Thursday, 26 November 2009

KnowHow to KnowNow

What a difference one letter change makes to that old term “knowhow”. KnowHow meant retaining knowledge in your head so you could apply it at some undefined point in time in the future. While clearly there are basic skills and knowledge that we need to retain internally it is often a fallacy to think that short term, event driven training will be retained long enough, and in a good enough state, to be actioned confidently and competently at the point of need.

As we firmly move into an always online world our old assumptions of having to carry everything in our heads can and is being fundamentally challenged. Knowhow shifts emphasis from retaining facts and more to knowing how to find and fetch what you need when you need it. I call that “KnowNow”. That “N” that makes all the difference is the Network: the network of knowledge sources, people and tools that enable us to perform more reliably at precisely the time we need to. It represents a firm shift towards real time ubiquitous performance support.

Is this science fiction? Not really. Just look at the behaviour of anyone with an iPhone loaded with apps. On the immediate horizon is Augmented Reality – which in real time adds digital support to the immediate location you are in. All driven through your smartphone, which if you don’t have one now, you will do within 2 years.
KnowNow also represents a deeper understanding of how our memories really work and how technology can be used to support better long term recall. By simply bringing learning closer to the point of action and acquisition of experience, then it inherently becomes more memorable. Harnessing the spacing effect also helps cement the key learning drawn from that experience.

While much of education and training still dwells on digitising traditional practices, the real prize is in fundamentally reinventing the way in which we support learning. Rather than get in the way with our “learning interventions” (a descriptive phrase that is all too true for all the wrong reasons) we should be building ways to nurture natural learning. This can only be done economically by putting available technology at the heart of our education and training systems, and not as some digital appendage to longstanding, unchallenged, habitual methods.

KnowNow – spread the word.

