Virtual Training in the Call Center: What We’ve Learned Over a Decade
In the dizzying year of 2020 when working from home became the so-called “new normal,” BroadPath posted our work from home maturity model as a roadmap for companies abruptly forced to leave brick-and-mortar behind. Remote work was largely uncharted territory for these organizations, so our decade’s worth of experience as a 100% remote BPO became more relevant than we ever could have imagined.
Given that the migration to home offices involved all employees—not just the highest performers as had been the case in many companies before the pandemic—we predicted, correctly, that virtual training would become a high priority for companies striving to maintain or even surpass previous performance standards.
We also knew right away that the safety nets of brick-and-mortar classrooms—such as the support and encouragement of fellow learners, impromptu huddles, and helpful floorwalkers—would likely get lost in the virtual world, and consequently felt obliged to share the benefit of our experience with colleagues and clients looking for similar supports in the remote workplace.
Finally, we understood, too, that first-time work-from-homers, accustomed to the spontaneous energy of in-person trainers, would need virtual curriculums centered on interactive learning, such as role plays, rather than mind-numbing lectures. To this end, our proprietary virtual workplace platform, Bhive, developed before the pandemic, became an invaluable alternative to in-person connection, providing insights into body language, posture, and other physical signs of engagement no longer accessible from afar.
As both employers and employees contemplate the year ahead, here are five time-tested virtual training principles—gleaned from our Bhive R&D laboratory and ongoing communication with stakeholders—that will keep your remote-learning environment resilient during turbulent times.
1. Channel your inner orchestra leader.
Evolving neuroscience shows us the modern brain is not a workhorse that can be relentlessly pushed in one direction to meet a goal, but more like an orchestra leader that calls upon a variety of resources and knows, from skill and experience, which resource to use when. Hence, our training department uses adult-learning methods that allow learners to discover things for themselves, provide a purposeful context for the things being taught, and help learners leverage what they already know. Whether translating an existing curriculum or designing a new one, we insert virtual activities, such as role plays and scavenger hunts, that stimulate learning by doing. And we don’t forget the “why”: Once the why behind the teachings is understood, most adult learners become even more self-directed, reflective, and trusting of their inner orchestra conductor, resulting in performance levels that are not only higher but more sustainable.
2. Keep it micro. Brain studies show that the average attention span of an adult learner is around 10 minutes.
In brick-and-mortar settings, making eye contact, walking around the room, and having quick interactions may be enough to keep learners engaged. Virtual trainers, by contrast, hold attention by staying alert to the need for soft breaks and becoming fluent in an array of online tools, such as whiteboards, that convey content in short bursts. At BroadPath, a technique called Encouraged Interaction Response (EIR) requires learners to interact with the Trainer or virtual tools every 4-7 minutes. The EIR could be a discussion, poll, chat response, or show of hands, depending on what types of interactions are desired. Since refining the art and science of forcing micro-interactions, we’ve seen better learner engagement and more overall mastery of the processes being taught. Another plus: many learners exposed to EIRs report feeling better prepared for final knowledge checks and exams.
3. Smart “nesting” pays off. In many contact centers, supervisors aren’t assigned to new hires until the nesting period begins.
Consequently, learners often find themselves adjusting to this new relationship while jumping on the phones and going through the stressful experience of transitioning from classroom to application. Outcomes of these impacts often affect retention rates since a new hire is more likely to stay on the job if they make it to the three-month mark. This is why BroadPath brings supervisors into the training experience from day one: They can create bonds early, get to know learners’ strengths and opportunities, and develop a coaching plan as they become familiar with each person’s individual style. New supervisors, likewise, have subject matter experts (SMEs) to serve as their safety net in the event someone asks a question requiring more in-depth experience.
4. Scale, one person at a time.
One of the most important consequences of Bhive was that it removed the constraints of brick-and-mortar classroom instruction, allowing us to train as many as 1600 learners at a time. This was a game-changer because we could do this while still maintaining the conventional brick-and-mortar ratio of 25 learners per trainer. Bhive also allowed us to scale up empathically by providing a window into body language, posture, and other personalized cues missing from so many remote training experiences. To quote one Senior Trainer: “I always make sure Bhive’s on one screen to gauge how learners are feeling. For instance, if they’re feeling a little sluggish, maybe after lunch we do an icebreaker. Or, with the help of SMEs and supervisors, we see where they need coaching and then build rapport around that.”
5. Cultivate “weak-tie” relationships.
Although training programs have evolved since the pandemic, forming “weak-tie relationships”—or casual contacts beyond immediate co-workers—remains difficult for many learners. This in turn can limit the opportunity to acquire and share new information, and may even affect overall happiness. With this in mind, Bhive’s virtual workplace platform features individualized “About Me” profiles populated with self-selected fun facts and photos that offer brief glimpses into employees’ non-working lives. The profiles create easy openings for weak-tie interactions, such as Bhive spotlights where people share aspects of their profiles with the larger group. Trainers report that this simple intervention goes a long way in helping people feel recognized, connected, and ultimately uplifted in ways that transmit to our customers.
So, in short, we have found that the enduring secret to successful virtual training is calibrating technological and human factors in ways that give trainers and coaches full rein to focus on employee engagement and well-being. The teachable moments that result require both art and science to leverage, but when done well, drive a competitive advantage by emboldening people to link their work to their core values no matter how responsibilities, life stages, and cultural expectations change.