In the mad scramble to move more than 90% of our nation’s contact center agents to work at home, the focus was on technology—keeping our agents online, connected and maintaining service continuity. The next phase requires every supporting function to adjust their processes and technology to support and enable our employees as work-at-home moves from a novelty to business as usual.
The great news? Reconfiguring your current training to an 100% remote approach is a great way to leverage your existing content to accommodate changing needs. And it’s a stellar opportunity for training designers, developer and facilitators to learn new skills and flex new muscles.
Luckily, there is 20 years’ worth of proven practices you can use to supercharge your online training today.
Choose the Right Online Training Methods and Tools
Conferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are great for meetings, town halls, and even coaching and feedback conversations. It’s tempting to repurpose them for your training classes, but tools designed specifically to support training and education open a whole new world of dynamic interactivity and engagement.
Start your engines, training designers—time to add some new skills to your toolkit! (Note: I’m not affiliated with any of the following vendors. These are entry-level, low-cost solutions with ample free trials.)
- For live instruction, Adobe Connect supports an active learner experience with polls, customizable chat pods, integrated audio and video, savable whiteboards and breakout rooms.
- If you have a library of slides or documents you want to convert to self-paced online training, solutions like Lessonly, Adobe Captivate, or Articulate Storyline provide cloud-based, cost-effective, simple tools for you to leverage you existing content. Not sure how to leverage your slides for an effective e-learning experience? Elearning! magazine maintains an up-to-date roundup of practical best practices for transforming your PowerPoints into interactive, engaging content.
- Any online training course will benefit from improved graphics. Visual aids like infographics, job aids and concept illustrations capture attention, simplify concepts and create memorable frameworks. Affordable solutions like Venngage, Snappa or Canva offer easy shortcuts to boost the visual appeal of your online content.
- Not every organization has a learning management system to track course completion or test results, but that doesn’t mean remote testing is off the table. You can build quizzes directly in PowerPoint, for instance, or access more advanced quiz functionality with easy-to-use, low-cost tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms.
- If you’ve assumed a fully featured learning management solution is outside your budget, you’re in for a big surprise. Today, cloud-based subscription LMS’s are within the reach of almost every organization. Host e-learn modules, track remote classroom training, and track attendance and quiz results using a stand-alone solution like LearnUpon or bundle content authoring tools with LMS features from vendors like Lessonly or Adobe Captivate Prime.
With the right tools, now is the perfect time to transform your traditional classroom training into a more effective and flexible mixed-method delivery model. Looking to convert a full day of classroom training? Why not try a new approach? For example:
- Introduce concepts, processes and facts in a self-paced online module with an assessment to test understanding;
- Meet in a live “classroom” to share work, discuss, practice and demonstrate understanding; and
- Create consistency and reliability by ending each module or session with a summary event (quiz, role-play, demonstration) and a reflection activity.
Don’t forget to ask learners for their perspectives on the new methods and tools. Some learners may say they miss the interactivity and connection of classroom training—that’s valid feedback! Take it as a challenge to jump-start your creativity and boost those factors in your online training design.
Warm Up Your Learners
Your training events are more effective when learners are thinking about and primed to interact with the content before the training even starts. Similar to jumping jacks and toe touches, a training warm-up prompts the learner to turn their attention toward the training topics, before jumping into the coursework.
Depending on the topic and audience, a warm-up may consist of:
- Encouraging recall of existing experience or knowledge.
- Prompting an emotional connection to the topic.
- Asking learners to interact in some way with the topic you’ll be covering ahead of time, especially if it can be integrated into the training experience.
An effective approach is to start before the training event, in the form of a Training Warm-Up Email. It includes, of course, the name of the course, learner-friendly objectives (“What you’ll learn how to do”), and persuasive messaging about why it’s important to learn about this topic. I may ask questions similar to the warm-up questions below, or send a short quiz (“Which agent response do you think would be most effective to respond to this irate customer?”) and reveal the results at start of the class. Sometimes, I’m not able to send a warm-up email—for example, in a self-paced course—and I’ll start the class with an activity that asks similar questions.
In this example from a recent remote class, “Connecting with Customers through Empathy” (see table 1), I used Question 3 in my warm-up email, so I could prepare my exercises ahead of time, and Question 2 as our beginning-of-class warm-up activity, since empathy is an emotional topic and I wanted to help learners get into “feeling” mode.
