How to Train Faster and Better with Microlearning

Contact centers constantly face pressure to make agent training faster, cheaper, and better. One way to achieve this is through microlearning, where agents learn new information or review content in small chunks at a time.

Chance are, you're using microlearning already.

For example, have you ever gone to YouTube to find a short how-to video? I did this when I had to change the battery on my solar-powered keyboard. I quickly found a short video and, a few minutes later, I had step-by-step instructions for doing the repair.

I used a YouTube video to learn how to change the battery on my solar-powered keyboard.

I recently joined Bryan Naas from Lessonly to present a webinar on how to train contact center agents faster, reduce costs, and deliver better results with microlearning. Lessonly builds easy-to-use training software that helps people do better work, so it was really helpful to have Bryan's perspective.

Here are a few highlights from the webinar.


Training and Reinforcement

Bryan and I shared multiple microlearning examples throughout the webinar. 

A simple one is my Customer Service Tip of the Week email. Anyone can sign up for free to receive one tip via email, once per week. These tips are helpful reminders to help us build lasting habits.


Budget-Friendly

Microlearning is generally inexpensive and can be deployed quickly.

The biggest cost associated with traditional classroom training is paying agents to attend training along with other agents to provide coverage while your staff is in class. One benefit of microlearning is you don't need to take your agents out of the queue for training, so it is far less disruptive to your operation!


A Proven Model

Bryan shared Lessonly's Better Work Method, which is a model contact center leaders can use to easily develop microlearning lesson plans. 

The first step in the model is to assess needs. It's very common for contact center training programs to deliver too much unnecessary contact, while omitting essential lessons. A simple assessment can help you deliver the right content at just the right time.

You can watch the entire webinar replay here.

Bryan and I mention a couple of links during the webinar that you can't see on the replay:


How to Train New Hires on Culture

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The first customer I ever served resulted in a service failure.

Some of it was my fault. I said the wrong thing to a customer and he stormed off, grumbling about the sorry state of customer service these days.

Some of it was not my fault. I was sixteen years old and this was my first job. I hadn't yet been trained and didn't yet have the experience to know what to do. The person who was supposed to be training me had gone on break and left me to fend for myself.

It all worked out in the end. I learned from the experience, discovered a passion for customer service, and eventually learned how to train others. 

Things don't always go this way. Many employees develop bad habits as a result of insufficient new hire training. The results is poor customer service, low engagement, and high attrition.

We need to take responsibility for giving new hires the right kind of training if we expect them to deliver our brand of exceptional service. 

You can hear my story in this short video:

The Woeful Lack of Training

A 2018 study by the research firm Ipsos revealed that 31 percent of employees get no formal training.

This statistic is even worse for low-wage jobs (earning <$50,000 per year), where 36 percent of employees report they received no formal training. This group encompasses a majority of frontline customer service employees. 

Even the training that does occur may not be sufficient.

I routinely ask customer service leaders whether their company has a customer service vision, which is a shared definition of outstanding customer service. Typically, 40 percent or more admit there is none.

A vision is critical because it provides a common framework for training that describes your organization's unique brand of customer service. Without one, new hire training must focus on tactical procedures and generic customer service tips.

The best companies know this. 

New hires at In-N-Out burger are trained around a vision of quality, service, and cleanliness; you can see that vision in everything they do. Guests at The Ritz-Carlton naturally expect a different type of service than at In-N-Out, so Ritz-Carlton associates are trained on that company's vision, We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

 

Key Elements of Culture Training

An entire chapter in The Service Culture Handbook is devoted to training employees to embody the culture in their daily work.

Here are a few highlights.

Element 1: You need a customer service vision. Your training will be generic and unfocused if you skip this step. You can use this guide to create one.

Element 2: Create learning objectives for your training. Think about what you want your new hires to know and be able to do. I recommend setting an objective that employees will be able to answer three questions by the end of the training:

  1. What is our customer service vision?
  2. What does the vision mean?
  3. How does I personally contribute to the vision in my daily work?

Element 3: Develop activities to achieve your learning objectives. This is your chance to get a little creative, but make sure you can verify the learning objectives have been achieved by the end of the training.

 

New Hire Training Examples

Here are two sample training plans that have both been effective. Both training plans share the learning objectives described above (i.e. participants have to answer those three questions).

Sample #1: The Scavenger Hunt. I ran this exercise for new managers at a parking management company. 