Monday, 16 November 2009

How to roll out knowledge to contact centres

Just published on the popular Trainingzone site. Comments welcome.
In a real-time business environment, how do you ensure staff are kept fully up to speed on new products and services, while also keeping customers happy? Lars Hyland outlines ways in which technology can improve knowledge, learning and communication in the pressurised environment of the contact centre.
It's hard to keep up, isn't it? Product cycle times are shrinking, in some industries down to a matter of weeks, with the frequency of product and service launches growing each year. Customers are demanding ever more variety and choice, with competition fierce for their money and attention.
Large organisations often struggle to communicate in as timely and consistent a fashion as they would like. Meanwhile, marketing pushes ahead, sometimes leaving sales and service staff struggling to service the resulting enquiries.
With the advent of the internet and the seemingly unstoppable race towards real-time communication, the stakes are raised even higher. So it's not surprising to read the results of the Customer Contact Association's 2009 membership survey indicating a strong trend towards customer self service. Essentially, this means providing the customer with information and services to answer their basic queries and conduct interactions with an organisation, without picking up the phone.
Interestingly, the expectations were not a huge reduction in call volumes, but more of a shift towards agents handling more complex (and emotional) calls. These are more demanding and support another expectation that contact centre staff need to be much less process driven and become knowledge workers who can flexibly address a wide range of issues for the customer.
So how do you keep knowledge workers knowledgeable? That requires a learning culture, regular and effective communication, as well as efficient performance support tools that staff can reliably trust and use with confidence. Let's take a look at how learning technology can be applied to deliver a more agile and dynamic customer service culture.
Build and maintain a product knowledge elearning portfolio
Every product and service your organisation offers to the market can be effectively explained using engaging interactivity, covering the key features and benefits, presenting how they sit within the wider portfolio. There is a commitment required to maintain and update this suite of knowledge modules, but when structured in an easy to access and intuitive fashion they can provide much improved consistency of understanding across your workforce.
The process needs to be fast, flexible and fit with the speed of product development and launch in your organisation - internal processes must be aligned with the e-learning for it to be engaging and responsive.
Virtual practice builds confidence and competence
Simulating customer interaction can help agents and advisors practice and model best practice behaviours. There are often significant constraints that will affect the call outcome based on what can be said, when and how. There is a fine balancing act to be struck between inflexible scripted responses and offering more flexible, "human" conversation, while remaining compliant.
Compliance/regulatory training can be automatically tracked and audited
Keeping compliant is a significant undertaking with high administration costs. Learning management systems automate the collection and reporting of completion data for later auditing purposes. Going beyond the letter of the law it is possible to have employees understand the spirit of the regulation to which they must comply. For example, no-one would argue with the need to protect data and treat customers fairly, but sometimes the regulation can overshadow the core message. Good e-learning design can address this.
Give customers and staff a shared learning experience
In the true spirit of self service, it makes sense to offer a similar experience for your customers and staff that ensures there is a shared understanding in place. A higher budget is often spent on 'superficial' customer communication and marketing than on staff training, often leaving the customer wanting more detail to inform their decision.
Staff also need detail and knowledge in order to serve customers well. Perhaps sharing these budget pots in a more balanced way will result in high quality learning and communication deliverables that will enable customers to self-serve, and contact centre staff to be more enthused and self-motivated about the products and services they offer.
Note that elearning content doesn't just have to sit inside an LMS - it can be on the external website, directly linked to applications your staff and customers use.
Less learning more often - focus on performance support
Product knowledge dates quickly. Pulling staff away from their jobs to sit in training sessions that do little to inspire, much to confuse, only for them to forget most of what was presented is not a productive use of time. Building learning opportunities into the everyday work flow is an essential part of a modern day contact centre environment. (See Less Learning More Often article for more on this).
Start staff learning before they arrive
The pre-induction learning portal is proving to be an excellent tool to dramatically improve new staff engagement and productivity from their very first day. The Aberdeen Group Report on Effective Onboarding Techniques and Strategies made this one of its key recommendations for organisations looking to reduce training costs and improve employee engagement.
As we move out of recession, there will be further pressure to retain talented staff at all levels. There is much evidence to show that staff decisions to stay with an organisation for the long term are strongly influenced by the experience they receive within their first three months of employment. The pre-induction learning portal is an excellent way to bridge the chasm of communication between accepting a new role and arriving on the first day.
Brightwave and Sky, the satellite television and media communications provider, worked together to build a highly engaging pre-induction experience that includes many of the recommendations made above, to good effect. Up to ten hours of learning covering product knowledge, compliance topics, as well as sales simulations, have led to staff arriving confident and competent. This has reduced induction training by one week and measurably improved sales and customer service performance. The portal also won the Most Effective Training Programme award at the recent Customer Contact Association Global Excellence Awards. It's a best practice model well worth replicating.
Serving a wider community
In a globalised and outsource driven economy keeping a consistent level of knowledge amongst suppliers, resellers, customers and your own internal staff can only be managed using technology. E-learning is a cornerstone of that strategy and, with the right design, deployment, and content management practices in place you can keep pace with the rate of change we are all experiencing.
In many respects as we hurtle forward, we need to manage knowledge in new ways. In the future it is less about "know-how" and more about "know-now". That means searching, finding, and acting at the moment of need. Hold on to your hats, it's only going to get faster.
Summary points
  • Current trend to customer self-service will lead to a shift in agents handling more complex (and emotional) calls – a positive learning culture with regular and effective communication is essential to keep contact centre staff knowledgeable
  • Give customers and staff a shared elearning experience - engaging elearning helps build and maintain product knowledge
  • Simulations can help improve customer service and interaction
  • Help staff understand the purpose of compliance and regulation with good e-learning design
  • Less learning more often – focus on performance support
  • Get staff learning before they arrive - the pre-induction or onboarding

Friday, 13 November 2009

Awards: Most effective training + Elearning company of the year

This post is a bit of self congratulatory trumpet blowing, but the past two weeks can’t go by without comment. Last night Brightwave won the E-learning Production Company of the Year Award at this year’s E-learning Age Awards. That’s a fantastic achievement and well deserved – the team are highly professional, talented and great fun to work with. Our clients seem to agree too with comments like:
“…completely agree with the judges comments and for me you were always the front runner…you’ve consistently out performed and out thought your competitors”
It’s great to get a gong, but even better to know that your efforts are appreciated by those who matter most.
Perhaps even more importantly, it’s good to know that the e-learning solutions you design actually work and make a real difference to real people in real need of support. So the previous week it was fantastic to win the Most Effective Training Programme at the CCA-Global Awards for our work with Sky. It’s a real exemplar of how a learning portal can genuinely be easy to access, offering engaging, interactive learning content and produce highly motivated and better performing staff.
It’s made a difference: that’s what it’s really all about. Too little training (whether in the classroom or online) can genuinely say that which is both indictment and an opportunity for positive change. If we can champion quality over quantity we will be making good progress as an industry.
On a wider note, it’s great also to report that Brighton ( probably one of the best cities to live in in the UK) continues to go from strength to strength as a centre of excellence for e-learning design expertise. It’s probably fair to say that the majority of commercial e-learning activity in the UK can trace its roots back to the seaside in the South.
For more on that and awards ceremonies in general, check out Donald Clark’s recent posts on the subject.
Trumpet blowing ends: normal service now resumed.