TABLE 1: How to Use Training Warm-Ups to Engage Learners
|Course: Connecting with Customers Through Empathy
|In this training, we’ll cover how to demonstrate empathy for customers when they’re upset or emotional, as a way of connecting with the customer, and helping them focus on the solution you’re offering. Your experience with emotional customers is important to this class, so before we start, I’d like you to reflect on what you already know.
||Why This Works
|1. Before the end of the day on Friday, email me *at least* ONE strategy you use to manage emotional or upset customers. We’ll use the team’s collective experience to compile a list of best practices.
||Soliciting real-life learner experiences is a great way to get their attention, start communicating that you expect learners to actively participate, and gain content buy-in. I’ve built on this activity by asking learners to vote on their favorites as they come into class, and recognizing top contributions.
|2. In your experience, what is most difficult for you about managing emotional or upset customers? Are there elements of it you find satisfying?
||This invites learners to connect with the topic on an emotional level, which prompts attention and engagement.
|3. Describe an emotional caller you encountered recently. In 2-3 sentences, describe the situation, what the caller wanted, how the caller acted and what they said.
||Never write another practice scenario yourself! This is the best and easiest method to generate a large volume of real-life practice scenarios. It prompts learner curiosity and increases learner engagement when they learn they generated a significant portion of the course content. There’s nothing more satisfying than learners eagerly jumping into an exercise, exclaiming: “Oh, let’s do this one—I hear that all the time!”
Design Training for Active Learner Participation
Many contact center training teams have been tasked with converting their classroom training content into online delivery, but sometimes after they do, they feel like something is missing. Your learners—and you!—may still miss aspects of the classroom experience. During face-to-face training, we exchange subtle cues that we aren’t even aware of: smiles, expressions, attention, agreement, laughter, connection. It can be easy to lose that when we design and deliver remote training, but we don’t have to.
During face-to-face training, we exchange subtle cues that we aren’t even aware of.
If there is one law that should drive online training design and delivery, it is this: Training participants are not observers. Online training isn’t a television show with the learner passively absorbing the content. Learning just doesn’t work that way.
Anytime your learners are in an observer role, they are at risk for disengaging. This is one reason I like to ask participants about their previous remote training experience—to allow them to recall the opportunities for distraction and disengagement, and for us to share strategies for how we, together, can create an engaging, interactive experience. Approaches to build interactivity and connection include:
- Using tools that are designed for online learning and pushing the limits of the interactive features available.
- Setting expectations for learner interactivity and explaining the benefits. If I create a low-risk, comfortable learning environment, learners are more receptive when I ask them to actively participate. Approaches to active learner participation that have worked for me include the following:
- If I expect learners to answer the poll questions or learning activities, I make that explicit. Ideally, we’ve agreed that participation is a best practice that benefits everyone at the start of the class.
- If I ask learners to provide an exercise answer, I format the slide or whiteboard with a named slot for their answer so it’s clear they are expected to fill their slot.
- If I notice a learner isn’t participating, I’ll send a private chat: “I noticed you’ve been quiet this morning. Is everything OK? Let me know if I can do anything to help. I know it can be difficult to focus in a remote class and I’d like to help you get the most out of it,” and follow up directly, if necessary.
- If I see a learner share a relevant point in the chat, I may ask them to elaborate, and I not-so-subtly encourage learners to share their opinions and experiences in both chat and audio.
Using our “Connecting with Customers through Empathy” course as an example, Table 2 shows how we can improve on common passive training approaches to spur more active learner engagement online.
TABLE 2: How to Improve on Common Passive Training Approaches
|Passive Approach → → → →
|At the start of the class, share Remote Learning Best Practices like: “Don’t check your email,” and “Mute your phone line when there is background noise.”
||Start with a polling question: “Have you taken an online ‘live’ course before?”
Ask: (1) “Based on your experience, what makes an online course effective?” (2) “What can you do to make sure you get the most out of it?”
Save the (2) suggestion on a course sticky, ask learners to commit to the best practices, and refer to it during learner check-ins (“How are these working for you? Any you’d like to add?”).
|Provide a checklist of common customer emotional signals agents can use to identify upset or irate customers.
||Ask: “You’ve worked with thousands of customers. How do you know when a customer is feeling emotional or upset? Let’s create a list of common customer emotional signals we can refer to when we start our role-plays.”