The training started in the classroom, where participants were introduced to the customer service vision. We had a group discussion around its meaning and talked about the answers to the three questions.

Next, participants were split into small groups and each was given a list of locations to visit near the company's downtown headquarters. Each group was asked to take pictures of scenes that showed the vision in real-life. This included signage, employees interacting with customers, etc. The entire assignment could easily be completed in less than an hour, with the teams walking from location to location.

Finally, we gathered in the classroom again to look at everyone's pictures. The teams took turns walking us through what they saw and explaining how each image connected to the vision.

 

Sample #2: The Thank You Letter Challenge. I did this exercise with Clio, the winner of the 2017 ICMI Global Contact Center award for best culture

Employees were first asked to identify places where they saw the customer service vision before coming to class. This one was easy, since each person had a small sign hung at their workstation.

Next, employees were asked to describe the answers to the three questions in their own words. 

Finally, each person completed the Thank You Letter challenge. They started by writing a thank you letter to themselves from an imaginary customer. The letter reflected service that aligned with the company's customer service vision. Then participants were asked to read the letter each day for two weeks and try to earn feedback from a real customer that matched the letter.

At the end of the two weeks, we reconvened and participants shared their experiences. It was amazing how they were able to generate so many success stories! (You can try this exercise here.)

 

Take Action!

Start today by asking two questions:

  1. Do we have a customer service vision? (Y/N)
  2. Do we train new employees on the customer service vision (Y/N)

If the answer is "No" to either question, you'll see immediate results by adding that element to your training program.


Three Ways to Leverage Knowledge-Centered Service

A story about the tragic death of a pet hamster recently made national headlines.

Belen Aldecosea was traveling from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale last November. She wanted to bring along her pet dwarf hamster, Pebbles, which she claimed was certified by her doctor as an emotional support animal.

When a Spirit employee told Aldecosea the hamster was not allowed to board the plane, Aldecosea flushed Pebbles down the toilet in airport restroom.

She claims she did this on the advice of a Spirit employee. Spirit adamantly denies any employee told her to do this.

Here's one thing that's not in dispute: Aldecosea contacted Spirit prior to traveling and was erroneously told by another employee that the hamster was allowed.

The stakes can be high when customer service employees are asked about seldom-referenced policies or obscure problems. They need access to the right information in the right place at the right time.

Here are three ways Knowledge-Centered Service can help.

Tiny three-ring binders sitting on a computer keyboard.

Reduce Memorization

Knowledge-Centered Service, or KCS, is a process organizations can use to capture, structure, reuse, and improve critical information used to solve problems.

Reducing memorization is one clear benefit. Here's a short experiment to highlight a common challenge:

Name all of the planets in our solar system in order from closet to the sun to farthest.

Many of us will struggle to recall the first eight. There's controversy by the time we get to Pluto. Is it a planet or not? NASA's website is surprisingly unhelpful when it comes to settling this question.

We need clear, reliable information that's easy to find in situations like this.

One client of mine struggled to get employees to remember a three-step procedure for greeting office visitors via a security intercom system. They tried team meetings, emails, and written memos but nothing worked.

The solution was putting the right information in the right place at the right time. My client hung a sign next to the intercom with the three steps. Problem solved.

Another client struggled to get employees to remember complex technical information about the medical devices it sold. The solution was creating a single page with links to information sheets for each product so employees could quickly and accurately answer customer questions without memorizing the answers.

 

Shorten Training

If you're old enough, you grew up during a time when you memorized all of your friends' phone numbers.

Today, I can barely remember my own phone number. Important information about our friends such as phone numbers, birthdates, and addresses are all safely stored in our smart phones. 

It's a phenomenon called digital amnesia where we've become less adept at memorizing information.

That makes training much more difficult since traditional training often revolves around getting participants to memorize facts, procedures, and other information.

KCS can help solve that. Rather than memorizing piles of information, participants are taught to use a knowledge base to identify known solutions to problems. I've helped clients cut new hire training time by as much as 50 percent by switching from a memorization-focused training regime to a KCS approach.

The best part happens when new information is introduced.

Let's say your company releases a new product. You can do a short hands-on training meeting with the new product and capture everyone's questions into a searchable frequently asked questions (FAQ) document that anyone can access. 

Now your team can quickly recall what they learned about the new product and sound like an authority when answering questions just by accessing the FAQ. That FAQ can be updated and corrected as new insights are gained or you receive feedback from customers.

