CRM veterans have learned the hard way that employee buy-in is crucial when a new technology system goes online.
Research supports this. For instance, a 1999 benchmarking study by the American Society for Training and Development (AstD) shows a direct relationship between company performance and the amount of money spent on training employees. Companies that reported improvements in business performance also reported a higher level of spending on training, and provided training to a greater percentage of their employees.
But employee training is notoriously time-consuming and expensive--especially when it involves pulling front-line employees away from their jobs.
Fortunately, technology offers alternatives. By delivering highly specific, interactive simulations of CRM software functionality directly to employee desktops, e-learning solutions are helping CRM users achieve faster, more cost-efficient implementations--particularly for sales and contact center solutions.
"For sales training, e-learning is a given," says Brandon Hall, a leading independent researcher in the field of online learning. "Salespeople's schedules are more flexible, so the 'anytime, anywhere, just enough' convenience of e-learning makes great sense."
AstD sees e-learning as the fastest-growing, most promising market in all the massive education industry and projects that it will double this year and next.
According to Jay Waldron, CEO of e-learning applications vendor Knowledge Impact of Wayland, Mass., his industry finds its success in CRM failure. "Users don't understand or accept [CRM systems], and find ways around them.... When you make an investment in teaching the users not just the software but also the business process, you almost can't fail because you are really teaching them how to be effective at their jobs and putting it in language that's important to them."
First Things First
According to AstD, more than 40 percent of the American work force performs at the low end of government literacy measurements and cannot keep up with technological advances and skills required in the workplace. To address this, more and more companies are integrating e-learning into training programs and finding new ways to reach out to their global workforce.
Tech Resource Group (TRG) in Raleigh, N.C., provides learning solutions designed to help businesses deploy knowledge across their entire enterprise. TRG clients include Microsoft, Nortel and Palm.
In 1998 Microsoft implemented a customized version of Siebel Systems software designed to integrate sales, marketing and support. After initial training, Microsoft was not satisfied with the utilization rate and decided to revamp its Web-based training. Microsoft chose TRG to assess the current program, review the needs of the field and modify where necessary. TRG developed Web-based training appropriate for use worldwide, which concluded with a test. If the sales representative passed, he or she would be automatically linked to a site to download the Siebel program. If not, then it's back to class. According to TRG, utilization rates of the Siebel tools have increased significantly and TRG's role at Microsoft is expanding.
Tommy Re, TRG's chief sales officer says, "e-learning is becoming much more accepted for a lot of reasons. We've heard things like 'I just can't afford to bring my salespeople together for three more days of CRM training.'
"People wait too long to decide training strategy," Re adds. "We recommend that people think about training in advance. We've been much more successful with our clients when we've been involved from an earlier stage," he says. "We have suggested to clients that they push the rollout when there's not enough time for training because sometimes folks think that training's magic, but there's a lot of work that goes into it. End user adoption is often the deciding factor in the real value of this tool to the organization."
Hall echoes this when asked to identify the biggest mistake people make in e-learning: "Jumping in too fast without building a strategy and gaining support of all stakeholders."
Re says, "For an instructor-led or Web-based training event, credibility is the most important thing. If our instructors do not have exactly what the end user is seeing, then that affects the credibility and that's something we try to avoid at all costs."
Witness Systems of Roswell, Ga., provides business-driven customer interaction recording, analysis and electronic learning software. American Express, Federal Express and Wells Fargo are customers.
By capturing both voice and computer desktop activity and synchronizing them during a replay, supervisors can quickly observe and analyze complete customer interactions as they occur. Ryan Hollenbeck, Witness Systems' vice president of corporate communications, explains that when call center managers "replay the interaction and score it, then the things not done well, or 'skill gaps,' trigger electronic learning events. For example, someone may do a good job satisfying the customer, but a poor job in up-selling. So a 15-minute, Web-based learning event occurs. This works for phone, e-mail and chat."
Nancy Teamster, senior vice president of global marketing at Witness says, "We build a continuously updated skill set in the call center. E-learning has a lot of applicability across the board, but the place where it happens best is in the call center."
Oscar Alban, principal market consultant at Witness adds, "CRM systems can work, but agents don't use fields correctly. You need a training piece to address the change in agent behavior that must occur for CRM to work."
