Thinking Outside the Class: How AI Can Transform Customer Care Training


Share on LinkedIn

Source: Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Chinese Proverb

Put simply: We learn by doing. In fact, a guiding principle in learning and development holds that employees learn a majority of what they need to do their jobs through practice — by actually doing their jobs.

While this is not necessarily a new concept, switching to a training program that capitalizes on this theory of adult learning can be a challenge. In Amit Das’ book Building Organizational Capabilities, co-founder of IBM’s Institute for Advanced Learning and current CEO of KnowledgeStar David Grebow observes the following: “We only get 25 percent or less of what we use in our jobs through formal learning. Yet … we spend the most money on the smallest part of the equation.”

So, with this in mind and considering how the workforce is being flooded with a new type of learner, how can companies effectively train and develop talent in a way that leverages employee strengths and allows them to learn through practice?

Create a Continuous Learning Environment

Beyond the science that underpins effective learning, the most significant driver of change may be the new generation of millennial workers who are forcing companies to radically change how we develop our employees.

Today’s workers — who routinely binge-watch their favorite TV shows via streaming services — would find a formally scheduled “training class” just as foreign as a show ending with “next week’s regularly scheduled episode.” Forget about performance outcomes and ROI; today’s corporate L&D departments must “move beyond the classroom” and create a continuous learning environment to engage and retain employees.

AI Can Help

So, how can companies provide more of that crucial on-the-job learning that employees need to master their jobs? Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and data science are powering a new class of adaptive microlearning solutions. Centered around short, highly focused nuggets, microlearning is gaining ground as an on-demand training tool that better matches the needs of today’s workforce and digital demands. By adding AI to the equation, microlearning strategies can deliver far more impact, presenting an entirely new way of learning and training.

At SYKES, we’re finding this approach to informal learning can be especially effective in customer care call centers. By linking a cloud-based workforce-management platform with a repository of curated training content, we can automatically and intelligently deliver on-the-job learning to agents. Fueled by sets of labeled data, an AI engine can constantly monitor agent activity, inter-center communication and escalations, product searches and contact drivers. Using this information, the system identifies real-time gaps in agent knowledge, searches the repository and offers the agent relevant microlearning segments when call volumes are low.

Mindful Agent Learning Is Key

While the technologies that power this solution may be complex, the experience is wonderfully simple. Consider this real-world example:

Brian is a 25-year-old call center agent whose typically relaxed personality has gotten him through most tough spots during his three months on the job. But today, the system detects that Brian has taken three difficult calls within an hour, as measured by real-time sentiment analysis and unusually long average handle times (AHT). The AI engine then searches the database for any microlearning on how to handle difficult callers, which returns a short session on mindfulness and another on tips to de-escalate a call.

When there’s a lull in call volume over the next hour, Brian is directed to the mindfulness module. After he accepts, the system suspends his call-flow so he can complete the exercise which includes practice opportunities. Once he’s successfully navigated the simulation, Brian returns to taking calls, now more relaxed and ready to deal appropriately should another difficult call come in.

The key advantage of employing such advancements is that all this happens automatically. If you’re Brian, you’re offered a bite-size chunk of practical training because you needed it — before you or anyone else even knew you needed it. The system recognizes the need for additional training, identifies content specific to the individual issue, and serves it to the struggling agent without intervention from management or waiting for the next training schedule.

Informal Adaptive Learning Wins

The following table represents how the informal adaptive learning approach compares to the more traditional formal learning found in most corporate training classrooms.

Source: Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated

Additionally, by combining adaptive microlearning with AI and data science, we’re seeing measurable results in increased productivity and retention. This translates to happier employees and customers.

More Developments Ahead

As these are early days for using AI in business, we expect to see more and more AI applications in the training arena. Improvements and advancements develop every day as we work with new tools to improve both the customer and the employee experience.

Upon entering the workforce, each new generation will compel training processes to evolve. The current wave has clearly established its strength — a sentiment shared by Tony Fadell, co-inventor of the iPod: “Learning by doing is the only way I know how to learn.”

John Kruper
John Kruper began his career with Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated when the company acquired Alpine Access in 2012. In his role as SYKES’ Chief Learning Officer, John leads the training and development for over 55,000 worldwide employees at SYKES, creating a blended learner-led environment that is social, collaborative and engaging, while incorporating adult learning methodologies to foster top talent growth.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here