 

Improve Self-Service

Good self-service often runs on information, which means that self-service can fail when that information isn't readily available.

For example, some airlines allow passengers to book free stopovers. This is essentially an extra long layover that allows you to visit one city and then continue to another hours or even days later for the price of one ticket. 

Here's what happens when I search the Spirit Airlines website for information on stopovers. (Yes, I added the space on purpose.) 

Screen capture from Spirit Airlines website search page, looking for "stop over."

Nothing useful here, not even a clear "we don't allow stopovers" policy. This will probably prompt a call to customer service if I wanted to find the answer.

A best practice is to routinely track what customers are searching for. So if you notice a lot of customers are searching for "stopover," "stop over," or even "layover" you can add a helpful resource that appears when a customer searches any of those terms.

Many customer service software providers have created an interim solution to help customers locate self-service. The Zendesk Answer Bot scans customer emails and intuitively suggests solutions before the customer hits send.

 

Conclusion

The principles around KCS have been around for a long time. I was first introduced to them 20 years ago and have seen first-hand how important knowledge is in the world of customer service.

You can read an overview of the KCS methodology here if you'd like to explore the topic further.


Improve Your Training With Greater Consistency

My client was surprised by how much training her company was doing.

She had to document the number of training hours employees participated in to receive funds from a state program. At first, she kept track of attendance at classes the company held, such as the customer service program I was hired to facilitate.

My client soon realized there was so much more.

That weekly team meeting was training because it kept employees up to date on critical information. On-the-job training was definitely training, even if much of it was informal. A product briefing from one of the company's scientists was training, too.

Tracking all this training helped my client boost her training hours. It also highlighted another issue. Was all of that training sending the same message?

classroomtraining.jpg

Training Defined

Think about the training that happens in your own organization. Take a closer look and there's probably much more than you think:

Training is any activity that helps employees develop knowledge, skills, and abilities to improve their job performance.

According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), training is much broader than just delivering classes. There are ten major focus areas in the ATD Competency Model for trainers:

  1. Training Delivery

  2. Instructional Design

  3. Performance Improvement

  4. Change Management

  5. Knowledge Management

  6. Coaching

  7. Integrated Talent Management

  8. Managing Learning Programs

  9. Evaluating Learning Impact

  10. Learning Technologies

Coaching is a fabulous example. Here's how the ATD Competency Model defines it:

"Uses an interactive process to help individuals develop rapidly and produce results; improves others' ability to set goals, take action, make better decisions, and make full use of their natural strengths."

Good managers do this every day. While they might not think of coaching as training, that's exactly what they are doing.

Knowledge Management is a hot topic in the world of customer service. We want to give employees access to product, policy, and procedure information in real-time so they can quickly serve their customers.

It's also training. Here's the definition from the ATD Competency Model:

"Captures, distributes, and archives intellectual capital in a way that encourages knowledge sharing and collaboration in the organization."

 

The Need for Consistency

Imagine all of those training components in your organization. You have formal training, coaching from the manager, a knowledge base, and perhaps much more.

There's something in training called the 70-20-10 rule that explains how they all work together. This is a rough guide for how employees learn new knowledge, skills, and abilities they use on the job:

  • 70 percent comes from experience

  • 20 percent comes from a boss or mentor

  • 10 percent comes from formal training

These percentages aren't fixed, but they're roughly accurate (like the 80/20 rule). A challenge occurs when these pieces are misaligned.

Let's say you manage a nursery that sells plants, tools, and other gardening supplies. Your customer service reps use product knowledge to help customers select the right plants, fertilizers, and other items for their home garden projects.

How will you ensure your reps are as helpful as possible?

The old way of thinking would be to hold a training class and hope for the best. But the 70-20-10 rule tells us that's just a small piece of the puzzle.

  • What if employees struggle to remember critical information?

  • Who will train employees who missed the class?

  • What if employees have a hard time undoing old habits?

A better approach would be to align multiple training components.

A formal class could introduce specific skills, such as asking customers probing questions about their projects and using the knowledge base to quickly find answers.

As the manager, you would regularly coach your employees to reinforce the training. This would help people retain what was taught and build their skills even more.

Your nursery sells too many products for employees to memorize the answers to every question, so you'll also need a robust knowledge base. This will allow employees to quickly access authoritative, accurate answers to customer questions.

