for skill. Consider potential, not necessarily experience. Best-in-Class companies have turned hiring into an art form, not only the process but also the identification of the right type of employee. In a service business, the employees are the company and hiring is critical. Work with your recruiters to find the right candidates. 2. Communicate Job Expectations Throughout New Hire Training—Do as much as possible to relay expectations to students during the new hire-training program. The more a new employee understands about the job, the work environment, performance expectations, and culture, the quicker they will be able to achieve standard. Use job shadowing, peer mentoring, or simulation to relay culture and expectations. Revise training content so the appropriate expectations are conveyed. Survey new students to better understand how to continually refine the process and minimize new-hire surprise. 3. Emphasize the Importance of Customer Service in the Training Process—Make sure that students know up front about your organizational commitment to customer service. Stress the importance of customer service and customer satisfaction throughout the new-hire training program. Do as much as possible to integrate the “Customer Experience” into Training Program—so students understand customer expectations and appreciate the customer perspective. Use simulation, role-playing, and mentoring to convey the correct “customer experience”. On average, our participants spend about 20 percent of new-hire training hours on soft-skills, usually integrated into the new-hire training program. 4. Engage New Hires with “Hands-On” Training, Customized to Individual Learning Styles—We’re seeing a growth in more interactive, hands-on training opportunities for new hires—role playing, simulation, peer mentoring. Hands-on experiences help internalize learning, incorporate more “learning by doing” opportunities into your new-hire program. Hands-on learning can also be used to drive assessment so that trainers can measure both factual knowledge and comprehension. Additionally, training comprehension is increased through individualized training—training tailored to each students individual learning style. Smaller class sizes, modular training, and self-paced activities help students learn at their own pace. 5. Mentoring Monitoring Ease the Transition to the Floor—Participants use a combination of one-on-one mentoring and frequent call monitoring to help new hires transition to the floor. Many companies also employ “nesting”—pod on the floor dedicated to new hires— to facilitate more extensive coaching and one-on-one assistance until the team is up-to- standard. Another approach that has been successful is the creation of an OJT manager to shepherd new-hire and ongoing OJT efforts. 6. Maximize Intranet and Internet Resources and other Technologies to Enhance Training and Job Aids—Newer technologies offer the opportunity to customize learning and make it more accessible. Investigate opportunities to deliver online or computer-based training. Self-paced training is inherently customized to individual learning speeds and styles. Training that is portable, self-directed, and available on-demand, through pod casts, PDAs, or mobile ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 5
  • 6. phones, will be more convenient and more appealing for many employees. Simulation technologies allow learners to “try the job” before actually on the job, creating a more realistic training environment. We’re also seeing a growth in the use of web-based meeting applications, such as WebEx, GoTo Meeting, and LiveMeeting, to facilitate distance learning and to reduce training costs. 7. Integrate Training with Quality Assurance and Operational Excellence to Facilitate Continual Improvement and Pre-emptive Targeted Training. To ensure successful continuous improvement, encourage your training group to work closely with your quality assurance and operational excellence groups. This will encourage the link between learning and performance—making sure the training group is equipping employees to successfully perform as well as making sure any operational changes are reflected in training. At the same time, underperforming employees can receive targeted training. 8. Provide Supervisors with Training on How to Coach and Engage Employees. Organizations reporting more highly engaged workers actively promoting a culture of engagement by ensuring that organizational leaders, including immediate supervisors, are skilled in the area of engagement improvement. After all, having a good relationship between employees and immediate supervisors is a top driver of employee engagement. Yet, many frontline supervisors are lacking in basic supervisory skills, much less tactics for engaging employees. Our study found that only 57 percent of participants have a formal supervisory (coach) training program for front-line customer service employees. 9. Evolve Your Training Resources. As technology becomes more specialized and learning becomes more personalized, trainers will assume more of a performance consultant role. Make sure your trainers have the appropriate training and resources to make the transition. Many companies have a difficult time balancing the needs of the business to meet service level goals and the need to train and develop frontline employees. Make the time to adequately train your frontline customer service resources. 10. Make Time for Training. Many companies have a difficult time balancing the day-to-day needs of the business and the need to train and develop frontline employees. Make the time to adequately train and prepare your frontline customer service resources. Make sure they are equipped and trained to handle all situations. Refresh training periodically to keep employees in top performance and up-to-date on customer service and technical skills. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 6
  • 7. About The Ascent Group The Ascent Group, Inc. is a management-consulting firm that specializes in customer service operations and improvement, performance benchmarking, competitive benchmarking, work management, and industry research. Publications: • Credit Collection Practices • Call Center Strategies • Improving Field Services • Reward Recognition Program Profiles Best Practices • Improving Front-line People Processes • Meter Reading Profiles Best Practices • IVR Improvement Strategies • Billing Payment Profiles Best Practices • Call Quality Improvement • Achieving First Call Resolution The Ascent Group offers other opportunities for your company to participate in benchmarking and best practice discovery through its online benchmarking services: • Call Center Operations • First Call Resolution • Call Quality Monitoring • IVR Technology • Credit Collection • Billing Payment Services • Remittance Processing • Field Services • Meter Reading • Frontline Recruitment, Training • Reward Recognition Program If you are interested in participating in our research, please contact Christine Kozlosky at ckk@ascentgroup.com or (888) 749-0001. The Ascent Group, Inc. 120 River Oak Way Athens, GA 30605 706-850-0508 www.ascentgroup.com ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 7
  • 8. ©2008 The Ascent Group, Inc. 8

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