Effective coaching and training for frontline associates and managers are critical enablers of delivering a differentiated customer experience, achieving associate career aspirations and driving business performance. Coaching and training programs are frequently too high level and focused on teaching the “what” vs. the “how” which limits their effectiveness. The key to having a successful frontline coaching and training program is to ensure it includes a high level of engagement and interaction, focuses on skill development and truly drives increased performance.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were already investing in virtual training methods, however, once the pandemic hit, employers found themselves forced into a virtual learning and coaching environment. Some companies were prepared to immediately make a seamless shift, but most found themselves caught off-guard with existing classroom-based training curriculums that didn’t transfer well to a virtual environment.
Employers have faced numerous challenges while attempting to use traditional training curriculums in virtual settings. Some found that learners quickly disengaged from their virtual classmates and trainers and many reported declines in associate retention rates. Skill development has also suffered, which directly impacts the customer experience.
As the “new normal” for work environments is being defined, so is the “new classroom.” Employers are strategically making decisions about the future of staffing in virtual environments and a large percentage are realizing that virtual work environments, or a hybrid approach, are here to stay because they can be more effective and efficient when implemented successfully. One key enabler to this success is a robust, highly engaging and blended learning environment.
Here are 3 tips for designing a highly effective virtual learning structure and environment:
1. Ensure you have the right technology in place.
As a foundation, you need a reliable and feature-rich meeting collaboration tool that your learners can use as their “virtual classroom.” The tool should include features such as breakout rooms, whiteboards to help learners express ideas, polling to help drive engagement with the class, and screen sharing to help with demonstrations and information sharing. The technology must allow the facilitator to see how the class is doing virtually and to gauge when learners are engaged or become distracted.
Learning management systems (LMS) are also critical to manage your training content, target specific classes for each associate, and track, manage and report on the overall associate development process. Additionally, a blended learning environment must include self-paced content, so it is important to invest in software that allows instructional designers to develop virtual and mobile-ready content, interactive videos and simulations.
2. Ensure your learning environment is engaging.
Engaging learning environments must include a wide range and variety of content delivery methods and interactions, such as videos, self-paced e-learning, instructor-led content, role play and simulation. Our experience shows that the use of a variety of learning treatments aids in a deeper level of understanding, knowledge retention and overall performance. Associates gain a better understanding of the end-to-end process which allows them to more effectively troubleshoot the situation, fully resolve issues and identify unmet needs which provides improved customer experience, better business outcomes and associate satisfaction. Having a wide variety of delivery options also allows the trainer the flexibility to gauge the energy and learning styles of the class and adapt as needed to ensure learning objectives are met and learners truly enjoy the experience.
3. Create a more balanced learning approach.
As virtual learning progresses, the role of the trainer is also evolving. To encourage associate engagement and understanding, the training environment must now focus more on a balance of interactions between the associate and trainer. In the past, trainers spent hours, days and weeks sharing PowerPoint presentations and in-person demonstrations and talking “to” the class. They focused on providing associates with all of the information they thought they might ever need to effectively care for the customer. In this new environment, it is much more effective to have a highly blended approach that might look something like this:
- Learners take a self-paced introduction to the learning concept which provides them with the foundational background at the time that is most convenient for the learner or business.
- Learners then go into the virtual classroom where the trainer picks up the concepts where the self-paced module left off, probes for questions and then moves into a more highly engaged discussion with polls and possibly breakout sessions with the learners to ensure a deeper understanding of the concepts.
- The trainer then puts the learners in the driver’s seat by sharing hands-on examples and simulations of the concepts they just learned. The learners then execute the simulations on their own or in breakout sessions to demonstrate that they understand and can apply the concepts.
- The virtual class comes back together to discuss the concepts and the trainer answers any questions before moving on to the next topic.
This highly engaged, blended approach creates a much more effective learning environment, tailors the approach to the needs of the classroom and individuals and gives the learners a higher level of confidence in their ability to put these concepts into practice.
Virtual learning has become the “new normal” and drives higher levels of effectiveness
The virtual learning environment is here to stay and will become the “new normal” for many employers. An unanticipated outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it demonstrated to employers that there are many benefits to virtual work environments. As a result, many companies may not bring employees back to the office post-pandemic or will do so with a hybrid approach. Even for those companies who choose to bring almost everyone back, virtual training provides higher levels of flexibility and effectiveness, so the benefits can be realized by all. Whether they choose a hybrid or an all-in-office approach, during the transition process, employers should take additional steps to ensure that employees feel safe during training programs. Instead of holding post-pandemic training sessions in traditional classroom settings, employers should consider on-site virtual training. This can be easily accomplished by equipping associates’ cubicles with virtual classroom setups and allowing them to remain at their desks during sessions. This approach benefits both employees and employers:
- ensures associates feel safe while training but also allows them to “hear the buzz” of the contact center and become accustomed to it
- allows associates to set up their equipment and screens during training so less change is necessary when they move to the live environment
- allows employers the flexibility of supplementing their staffs with additional new hire classes without being limited by classroom space. Additional new hire classes are likely to be necessary post-pandemic due to hiring deficits and unusually high employee attrition during the pandemic.
While the Covid-19 situation has presented many challenges, accelerating the move to a more virtual training and learning environment has certainly been a step in the right direction. This approach consistently provides higher levels of engagement and effectiveness which drives improved customer experience, better business outcomes and associate satisfaction and retention.
The Northridge Group helps clients redesign training programs to transform them for use in customized virtual or blended training environments. Our team uses an engaging and interactive approach and has experience pinpointing gaps in learning and working to develop appropriate solutions. Clients report that their associates are more confident in their jobs because of our revamped virtual training programs.
Are you prepared for virtual training? We can help you develop a customized training program to drive improvements in associate development, engagement, and retention. Contact us to learn more.