Performance-centered training–a means to an end, not an end in itself

Performance-centered training–a means to an end, not an end in itself

Clapp, Nancy

Your company is ready to launch its best telemarketing campaigns ever. You’ve implemented the best technology available, and you’ve assigned your most seasoned managers to the campaign. Human resources assures you they hired the “best and the brightest” available, and you’ve provided weeks of training. You’re ready to go live.

What ensues is your worst nightmare. Your “best and the brightest” do not sound confident and knowledgeable when you sit through monitoring sessions. Quality assurance managers report a seemingly endless list of problems: poor product knowledge, lack of familiarity with the script, failure to handle objections, and on and on. Beleaguered supervisors generate report after report showing inconsistent results. Worse, they seem overwhelmed and clueless about how to turn around the situation.

Managers, who are held accountable for results begin to point the finger at the Training department. Training is called in, but makes only choppy, incremental attempts at remediation. This remediation is “hit or miss,” and it costs valuable sales rep time.

Quality assurance data shows spotty performance — glimmers of hope coupled with abysmal findings. Conversion rates and sales volumes fall well below required levels. Your team is working 15hour days with no sustained improvement in sight.

Eventually, without explanation, results start to creep up toward acceptable levels, but by then, the damage has been done.

If you have lived through this nightmare, you can take some small comfort in knowing you are not alone. In the volatile world of call centers, many new campaigns get off to a similar, shaky start. If this is a nightmare you’ve lived through more than once, however, you need to make significant changes to put an end to it.

Training can play a pivotal role in the demise of the nightmare. It is, after all, the key to preparing reps to meet stringent campaign requirements. All too often, though, training is under-budgeted and poorly planned and executed. How can you turn training into an asset to your campaign?

Accounbility To A New Standard

There are many steps you must take, but the first is to begin to hold your training professionals to a new standard that focuses on performance outcomes. In effect, their success must be measured the same way as your account services and operations teams’ success. All too often, training is held to a different standard — measured on internal process outcomes: for example, meeting new hires` training schedules, graduating reps to the sales floor on time, and getting high scores on the compulsory end-of-course evaluation. These measures must be in place, but they must be coupled with tangible performance outcomes: in effect, with sales and productivity results. This is your best assurance that training will design, develop and deliver training that hits the performance bulls-eye.

Training professionals are frequently introduced to a project too late in the process. In fact, they must be part of the process from the very beginning. During the selling phase, they will be responsible for linking training to documented client requirements and assuring that training processes and outcomes are in sync. Training’s input is essential in allowing you to determine a “doable” timeline for launch. Even when you possess training materials used in a former campaign, don’t assume those materials can be re-used without significant rework. Your training professionals will need time to assure that the materials are targeted to this project’s requirements.

Training must develop a detailed plan that is in lockstep :th every other aspect of a successful launch: operations, systems, hiring, quality assurance. This plan should include the usual training objectives, outcomes and measures. In addition, though, it should include specific performance objectives the training will support.

How You Measure Success Counts

This focus on performance-centered training is not a subtle distinction. You need training professionals who understand the difference between training and performance impact. Training must be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself. If your training managers measure success in end-of-course trainer evaluations, or in the number of reps who complete training, you need to redefine their focus. If your trainers are pointing to high product test scores while reps fail to recognize a product’s application on call after call, you need to recalibrate your trainer’s notion of success.

In effect, your training managers and trainers need to step out of the traditional training role. They need to see themselves as part of a bigger team. In order to play their part, your training managers need solid project management skills, in addition to experience in the call center environment and depth in instructional technology.

At Interactive Response Technologies (IRT) in Fort Lauderdale, the need for a team approach became evident as performance and productivity were clearly not where they needed to be to reach client and call center goals. To combat this, the quality and training programs were merged into a single internal consulting team. “The key to success,” according to Kelly Taliaferro, the training and quality manager at IRT, “is in using a systems approach.” Interactive Response Technologies focuses initial training on what agents need to know for optimal performance, and they foster that performance through coaching. Then, they provide inservice opportunities to develop enhanced levels of skills. “Ultimately, we are concerned not with how many facts an employee knows, but how he or she can use that informationtoreach performance goals,” said Taliaferro.

Every element of training should tie directly to knowledge or tasks essential to productivity and performance results required. Too frequently, training wanders off the topic or overwhelms the reps with extraneous information. If your training encourages reps to memorize volatile content, you may be headed in a dangerous direction. Products and offerings change over the course of the campaign, and reps are at risk of citing outdated information. Your training should focus on making reps experts at quickly finding the current information via scripts and databases.

Ask your training professionals to define performance outcomes of the training course. If the responses are full of what reps will know or understand, keep probing until they can define what reps will be able to do. It is not what reps know that makes your campaign successful; it is what reps do. Training, then, should focus on the tactical elements of the campaign.

