Simulations to Teach Coaches How to Coach

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Practice without a purpose is wasted time

Many organizations are great at taking a top performer and promote them into a manager’s role. But what they forget is that not all good frontline employees are good managers.

Recently I was working with a client who wanted to find a new way to teach her managers how to be good coaches.

Let’s first define the difference between “telling” vs. “coaching”. In an article written by Julia Milner & Trenton Milner, in the Harvard Business Review, it presents a great case study on how you can teach managers to be good coaches. Many of them start off with telling employees what to do — this is NOT coaching.

Coaching is a combination of skills that allow the employee to come to a solution of their own accountability vs. being told exactly what to do. I made a two-step recommendation to my client. As she was overseeing Quality Analysts for a global software company, I recommended she first take a look at a Coaching for Performance certification program from Benchmark Portal. They have many certification programs but this seemed to be a great way to give the foundational skills needed to understand coaching. coaching employees

Then I recommended that she use our simulator to build tailored coaching conversations her QA could use to practice various scenarios. As stated in the HBR article, you need to let coaches practice in a safe environment. This is exactly why companies use our simulator. It provides realistic experiences that can blend all of the skills needed such as:

  • active listening
  • questioning
  • giving constructive feedback
  • assisting with goal setting
  • showing empathy
  • letting the coachee arrive at their own solution
  • recognizing and pointing out strengths
  • providing structure
  • encouraging a solution-focused approach

The embedded smart analytics reporting system will allow my client to access detailed metrics in real-time to see how well her QA’s are doing in the capstone activity of completing coaching simulations.

With many people still working remotely, it’s even more imperative that managers have the right skills to help their employees succeed.
If you’re curious to see how to use our simulator to build your own coaching simulations, please contact us.

Five Best Reasons To Use Simulations for Remote Training

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How Simulations Can Ensure Remote Workers Are Job Ready

Well, it’s now August and many of us optimistically thought in March that Covid-19 would be a fading memory. How naive we were. But here we are and every company is trying to figure out what the “long-game” is in regard to changing the way business is done.

Two years ago when I launched Verbal Transactions our small team was able to quickly land some well-known clients who saw the value of using our simulator as a way to augment their existing training programs. One key reason was that it gave them the reassurance that employees would get more “hands-on” practice.

Now with the majority of employees working remotely, tools like ours are even more imperative. Why you ask? Here are the top 5 reasons.

  1. Simulation training has been proven to produce better results compared to instructor-led, video, or eLearning. By giving users the ability to practice in realistic situations exposes them to a more tactile and true-life experience.simulations
  2. Due to the fact employees are not sitting in a classroom or placed in a pod to where they can tap someone on the shoulder to answer quick questions, using our built-in “bot” simulations can be built to allow for users to verbally interact with the simulator to feel they have a guide or mentor to help them along the way
  3. A well-built simulation will allow users to make mistakes with some form of immediate feedback. We all learn from our mistakes. Using simulations to allow you to fail in a safe environment allows you to actually succeed faster.
  4. Because managers can’t physically observe employees doing their job,  using analytics like that built into our ACES software removes any mystery around how well the employee can perform their job. Each behavior you want the simulator to observe can be tied into the scoring and reporting functionality.  No need to watch a video or listen to a recording of the user completing this task, the real-time reporting gives you complete transparency to how well they did.
  5. Most importantly, users appreciate more hands-on practice and feel more confident about how to do their job. Many employees have a variety of anxiety in these uncertain times. Losing their job is one of them. By arming them with tools to ensure you are helping them to learn how to do their job well, ensures, you want them to succeed and to ensure they are well equipped to contribute to helping the company do their best.

 

ACES Simulations vs. Storyline “simulations”

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Recently one of our clients asked us to build an technical support simulation. In this simulation, the engineers would be responding to the customer via a series of emails. Their developers were used to using Articulate’s Storyline for building on-line training. In this case, they decided to build both versions – ACES™ and Storyline.

