Knowledge Management: The Cure for Contact Center Agent Training Ills in the Variant-Era

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According to Training Magazine, US companies spent $82.5 Billion in 2020 alone for employee training. Training is clearly not an inexpensive endeavor. In fact, it costs almost $16,900 to train a new call center agent in the pharmaceutical industry over a 12-month period, according to Cutting Edge Information, a life sciences research firm. The training process is extensive from initial onboarding to classroom training (or virtual training amid Covid) to shadowing and beyond. Cost estimation models don’t always take the entire process into account.

Despite huge investments in training over the years, why are customer and agent experiences stuck where they are—poor to mediocre at best? What is the way out of it?

Covid upends training

The “post” in the “post-pandemic” era never quite materialized—we seem to be caught in a long-tail era of variants. From a contact center perspective, it means many contact center agents will continue to work from home. In fact, per Gartner, most contact center managers believe that 30%-80% of their workforce will work from home two years from now even if the pandemic is behind us.

Many of them newly hired, work-from-home agents won’t get a chance to go through traditional training and onboarding since most of those programs have been upended by the pandemic. According to recent research, published by the ILO (International Labour Organization), an astounding 90% of companies reported that their training programs have been disrupted. Moreover, these agents won’t be able to simply walk over to the proverbial next cube for answers if they are stumped by a customer query. These queries are indeed getting more complex as customer self-service gets smarter.

While companies have had some success in getting agents to connect with customers from a remote setting and finding ways to monitor and manage them, they are falling short in empowering them with knowledge. No wonder 57% of consumers complain that they get different answers at different touchpoints when they try to get customer service from businesses, according to a survey, conducted by Dimensional Research on our behalf in the thick of the initial pandemic outbreak last year.

The problem

Training had its trials and tribulations even pre-Covid. Here are some key issues historically associated with it.

Attention span

Today’s contact center agent pool is comprised predominantly of millennials and Gen Z workers with the latter trending up in proportion. The attention span of these younger generations is far lower than that of older generations like baby boomers—just 12 seconds for millennials and a mere 8 seconds for Gen Z. Traditional training will be an exercise in futility as these workers check out and start daydreaming in long, boring training sessions.

Knowledge Retention

According to research from the University of Waterloo, most people retain only 25% of new information just two days after learning it and a paltry 2-3% a month after. If this is the case with basic information, imagine what it could be for sophisticated knowhow like situational problem solving and product advice or executing processes, which are in compliance with best practices and industry regulations!

Learning Preferences

65% of Gen Z agents (and Gen Z workers in general) prefer to learn on the job rather than sit through long training sessions. However, it is dangerous to have them do that learning at the expense of customer experience, which can negatively customer satisfaction, revenue, and brand equity instantly.

The solution

Modern knowledge management systems can help all agents, especially novice and mediocre ones, to not only provide good customer service but also learn on the job. Besides offering robust content management and search capabilities, these systems offer real-time conversational and process guidance to agents and even self-service systems as they interact with customers. This is like providing training wheels to kids when they learn to bike or offering over-the-shoulder assistance to a new worker. As the agents get more experienced, they can be taken off the training wheels—advanced knowledge management systems can personalize in-flow guidance, based on an agent’s performance and experience level. For example, a poor performer or a novice agent could still be put through full-fledged guidance whereas an experienced high performer could be allowed to take shortcuts to resolution.

Success stories

Here are some real-life examples in which modern knowledge management delivered breakthrough business results.

  • Telco giant achieved a 25-point improvement in NPS (Net Promoter Score) and a 35% improvement in FCR (First-Contact Resolution), while reducing agent time to competency by 50% across 30,000 contact center agents and ~600 retail stores, while enabling any agent to handle any call
  • Global bank reduced training time for compliance-heavy service and sales engagements by 60%, improved FCR (First-Contact Resolution) by 36%, and NPS by 10 points
  • A large government agency reduced case handling time by 25%, while elevating agent engagement to 92% versus the industry benchmark of 67%!
  • A hyper-growth SaaS provider improved agent confidence in answers to customer questions by a stunning 60%, while improving consistency of answers by 62%
  • Leading telco reduced unwarranted handset exchanges and returns by 38% through better resolution of customer issues by contact center agents and on the website

All these clients had significant agent training programs but also understood that in-flow conversational and process guidance for agents (and customer self-service systems) is an essential complement to training in the new remote-first era. Good for them—the results they achieved were nothing short of transformational!

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