Training the New Era of Customer Heros

This post was originally written by Brian Tobal, CEO of Hickory, for Talkdesk’s Opentalk Magazine.

For decades, customer service training has looked a lot like a typical classroom. Information is conveyed to a new employee. They spend time absorbing and reciting that information in preparation for a quiz that will test their knowledge. When that quiz comes, the employee (hopefully) knows enough to pass and leaves the lesson behind for good.

But three weeks later, when an angry customer calls, does that employee remember the training and act accordingly? Not always.

This lack of retention has puzzled and frustrated training managers for many years. Only recently has research finally shed light on why traditional forms of training don’t work very well. Only recently have we started to apply this research to building brand new world-class training programs that are seeing skyrocketing retention rates and customer satisfaction scores. We believe that this approach will create a newer, more effective era of customer heroes.

Why the Old Way Doesn’t Work

The reality is that quizzes — the knowledge retention measurement standard for traditional training programs — don’t actually measure true learning. They just measure recognition of facts a few moments after presentation. They do nothing to ensure that that knowledge is retained days, weeks and months after the lesson.

Why does knowledge retention typically look like the chart above? Let’s take an example: have you ever heard a logical argument in a book or a podcast and found it incredibly compelling? When you tried to repeat the argument to a friend later, did it sound as convincing? Or did it come out as a garbled mess of half-recalled points?

Here’s the thing: most of us don’t have a “bad” memory. Saying that you have a bad memory is like saying that you have bad biceps. You just haven’t trained the muscle. If you repeated the argument 50 times over the next three days, you’d have it reasonably well-memorized. (It probably wouldn’t affect your biceps though). If you kept repeating it every day for three months, you’d know it inside and out. You’d easily be able to discuss it in detail, even while doing another complex task at the same time — like juggling or making cookies to send to the Hickory team.

Memory Responds to Repetition

Memory behaves just like other parts of the human anatomy. It responds to repetitive use: growing stronger with more repetitions and dissolving without them. Just like one bicep curl isn’t enough to strengthen your arm muscles, one interaction isn’t enough to “know” a piece of information. Yet this is how most training programs approach learning: a single exposure followed by a quiz.

As we’ve seen, quizzes don’t measure retention of knowledge beyond the moments immediately after the information is first learned. Instead, we should be concerned with actual learning — with the knowledge employees retain over time and how long they retain it.

Refreshers and Spiral Curriculums are Inefficient

To solve the problem of long-term retention, many teams implement one of two processes: spiral curriculums and refresher trainings at set intervals.

Spiral curriculums are designed to start with key principles and ideas and constantly relate information back to those key points. Refresher trainings typically re-teach the entire training, sometimes in an abridged form (to save time).

The problem with both of these approaches is that they treat all of the information in the curriculum equally. Whether the learner has mastered a topic or not, spiral curriculums and refresher courses cover it anyway, wasting time and money re-teaching information that employees may already know.

Both approaches are trying to provide the additional “reps” that employees need to master a topic. But even so, as a manager, can you really answer these questions at the end of these programs: How well does my team really know this information? What’s the likelihood they will act correctly when this scenario comes up?

Accurate Data Leads to Efficient Training

What if you had data about each of the topics you want employees to master during training? What if you could predict when employees would begin to forget the information covered in your training courses? What if you could deliver refresher courses that only covered information that employees were about to forget and skipped information they’d already mastered? What if this training only took your employees a few minutes a day for a few weeks?

That’s why Hickory built software that tracks how well each employee knows concepts in a training and the predicts how likely the employee is to forget that information over time. It then delivers personalized reviews of the information the employee needs right before they’re about to forget it. Instead of hoping and assuming that trainings have been understood and remembered, Hickory measures employee knowledge and creates personalized review plans accordingly. Ultimately, the only thing preventing most teams from a highly effective training program is the lack of knowledge — backed by data — about when to deliver those critical repetitions to your employees. That’s what we’ve set out to solve and that’s how we believe the new era of customer heroes will be forged.

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