Jan

10

Customer service is often the most misunderstood, underfunded, and disconnected area of the corporation. These limitations are to the detriment of the enterprise however, and a refined and technologically proficient customer service staff will ultimately help improve the bottom line.

The logic here is that the customer service area is often the first point of contact—and in some cases, the only point of contact a customer has with the company. Within your enterprise, you may well have several different divisions, and your HR department may have gone to great lengths to create job descriptions that pigeonhole staff members according to a variety of arbitrary definitions. “We don’t do that here. You have to go talk to the warehouse” (or whatever department is responsible). No customer wants to hear that!

The fact is, your customer wants a single point of contact. They don’t want to be transferred to the warehouse, or the accounting department, or anywhere else—they want a single, well-educated and knowledgeable person to solve their problem, no matter what it is. This is done by educating your customer service staff.

In fact, your customer service people should be the most knowledgeable people in your company. Rather than a stovepiped organization with divisional knowledge, create a broader-based organization with institutional knowledge. A good customer service staff person should know more than just the basics, and what’s in the manual. They need to be trained and cross-trained so that they understand everything about the organization.

Creating a professional customer service organization isn’t an easy task—it requires careful planning, attention to hiring practices, competitive pay rates, and of course, regular training. Within the customer service area, there are actually several different types of training that are required to optimize the customer service function. Personnel should be trained to answer technical questions and take orders, obviously. But beyond that, training can be a continuous process. Because the customer service staff represents the company, they are unofficial salespeople as well. They may not be part of the official sales staff, but a good customer service organization will nonetheless generate sales just over the course of taking calls. Training on new product lines will allow those staff members to offer upgrades when the opportunity arises, offer complementary products and services, and much more. As such, the customer service staff should be afforded the same type of sales training that the regular sales staff receives.

And finally, it’s important to note that on-demand training is well suited to customer service. Downtime is the bane of the customer service manager’s existence, and on-demand training lets staff take training as it is needed, in small increments, so as not to disrupt the workflow.

This article is brought to you by eLeaP. Get more ideas on learning management systems from eLeaP.

Jan

4

Want to outsource your call center? One frequent objection is that the third party call center staff is less likely to be able to answer all the questions customers throw at them, and it’s a legitimate concern. Simply answering calls and taking orders may sound like a simple enough task, but in reality, when customers call it’s seldom as simple as that. Customers want to know whether a product can be used in a different way than advertised. They want to know details about the company’s other products, or they want to know about the shipping schedule. They may be calling the order desk but all they really want to know is how to fix the product they already have. Can a third party call center halfway around the world handle these requests?

The point is, customer calls are never routine, and that’s why some companies resist outsourcing this function. The argument is that call center employees that are in-house can more easily access other departments, transfer calls that are outside of their domain, or obtain information that goes beyond the basic order-taking function.

But what that flexibility hinges on isn’t access, it’s education. In-house call centers can be just as stovepiped as any other function, and often, that is precisely the case. Keeping it in-house doesn’t necessarily solve that problem. What does solve the problem—whether the call center is in-house or in Bangalore—is educating the call center staff on how the company operates, how the products function, and even minor maintenance and repair that would be traditionally outside the domain of order takers.

This is facilitated in two ways: First by removing the isolation that often exists in the call center. Even in-house call centers are often set apart from the rest of the company, with call center staff having very little access to other parts of the company. But as the call center is often the point of first customer contact, it’s vital for those staff to be knowledgeable about the entire operation. In-house, this is just a matter of policy. When outsourced, isolation can still be overcome, especially with the availability of collaborative technology and audio conferencing.

The second way this flexibility is facilitated is through e-learning.  With easy, modular training units, a call center staff member can quickly and easily learn precisely what he or she needs to learn, in a short period of time. This can be just as easily delivered to the outsourcing provider’s call center staff, as the company’s own in-house staff.

Successful outsourcing is never a 100 percent hands-off proposition—providing that agency with the knowledge it needs to do the job right, and represent your company in the best possible light, is essential, and providing corporate e-learning modules to the agency will help to make a more successful outsourcing arrangement.

This article is brought to you by eLeaP. Get more ideas on learning management systems from eLeaP.

