Learning Curves

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Training can be a double-edged sword. All employees need it, but taking them out of production to send them into the classroom can create a staffing crunch. Call center managers are all too familiar with this scenario, not to mention its related problem: What do you do when call volume inexplicably picks up during normally sluggish times and a bunch of agents are knee-deep in training?

KnowDev seeks to ease the crunch with a Web-based solution that provides training right at the agent's workstation. KnowDev uses patented technology called Scheduled Learning to ensure the training is delivered during low volume periods so agent productivity doesn't suffer.

KnowDev, created by Atlanta-based Knowlagent, "delivers the right training to the right agent at the right time," says Matt McConnell, Knowlagent co-founder and chairman. "Online learning is a very common school in use today, but the thing that we've done is integrate that into a contact center's system to find the best time to deliver the most appropriate training to contact centers and agents."

The system integrates with a call center's existing workforce management software to bring training sessions at predetermined times automatically. But before beginning, the system will check the center's ACD to determine if call volumes are at an acceptable level. If so, the system continues with the training. If at any time during the session call volumes spike back up again, KnowDev will terminate the training and calls can be routed back to the agent.

"Naturally, the way a call center staffs itself is that you schedule agents for eight-hour blocks during the day," McConnell says. "When they have low-volume times, they're sitting on their hands, talking to their neighbor or whatever. Our training algorithm identifies those times and delivers training."

The system also integrates with a center's call monitoring program to identify the most appropriate content to deliver to a particular agent or agents. Users can import their own training programs from Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or HTML, or create other training programs with KnowDev. A variety of off-the-shelf courses are also available.

"For example," McConnell says, "let's say you called a center and they didn't have the right information for you and that call was recorded by a quality analyst. The analyst would rate the agent poorly in that area. What we can do is queue up training for that agent so at the next low-call-volume period they can receive training."

KnowDev also offers managers a tool for testing agent retention and identifying knowledge gaps. The system includes four main components:

KnowDev Builder allows managers to create courses, online training, reference materials and tests. All courses can be instantly deployed to agents. The Management tool lets KnowDev integrate with telephony systems so that learning doesn't interfere with call flow. It also simplifies training administration and automates record keeping. KnowDev student lets agents access courses in an interactive multimedia learning environment. And KnowDev Report lets supervisors track agent usage and online test scores. The tool also allows managers to access agents' learning records and helps determine knowledge gaps and skill levels, as well as compare group results.

"We improve a company's customer service by preparing contact agents to intelligently respond to customer queries and anticipate future needs," McConnell says. "An intelligent response helps decrease contact time, which can decrease cost and improve customer service in the center."

KnowDev allows organizations to focus on the people who are on the front lines with customers, he says. "Technology doesn't deliver service, people do," he says. "Look at all the money companies spend on technology, but ultimately every customer transaction terminates in a human making a decision. If that human doesn't make the right decision, all that technology is useless."

Banking on Agent Knowledge

The online testing feature was what led First Union's Retail Investment Group to KnowDev. An approximately 900-employee-strong division of First Union bank, the group handles brokerage accounts, asset management accounts and individual retirement accounts. Customers can conduct business through a 340-agent call center.

The RIG piloted KnowDev for nearly a year before rolling it out mid-July, says Ginia Polyzos, director of retail development for RIG. "We are in a client-communications environment," she says. "Because of that, we need to have individuals very focused on what they do. We need to manage how individuals receive training because we know we can't always bring people into the classroom."

The division handles a variety of calls, ranging from the relatively simple, like the balance in a particular account, to the complex, such as "a complicated problem where a customer is trading options and they feel like they've missed out on a fraction somewhere and they want us to backtrack," says Greg Guinn, training technology lead.

"Our business is dynamic, and when information changes, the need to be able to get that out quickly is very large," Guinn says. "We needed some way to mass-distribute to the desktop the correct information and appropriate learning. KnowDev was the only one that focused strictly toward our environment."

A "major benefit" of the system, Guinn says, was the ability "to deliver testing either as a separate entity or tied to a specific course. That allows almost immediate feedback to a supervisor or to a trainer or to someone in management to be able to see what scores are and how the team as a whole is working."

Initial return on investment has been realized in one simple area that is nonetheless key. Before KnowDev, classroom trainers and developers spent a fair amount of their time correcting tests on paper, Guinn says. Once those tests were translated into KnowDev, "at least 15 minutes per test has been saved," Guinn says. "That's, at the least, a full week of trainer's work, and that's time they're now able to spend on other initiatives."

Tech-savvy agents also enjoy taking the tests on KnowDev, Guinn says.

While RIG isn't using KnowDev to supplant classroom learning totally, Polyzos says, the system has helped the group streamline some of the more straightforward lessons. If a group of agents is slated to receive complex training on handling individual retirement accounts, for example, a simple beginning course on the topic can be loaded into KnowDev. After taking the training at their workstation, the group of agents is then better prepared for the complex in-the-classroom course that will follow.

"We're able to take information and materials that have already been created and put it into a new tool for trainers," Guinn says.

The ongoing availability of a never-changing lesson plan is important for agents, Polyzos says. "The information is delivered in a consistent manner. It's very important that the same message be received by everybody," she says. "That allows for the consistent delivery of information and knowledge so at least we know the baseline information being delivered across the board is the same."

KnowDev then gives RIG the tools to analyze how well agents are assimilating that information and can help correct problems. "This really gives us a gauge on the intellectual capital in our organization," Polyzos says. "It lets us find out what we know and what we don't know."

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