For those of you not familiar with our simulation platform ACES™, has the ability to recognize key-words, conduct complex and multiple randomized branching, and uses speech recognition for verbal responses.

The primary differences in both designs were as follows:

  1. ACES™ set up randomized branching as to not “game” the system, the Storyline version did not have randomized paths
  2. The Storyline vs. presented multiple-choice options as which response to the customer was best vs. ACES™ allowed the user to actually compose the email. We did provide a hint but if a hint was used, their points were deducted.
  3. There were three initial branches for both options, due to the fact we also included randomization, we were able to build in Six scoring options vs. the one scoring option supplied by Storyline.
  4. When the results were presented, the user could review their composed emails with the instructor if they questioned their results. This was not an option in the Storyline version.
  5. Based upon which path the user chose at the beginning and which keywords they selected, we provided a breakdown of their score into for clearly defined behaviors they have defined as departmental skills they choose to reinforce. The users were able to see how well they scored for each of these behaviors. Storyline was not able to do this.

Don’t get me wrong there are benefits to both tools but in my 30 years of building and delivering enterprise training solutions, one thing I know for sure is, the more active vs. passive the training is, the better results you will get. This is why I am a proponent of non-SCORM based tools as we have grown beyond this capability to track and measure more behaviors and skills vs. simply measuring completions.

If you have read this far, share with me what tools you feel should be highlighted that may fall into the non-SCORM camp as well.

 

Reducing Gladwell’s “10,000 Hours by 90%”

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Deliberate Practice vs. Traditional Training

I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and I’m sure many of you are familiar with the term “10,000 hours to mastery”. This has since been proven to be taken out of context but he still references it as a guide to how long it takes for someone to master an innate skill. In Frans Johansson’s book, The Click Moment he explains that Deliberate Practice is a more likely predictor of success. Here are the core elements to Deliberate Practice

  1. Set a specific targeted goal or task you want to master
  2. Provide focused intense periods of practice
  3. Receive immediate feedback and self-correct
  4. Prepare to be uncomfortable in order to overcome barriers to success

One of the core reasons our customers use our simulator is that it uses this deliberate practice approach. Many of our customers need to get contact center agents up to speed quickly. Traditionally they are putting them on the front lines before they have had time to really master interacting with customers. By using our simulator, they see how this gives agents realistic practice so they can reduce the time it takes to get to mastery. Like Johannson’s approach, our simulator is a predictor of agent performance — here’s how.

  1. Simulations are built to look and feel just like your scenarios with a specific skill in mine – such as how to change credit card information, how to handle product returns etc.
  2. We recommend building different levels of immersion so that as agents score out of one level they continue to practice one transaction 3-4 times at a minimum
  3. They receive automatic immediate feedback from a built-in bot who guides them through how to handle verbal and on-screen interactions successfully
  4. They are uncomfortable at first due to the fact they have not had any exposure to this. Our conversational interactions are built on best practice responses. Once they become comfortable with each level, they can move on to more complex transactions

No need to use a crystal ball to try to determine who will be successful. Our ACES  automates this process. The intelligence embedded into the system, allows the managers to know right where in the transaction the agent may have gotten off track.

Businesses don’t have the luxury of 10,000 hours of time to help employees get up to speed on their skills. So imagine if you had the ability to help your agents master many of your complex transactions in 5-10 hours vs. 5-10 weeks? You can view some examples on our video page.

What Zoom (or other video collaborator) Are NOT Good For

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How Zoom Can be Mis-Used

Ok show of hands, how many of you have had a Zoom Happy Hour?  Or what about birthday parties and game night? In this crazy time of harboring in place, companies are scrambling for ways to keep employees connected, meetings on schedule, and finding ways to keep the doors open.

So beyond the recent security stories I am hearing about, there are situations where Zoom or other video collaboration tools may not be the best tool of choice.