According to Alban, e-learning is powerful because it changes the way the training staff functions. "They are going to become training analysts," he says. "A lot of times a mistake that's made in the call center is, 'Here's the issue--throw training at it.' It doesn't get fixed and they wonder why. That's because it wasn't a training issue. It was a process issue. So now we can address the training and the process deficiencies."
Alban says that "The call centers I see that are successful are the one's that are aggressive, not just about saving time, but opening up areas of opportunity."
According to Hollenbeck, this can be done via "a return on information as well as a return on investment. The kind of information the reps have, through better articulated communications with customers, adds a new dimension to ROI."
Getting Employee Buy-In
For nearly 20 years, Knowledge Impact has been providing global e-learning and performance support solutions for companies like Citibank, Bell Atlantic and Procter & Gamble.
The company's KnowledgeMate learning tool delivers on-demand, Web-based training and job assistance integrated within enterprise software applications. It customizes content to match a company's exact front office application and business processes. At any point within an application, users can access context-sensitive assistance such as step-by-step instructions, best practices and Web-based training that fully simulates the application.
Waldron of Knowledge Impact says, "We're teaching employees their company's best business processes, which happen to require a specific piece of software. We use the discovery-based method rather than the lecture style approach which pushes too much information that does not get absorbed."
"For example," he explains, "a company may have a product promotion that they're going to launch next Monday. With our help they can send out a five-minute training object to their 4,000 employees around the globe and say, 'effective next Monday, this product will be launched. Run this object and verify that you are familiar with the details of the promotion.'
"This significantly increases ROI for the CRM system," Waldron says, "because you are cutting down on data transaction errors and you're improving the customers' experience. All of the traditional metrics you'd look at for a CRM system--increasing revenue, increasing profitability, driving customer satisfaction--are there, and we accelerate those. A good training solution also drives up your employee satisfaction, and there's a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction."
Hall says, "The times e-learning has not met its promise is when it has not been marketed and promoted sufficiently. If courses are merely listed on the intranet and no effort is made to integrate them into the work environment, it is not sufficient to draw usage."
All In The Numbers
Simtrex Corporation of Atlanta supplies simulation applications that help to evaluate and strengthen business-critical skills. Its customers include America Online, Dell Computer and Hilton Hotels.
Simtrex is the creator of starTrainer, a simulation trainer through which call center agents interact with CRM applications on regular PCs with synchronized, recorded human voices over their normal phones. According to Simtrex, this teaches agents to listen, think, talk and type exactly as in a live call, without involving an actual customer or prospect.
starTrainer is currently in use at the Hilton Reservations Worldwide center in Hemet, Calif. During a limited deployment to evaluate starTrainer effectiveness, Hilton focused on such essential elements of learning as student reactions to training, the level of learning, behavior and the impact of learning on the organization as a whole.
The initial Hilton implementation measured a control group and a simulation-training group. The results for the 12-week test show that attrition for the starTrainer group was 33 percent lower than for the control group. StarTrainer call handling time was 24 seconds lower immediately after training and remained almost 20 seconds lower than the control group after 12 weeks of on-the-job experience. The starTrainer group also attained required performance levels 41 percent faster than the control group.
Tom Lynch, the founder, president and CEO of Simtrex, says, "If you want to improve the competency of your employees, you've got to have a learn-by-doing platform. Then you've got to have a simulator so you can assess what skill level they've achieved and whether they're competent or not."
"If you asked any call center manager 'What would happen to your center if everybody you had was equal in skill to your third or fourth best agent?' they would start laughing," Lynch says. "Yet training can do that. Building competency is not some magical mystery tour. It's a very scientific method.
"When you improve the skill level of all of your employees, you positively affect every major metric: call handling time, revenue per employee, service levels, abandonment rates, errors made," Lynch says. "I would say that generally the payback for outfitting an entire call center for in-seat training delivery is six to eight months, maximum."
According to Hall, "The business case to use e-learning instead of traditional classroom training, is it ensures that the right people have taken the right training and their knowledge has been tested. E-learning provides training at lower costs--about one-third or one-half the cost of classroom training--and on average provides training that takes only 50 percent as long for the same content."
Hall cautions that e-learning "does not replace the classroom and the instructor. In some situations, such as an orientation to the new CRM approach and software, having a real person in front of a class can make the change more human and less intimidating." still, a company should get going "as soon as possible. As long as there is a need for learning, e-learning is often the better, faster, cheaper alternative."