I may add additional items to the master list, if necessary.
|Introduce a formula for empathy statements with lots of examples.
||Introduce a formula for empathy statements with one example. Ask participants to generate examples to demonstrate their understanding of the formula and provide feedback.
|In the course evaluation, ask: “Was the course content useful and relevant to your job?”
||At the end of the module, ask: “How does this content apply to your job?” “How and when are you going to use what you’ve learned?”
Ask learners to document their commitments and share them with their manager. Managers/QA should listen to calls to reinforce and coach demonstrations of empathy.
|Have participants respond to sample scenarios with empathetic responses.
||Have learners build out their own scenarios and let them choose the ones they like best for their practice.
|At the end of the day, sign off with “Have a great night, I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow!”
||At the end of the day, send learners an email that summarizes the day’s accomplishments, the plan for the next day, and asks a reflection question or simple recall question, that you’ll use to open the next day.
Add a daily check-in: “How are you doing concentrating and staying focused? What’s working well for you? What isn’t?” and make real-time adjustments to the content delivery based on feedback. Commend learners who are actively managing their attention and engagement.
Center Planning, Design and Delivery around Measurement
When you’re converting your classroom content to remote training, it’s the perfect time to cut waste and freshen up course design with an eye toward efficiency and effectiveness. A basic but sometimes forgotten practice is beginning course design with course objectives and measurement. This can feel like an academic exercise, but all this means is course design should start with a conversation with stakeholders about what specifically they expect the participant to be able to do as a result of the course, stated as observable and measurable activity.
Imagine you’ve been asked to design the “Connecting with Customers through Empathy” course. Of course, the first thing you’ll do is meet with the course stakeholders, QA and operations managers to make sure you’re designing a course that meets the stakeholders’ needs. The “Good” learning objective in Table 3 is a solid start. We know what the class is going to be about—strategies related to empathy.
TABLE 3: Create Detailed Objectives to Streamline Course Planning, Design, Delivery and Measurement
|In this class, participants will learn strategies to respond to customer distress or emotion with empathy.
||In this class, participants will learn strategies to respond to customer distress or emotion with empathy.
1. Identify common customer emotional signals.
2. Respond to common customer emotional signals with relevant and persuasive empathy statements.
3. Use the empathy builder framework to create more authentic and individual customer connections.
Now, consider how the “Better” objectives in Table 3 can be used as a tool to streamline course planning, design, delivery and post-course application and measurement.
- First, you’ve created a framework to clarify expectations with your stakeholders and narrow the training content and scope. Detailed objectives are an agreement between you and your stakeholders: “If learners can perform these three observable actions, will the training be successful?”
- Second, you’re able to more quickly identify the most effective delivery methods for each objective. In this example, it’s easy to see Objectives 1 and 2 could be formatted in an online, self-paced course with a quiz to assess comprehension. Then, learners could convene with the facilitator online in real time to practice real-life application of these objectives and to learn and practice the more complex Objective 3 skills.
- Third, your objectives are the foundation of your measurement approach that you’ll use to determine if the course was worthwhile (see Table 4). Did participants learn what we expected them to? Are they prepared to apply it to their work? Do they apply it to their work?
TABLE 4: Objectives Form the Foundation of Course Measurement Approach
|1. Given real-life scenarios, can learners reliably identify customer emotional signals?
||Online matching quiz
|2. In a realistic role-play, can the learner recognize and respond to emotional signals with relevant and persuasive empathy statements?
||Classroom role-plays with evaluation rubric
|3. Are learners able to go beyond scripted templates and use the empathy builder framework to create authentic and individual customer connections?
||Post-training call evaluations
Should you share the learning objectives with your learners before the class? That’s up to you. Some designers and facilitators find that sharing detailed objectives for a three-week new-hire class is overwhelming to their learners. No problem! Use detailed objectives to facilitate better design, delivery and measurement. If you choose not to share them, though, keep in mind that learners need to know what they’re expected to DO on the job with the content they are learning and how their performance will be measured.
For even the most seasoned training team, moving classroom training online is a herculean effort that requires new tools, new skills and a fresh eye turned toward ALL our content. But this seismic shift is more than just a change in venue—it’s a chance for our team to model flexibility, resiliency and adaptability for the entire organization, and demonstrate to our partners how to find the opportunity in a challenging situation.