  1. Sometimes just a good old conference call will do the trick. I sat through a painful video call as many of the participants kept dropping or speaking in jerky responses. If you really don’t need to “see” the attendees then just use phone or VOIP connections
  2. Training someone on a new piece of equipment or software application. Zoom is great to walk someone through what they need to do but they really won’t learn unless they can perform more “hands-on” activities. There are many applications out there that will allow you to build software simulations or like our ACES simulation software. Giving employees the ability to engage in a realistic hands-on situation is best done outside of a live video call.
  3. Employee performance review – again may be better done over the phone vs. video as if the connection is “iffy” it may take away from your message and the identified performance improvements you are trying to communicate.
  4. Showing appreciation – how about sending a physical card or letter vs. setting up a video session. This is a personal touch that will go a long way. My 90-year-old mother beams each time she mentions how much she enjoys the letters that I send to her on a quarterly basis. Needless to say, I get a lot of eye-rolling from any of my 12 siblings who may be in ear-shot of this. Why do you think we all get excited when that Amazon box shows up? We know what we ordered but it’s the emotional experience of opening a letter or package that makes it more special.
  5. Last but not least — don’t try to multi-task when in a video call (bathroom breaks). We’ve all heard some horror stories so stay focused on what you’re doing when participating and don’t distract the other participants.

 

Using Bots Accelerates the Need for Up-Skilling

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Why Bots Have a Long Way to Go to Take Over the World

Like Chicken Little’s cries that the sky is falling, everyone keeps shouting bots are replacing people. Well I am here to tell you they have a long way to go.chicken little

There is some truth that bots are beginning to manage simple transactions like help with resetting a password or authenticating your credentials. But in a recent article published int Silicon Republic, Forrester’s Srividya Sridharan states that bots will only be handling 20% of these basic activities by the end of 2020.

The interactions that bots are not able to handle will require higher-skilled agents. Even though many of us are accustomed to interacting with an intelligent agent, we won’t have the patience for this when we need immediate answers. Agents who can handle the tier two situations, will need to be trained skills such as:

  • Expressing the right level of empathy for the situation
  • Navigating their systems to quickly troubleshoot the issues
  • Learn how to ask good open-ended questions
  • Practice active listening and have the confidence to restate their understanding of the situation
  • Recognize early on when they need to escalate the situation to a higher power

Historically it takes months to get an agent up to this level of proficiency. This is why many of our customers are seeing the value in using or call center simulator ACES™. With the clock ticking on speed to proficiency, companies are looking for ways to get these employees up to speed faster to manage the more complex transactions.

So rather than using AI and bot technology to replace employees, we are using it to help upskill them. By giving employees a realistic immersive experience, we can put them in the hot seat. The built-in bot gives them real-time coaching to help guide them through each scenario. By giving them repeated “deliberate practice” we can get them up to speed in days vs. weeks.

So have no fear, the sky is not falling. We see that AI can be used for good – not evil.good bot

If you want to see an example of ACES in action just click this link.

How to Accelerate Contact Center KPI Performance

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Reducing agent’s learning curve.

In a recent conversation, I had with a client we discussed why they are using our simulator in their contact center. As a large BPO, their revenue is directly tied to documenting agents are following very detailed KPIs. They asked for me to provide a full list of how our simulator can impact each of these so I thought it would be helpful to share this list with others.

  1. Reduction of AHT, this client wanted to reduce new hire AHT of 12 minutes down to an average of 7
  2. Increase agent confidence which impacts CSAT scores
  3. Improved soft-skills such as expressing empathy, active listening and asking open-ended questions
  4. Improved accuracy of keystrokes and data entry
  5. Reduces the number of times call will be escalated to a manager
  6. Automates measurement of English proficiency

In number six, this was not an intended KPI but as a result of working with a very large technology company, they now use our simulator as a way to ensure outsourced agents are English Proficient. This came up when they enrolled agents at a call center in Vietnam. They were struggling to complete a simulation successfully. Our client thought that the simulator wasn’t working correctly. I assessed that their accents were too strong. The client was somewhat skeptical that this was the case so they placed them into production as voice agents. Shortly after they were in production, customers complained they were not able to understand them. They are now all chat agents. Moving forward all of their simulations now account for and measure their English proficiency with our simulator.