Dec

28

Motivational training, especially for management staff and top sales performers, is still very much dominated by expensive, off-site sessions led by motivational “gurus” who claim to have special insight into how to make your people perform beyond all expectation. And to be sure, many of these speakers are exciting, dynamic, and possess wonderful ideas that you can put into practice after the session is over.

These off-site sessions make everyone feel good, but this type of training is outrageously expensive. It’s out of reach for smaller organizations, and increasingly, there’s simply no budget for it even for larger corporations. One must ask whether they are necessary, especially when online training has advanced to include such dramatic interactive features, multimedia support, testing and tracking—you’ll get a lot more accountability than you would were you to send your people to that session in Tahiti, where they can hide out at the tiki bar and drink mai-tais during the keynote address.

Does it work? Absolutely, and everybody’s doing it. Even Zig Ziglar, the granddaddy of motivational speaking and corporate training, has online sessions now.

Cloud-based, on-demand training doesn’t just have to be used for learning how to use the latest features of your productivity office software suite, or introducing new hires to the office policies. To be sure, there are certainly a lot of routine training that can be delivered very effectively with on-demand training, created with the eLeaP Learning Management System. But this type of on-demand training can go far beyond the routine and ordinary.

Management training, inspirational and motivational sessions and the like can just as easily be delivered through this platform, and with greater tracking and accountability than the traditional off-site live delivery methods that cost so much more. Motivational training, when created for online delivery, needs to be designed the same way as it is for in-person delivery. The “talking head and PowerPoint bullet” model of training is just too limited when you’re talking about this type of inspirational presentation.

This type of training calls for a special type of dynamic leader to deliver the session, and you may need to do a bit more than just sit the speaker down in front of a webcam. Use a wider angle, professional camera to capture whole-body movements (we all know, these types of speakers love to talk with their hands and move around the room), and also to capture their stage props. There will be chalkboards or whiteboards, visual aids and other types of demonstrations, so you may need to have somebody actually running the camera to follow the speaker as they move about the room giving their presentation.

Once you have the on-demand presentation completed, pair it with an activity that the participant can do immediately after the session. Make use of features like tracking to measure attendance, the Quiz Creator feature of eLeaP to take assessments, and a forum for follow-up informal learning so those who have gone through the training can talk with one another about what they’ve learned. The eLeaP training platform will give you a great start to providing affordable and effective motivational training to your management and sales staff.

Dec

17

Large companies tend to fall into a trap of over-specialization. Because of larger volumes, employees tend to be tasked with very specific functions, to the point of being assigned job functions that by themselves, don’t even seem to make sense because they’re not seen as part of a whole process.

A low-level employee may spend his or her entire day for example, entering data on a single form. But what does that data mean? More often than not, they don’t have a clue. They’re just putting numbers into boxes. Where did the raw information come from, what does it mean, and where does it go from here? Who does it impact? If an employee understands these things, not only will it help morale, it will create a more knowledgeable employee.

This is where cross-training comes into the picture. While specialization may be practical, the ability to understand other parts of the company and other roles is critical. Besides the obvious advantage—if an employee that specializes in one specific function is off work, a cross-trained employee can fill in—there are two other big advantages to cross-training that directly affect the bottom line.

First and foremost, cross-training provides a big boost to the customer service area. Let’s start with the customer service employees themselves. A customer service rep needs to be trained on more than just customer relations—they need to understand your product line, and they need to understand the processes and workflows that make your company move. That’s because the customer service rep is expected to be able to solve problems, but problems can’t be solved by an agent that doesn’t know how things get done. What happens when a customer asks about a specific product release, or a shipping issue? Do your customer agents try to re-route the customer call to somebody else, or can they just answer the question? If your answer is not the latter, then you’re missing an opportunity. Customer service agents are first and foremost, generalists that fix customer problems—and to do that job well, they need broad training.

Second, cross-training provides a sales opportunity. What happens when a technician is addressing a problem with a customer that is using an inappropriate piece of technology? If that tech has been trained in the company’s other solutions, they can offer an upgrade. The most successful companies don’t just have a sales department—rather, every single employee in the company understands the sales process, so when an opportunity presents itself, they can go in for the close right away.