 

Additional Resources

You can greatly expand the impact of training if you think holistically. 

This blog post explains how to use the 70-20-10 rule to improve your customer service training by 900 percent.

Here's a short training video that explains how to handle a training request. In it, I share a five question framework to help uncover additional solutions that might help employees perform.

The video is a segment from my online course, How to Design and Develop Training Programs. You can view it on Lynda.com or LinkedIn Learning.


Simple Training Plan: Serving Upset Customers 101

I often get calls from customer service leaders who want to do some training for their team, but face a few challenges:

  • Budgets are limited.
  • It's an operational nightmare to get everyone scheduled into a class.
  • A single workshop won't produce sustainable results.

That's why I'm experimenting with a series of training plans that take a novel approach. They're inexpensive, easy to implement, and they produce lasting change.

Best of all, you can implement them without hiring an expensive consultant or trainer like me. The first topic is my most requested: Serving Upset Customers 101.

If it works and I find that people are using it, I'll make more training plans. (Side question: Leave a comment or contact me and tell me what topics would you like to see.)

Overview: Serving Upset Customers 101

Participants will be able to do the following at the end of this training:

  • Recognize natural instincts that make it difficult to serve angry customers
  • Listen to upset customers with empathy
  • Retain more customers by neutralizing negative emotions

The course is designed to minimize disruption of normal work schedules:

  • Short weekly team meetings
  • Individual, self-paced assignments between meetings

This course is the first in a three part series:

  • Part 2: Serving Upset Customers, Eliminating Repeat Service Failures
  • Part 3: Serving Upset Customers, Preventing Customer Anger

Resources Required:

  • Worksheet: Workshop Planning Tool, cost: $0
  • Training Video: Working with Upset Customers. You'll need a Lynda.com or LinkedIn Premium subscription for each participant. Subscriptions for Lynda.com start at $19.99 per person, per month, and discounts are available for teams of 5 or more. (You'll get access to the ENTIRE library, which is a huge bonus.)
  • Exercise Files: The Working with Upset Customers training video comes with a set of downloadable exercise files to help implement concepts from the course. You can access the files once you login.

Time Required: <1 hour per week for 4 weeks.

 

Pre-Work: Do This Before You Begin

You can boost the impact of any training program by properly preparing. Here are two simple assignments you should do before starting the training.

Assignment #1: Create a training plan. Use the Workshop Planning Tool to create a training plan:

  • Identify your goal for the training.
  • Determine what needs to be done to prepare for success.
  • Create a plan to sustain your progress.

Assignment #2: Announce the Training. Tell your team what to expect by announcing the training via a team meeting, one-on-one conversation, email, or some other form of communication. Make sure you address three things:

  • Tell participants what the training is about.
  • Explain why the training is important.
  • Share how you expect participants to use the training in their daily work.

 

Training Plan: Serving Upset Customers

This plan is divided into four lessons that each take place one week apart.

Week 1: Kick-off. Call a 30 minute team meeting to kick off the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote. 

  1. Review the purpose and goals for this course.
  2. Discuss situations where customers get angry.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

  • Watch video: Tending to Emotional Needs (4m 58s).
  • Watch video: Understanding Our Natural Instincts (4m 21s).
  • Exercise: Download the Fight or Flight Symptoms Checklist exercise file (you'll need to be logged in to access this). Use it to identify one situation where you experience the Fight or Flight instinct while serving a customer.

 

Week 2: Recognizing Our Instincts. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss the importance of tending to customers' emotional needs.
  2. Discuss situations where we experienced the Fight or Flight Instinct.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

  • Watch video: Listening With Empathy (4 m 25s).
  • Complete the Empathy Worksheet from the Exercise Files.
  • Apply the LAURA technique (from the video) when serving an angry customer.

 

Week 3: Empathizing With Customers. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss situations where participants used the LAURA technique to express empathy.
  2. Revisit list of situations where customers get angry (from Week 1). Discuss the root cause of each one.
  3. Assign training videos and activities for the next meeting.

Participant assignments for next week:

 

Week 4: Conclusion. Call a 30 minute team meeting to check-in on the training program. Hold it in-person if possible, or via Skype or web-conference if your team is remote.

  1. Discuss situations where participants helped a customer become right. 
  2. Discuss situations where participants used the acknowledge and refocus technique.
  3. Discuss appropriate actions if a customer becomes abusive.
  4. Discuss ways to sustain the learning.