As we have proven many times, if you pro-actively use a tool like our simulator, you can address a lot of the “back office” metrics on the front end and improve the customer experience.

More Metrics vs. More Completions

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Better Training Metrics to Measure Business Impact

I was one of the first people to evangelize the use of Learning Management Systems (LMS) twenty years ago. Now I’m singing a new tune — find a way to measure skill readiness vs. “completions”.

Initially, the LMS systems served a great purpose. But as time went on, companies began adding more and more features to it to help manage various learning activities. I worked with a client who had very robust features for managing classrooms, assessments, catalogs etc. But the bi-product of this was arming trainers with data on the consumption of activities. I could tell you how many people passed an assessment but couldn’t tell you if these same people knew how to really conduct a proper “lock-out tag-out” procedure.

In a recent survey conducted by Donald H Taylor Learning Analytics made the top spot in what the learning

Web analytics concept

the community has a priority interest in 2020. In previous years personalization and adaptive learning held these top spots.

This is great news for Verbal Transactions — as I have been preaching the benefits of more data for the last four years. In our simulator ACES™ (accelerated contact engagement system) we can pinpoint key behaviors that will truly prepare employees for how to do their job well. We are supplying the “system” to measure these behaviors because the standard LMS can’t do this.

For example: In a standard online training program to teach customer service skills, the manager only knows the following:

  1. When the student started and completed the course
  2. What their score on the final assessment or knowledge checks were

In most instances, this course wouldn’t allow the student to complete the course without successfully reaching the passing score.

If you were to build a similar course in ACES™, you would know the following:

  1. When the student started and completed the course
  2. Did they great the customer properly – and how many times it took them to do this according to best practice
  3. Did they properly express the right level of empathy if the customer expressed dissatisfaction?
  4. How well they demonstrated accuracy when keying in information on a screen or recommend proper items to the customer
  5. Did they ask an open-ended question to properly help the customer uncover their needs
  6. Did they paraphrase their understanding of the customer’s requests or needs properly
  7. Were they able to handle the transaction within a reasonable amount of time
  8. Did the offer any cross-selling items at the appropriate time

Anyway, you get the point. With the new digital transformation taking place, organizations can bring this power of more information to them to help trouble-shoot employee performance problems before they impact the customer experience.

If you’d like to see the simulator in action, just click this link.

How Active Listening Benefits Your Company

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Responding Authentically Drives Customer Retention

There is a lot of talk around replacing contact center agents with bots or some form of self-service options. But according to research conducted by NewVoiceMedia, 75% of customers still prefer a live agent (voice or chat) to help them solve their issues.

Successful companies know how to create a culture that allows agents to not only express empathy but express the Right level of empathy for the customer’s situation. Here is an example.

A customer who is calling to get roadside assistance because they have a flat tire.

Agent#1 “I apologize for your situation.”

Agent#2 “I’m sure that’s really frustrating for you.”

Agent #2 does a better job of expressing empathy that expresses what the customer must be feeling. They recognize what is going on in the customer’s world. This would be perceived as “more authentic” vs. canned and routine.

You can teach agents how to use the skill of active listening, here are 8 steps created by David Grosman that are right on target with how we teach this skill in our simulator

  1. Approach each dialogue with the goal to learn something. …
  2. Stop talking and focus closely on the speaker. …
  3. Open and guide the conversation. …
  4. Drill down to the details. …
  5. Summarize what you hear and ask questions to check your understanding. …
  6. Encourage with positive feedback.
  7. Listen for total meaning
  8. Pay attention to your responses

I’ve highlighted number 5 as this step is really critical step.  It demonstrates to the customer that you truly understand their situation and can accurately paraphrase what is going on.

When the customer senses you are truly trying to get to the heart of their issue or how to help them out. This builds a level of trust. This connection is priceless and should not be taken lightly. When customers feel you are trustworthy they are more likely to continue doing business with you.