We tend to pigeonhole employees into very narrow categories. But broadening that job description, letting them have a look at the entire company rather than just a narrow little piece of it, and providing the cross-training necessary, will benefit both your employees and your company. For further information on creating highly impactful training sessions for all of your employees, eLeaP Training Platform and LMS has the tools you need to get the job done.

Dec

15

It’s not uncommon at all for corporations to treat training as a cost center, and as a result, make every attempt to minimize those costs. Now keeping costs down in the training department is certainly a realistic expectation, especially with the availability of online training, inexpensive conferencing tools, and the eLeaP Training Platform and LMS. But too often, in their zeal to keep costs down, managers mistakenly believe that training opportunities must be reduced.

Fortunately, it is not necessary to reduce training opportunities to reduce costs. The correct approach is to increase training opportunities, but to leverage existing technology, make use of web conferencing, and take advantage of online training and distance learning frameworks to bring learning to a bigger audience with less money.

Here’s an obvious example. The customer support desk, which is your company’s first point of contact with many of your best customers, is critical to success—but the help desk is often one of the lower-paid rungs on the corporate ladder, often employing individuals with less education and fewer skills. The help desk may often get outsourced to a foreign supplier, and the company has even less control over the help desk quality factor.

The help desk and customer support area, however, is often what sets you apart from the competition—and this is what’s going to keep paying customers coming back. Your product may be more than adequate, but if a customer has a bad experience on the phone with your support staff, they’re not going to come back for more.

A better strategy is to hire professionals for the help desk, that area certified and trained. In addition to technical certifications, help desk specific certifications are also available and will go a long way towards creating a help desk with better problem solving techniques and customer skills. In addition, your CRM platform itself may be sophisticated, and certified users who have taken the appropriate course for that system will be able to take full advantage of all of its features.

Lastly, your in-house training dollars (whether for live training or video on-demand) will be well-spent on training your customer-facing employees on all aspects of your products and their usage. If you’re selling hardware routers, your call center should know more than how much they cost—they need to know how they work, how to configure them and how to answer technical questions when asked. If your call center can intelligently explain the advantages of the product, then you’ll have happier customers, and as a side benefit, your cross-sell and up-sell ratios will go up.

Dec

9

Keeping employees up to date on procedures, software, processes, and company policy can be overwhelming. And it gets more complicated when managers realize that training is a continuous process, especially for knowledge workers. Do you send them off-site for intensive seminars? Bring in outside trainers to host sessions during the workday? Both options are of course, costly. Employees love them, because it lets them take time off work–and to be fair, sometimes those options really are a good idea.

In most cases though, they’re just too costly, both in terms of actual up-front cost, and in terms of downtime. “Big picture” training such as motivational sales seminars may still need to be done all at once, but most routine training (such as procedures, policies, software, etc.) can be done on a “just-in-time” basis.

The “just-in-time” phenomenon is nothing new. Just-in-time manufacturing has been around for a couple decades, and it’s simply a discipline that manufacturers use to create only as much product as they need on a day-to-day basis. The result is a decreased need for warehouse space, and a greater capacity for smaller, custom production runs. The just-in-time concept delivered so much benefit to the manufacturing realm, that it has spilled over into other areas, including training.

The idea of just-in-time training is a simple one that works well in the corporate environment. Suppose for example, you have a group of employees in a department that is responsible for executing a process that involves multiple complex steps and the use of custom software that is often being updated. You could shut down production and give a single, large session to train everybody on every process, all at once. But educational studies have shown that the more material you throw at somebody all at once, the lower their retention rate is going to be. Just-in-time training takes a different approach.

Instead of large training sessions, this technique provides smaller training elements, available on demand, with each unit focusing on one specific task or problem. The employee, faced with a question of “how do I accomplish this”, doesn’t have to go through an entire training unit, read an entire book or watch an entire video just to answer that single question; instead, they access the specific piece they want from an extensive catalog. It’s almost the same concept as the ubiquitous “frequently asked questions” page that every company in the world puts on its website.

That’s not to say that just-in-time training should be the only solution; often it works best when paired with a larger, conventional e-learning session that is more in-depth. The just-in-time training can be used as an as-needed follow-up, to reinforce the lessons of the first e-learning session. In some cases, it may even replace conventional training entirely.

This article is brought to you by eLeaP. Get more ideas on learning management systems from eLeaP.

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