Skilled Trainers Are Key

You notice that I keep referring to training professionals. Throwing marketing and operations people into the training role can be a disaster. My experience over the years shows that most line managers thrust into this role use the “kitchen sink” approach to designing training. They throw everything they know into the mix in the hopes they won’t miss something. What you get is unnecessarily long and complicated courseware. On the other hand, an instructional design professional can design the shortest path to rep proficiency. They are skilled at incorporating adult learning techniques. In other words, they design training that is highly interactive and full of role-plays and exercises, making the training experience effective, challenging and fun. In addition to developing a course to support a new campaign, instructional designers will make mid-course corrections and get updated courseware into the hands of the trainers.

When several new campaigns coincide, many call centers take experienced reps offline and convert them to trainers, usually with little or no preparation. The roles of rep and trainer require significantly different skills. Without proper screening, training and certification, you may be setting up one of your best employees for failure. This is an especially unhealthy approach when your center is growing rapidly, is experiencing high turnover rates or is under severe performance pressure. You need your best reps online. If you cannot hire the trainers you need, consider outsourcing. If you must reassign reps to become trainers, at least get them through a tested train-the-trainer program, and require that they certify before you give them sole responsibility for leading the classroom.

The classroom should be a whirl of activity because adults learn best by doing and experiencing – not by simply listening or seeing. If the trainer comes across as a “talking head,” you need to make serious changes. Your problems may rest in design (e.g., not interactive enough) or in delivery (e.g., a trainer who prefers the lecture method). If your training staff lack the skills to make these changes, get them the help they need through outsourcing or training.

Proper Setting & Players Are Essential

Make sure that the classroom mirrors the sales floor. From the first day of training, put a consistent set of expectations in place regarding rep behavior. Introduce quality assurance criteria early in the training process so reps know what is expected of them. Make certain reps have access to current scripts and systems, and that they get hours of practice with them.

To make certain that quality assurance criteria is introduced and sustained over the life of a project Precision Response Corporation (PRC). headquartered in Miami, has combined training and quality assurance resources. According to Donna Layton. PRC’s director of training and quality assurance. “PRC has a quality assurance presence in every training class. Quality representatives participate in the training and act as direct liaisons to the customer. They provide a unique perspective to the training environment.”

Your training professionals should participate in daily operations briefings. As problems occur and midcourse corrections are made, those changes must be integrated into the training process. Without this approach, you will perpetuate the problem as each new class of reps graduates to the sales floor. PRC handles this issue head on. Layton points out that trending reports are “shared with training to improve the training process as well as advise trainers of issues and concerns on the floor.”

Another critical step toward great performance is the use of coaches in a “nested” or transitioning environment. By extending the training session out onto the sales floor through coaches, you reinforce the right approaches. Often trainers assume the role of coaches in the first few days out of the classroom. These trainers work closely with reps, but they work most closely with supervisors so they can gradually turn the coaching process over to them. If you can get your supervisors to coach effectively, you will see sustained performance results.

It is important to stress that training applies to everyone who affects the customer relationship, including supervisors. And if quality assurance reps are going to calibrate performance observations effectively and give targeted feedback, they must successfully complete training. In fact, it is wise to have a well-defined certification process that applies to reps, supervisors and quality assurance representatives. Here again the key is linking certification to tough performance criteria that will generate the results you need. This way you can be confident in the knowledge and skills of those who certify.

Training presents an excellent opportunity to spread your company culture and standards. If you can find time to personally participate in any phase of training, you will send a clear message that training is important, and that you are personally interested in how your reps are doing. Your presence will go a long way to helping reps understand and share accountability for performance results. It gives reps a sense that you are leading the effort and that they are in good hands.

Sustain Momentum With Management Support

It is important to establish meaningful measures for each campaign in advance. You will want to track product test scores, instructor evaluations, attendance, completion rates and the like, but don’t stop there. More important, set specific targets for performance levels — close rates, sales volumes. etc. – expected of each rep as they complete training. Raise the performance expectations during the nested coaching period. and don’t stop raising them until you are outrunning your customers’ expectations.

Support for performance-centered learning should start at the top of the organization. Recently, when David Brown, CEO of Atlantic TeleServices. assembled his entire team and launched aI campaign training session. his support of the training effort was clear. Brown said. “Effective and efficient tl`aillillidS 011 iI depends on tl balance of cost and effort to achieve successful behavior. This is a fundamental building block for rapidly growing enterprises. We need only look to yesterday`s failure for confirmation of this principle.”

Chances are that your training manager and team of training professionals will welcome the challenge to be more closely allied with the performance and productivity that matters to you and your client. End the nightmare associated with campaign launches and surpass your customers’ expectations by leveraging perfonnance-centered training.


Nancy Clapp is the managing director for Multi-Dimensional Internationa, a Jacksonville, Florida-based consulting and training firm that specializes in the telemarketing industry.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Mar 1998

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