By Jennifer Boston
At the start of my contact center training career, I was propelled into an uncomfortable situation whose lessons haven proven invaluable in how I approach training new skills to a tenured staff. A long-term client unexpectedly shifted their customer service operations in-house, in response to the recession. After nearly a decade of being the key factor to a successful partnership, over 100 veteran employees were suddenly unsure of what came next. After transferring ‘Top Performers’ and natural attrition, 50 or so remained until the last call offered was serviced.
I would like to say we were able to easily slide this group of vetted agents to another contract; however, how could such a straightforward resolution lead into to the self-titled purpose of this blog post? After several pilots and seasonal projects, a long-term home was found for these remarkably dependable representatives. Now, before you think this fairy tale ending is the conclusion, ask yourself, how did they feel, and why did they stay? When I was assigned one of the only transition classes, I quickly discovered how vital is was that my approach reflected that I personally understood and respected their answer.
This diverse group all held this in common; after years of reliable dedication, they felt jaded and unappreciated. They weren’t a batch of new hires, eager to prove their worth, no, they already had. They had been realigned repeatedly and expected to learn, apply, and perform at yet another line of business. Their body language and apathy screamed volumes of their spiraling defeatist mentality. Their endurance through the chaos and stress of uncertainty wasn’t some testament of company loyalty, it was the realizations that for varied reasons, that not one had a better option. Though I learned more during those 7 weeks than I ever imagined, the following tips were essential to fostering a successful learning environment.
Setting the expectation from the get-go, that the entirety of the groups focus should be learning or solution discovery, will significantly reduce negative and non-productive commentary. This also will build a mutual respect, as tenured staff often feel placated by the new hire feel that comes with the routine ice-breaker activity of collectively establishing expectations. Empathize, relating your history to their situation and elaborate on the emotional impact significantly. Then call-out what material could have been touched on.
Consistently running interference on tangent instigation is fundamental as it reinforces the above mentioned. Without it, the perception of accountability will undermine all other efforts to ignite a passion for learning. Don’t take the bait and allow comments of past or what-if situations to tangent off. Believe it or not they do want to get as much out of this knowledge transfer that they can, but will test to see if your priority is their success. If you must take the bait, defer to the class to problem-solve. This shows that you are focused on developing their skill set to research, solve, and apply instead of showcasing your problem-solving skills.
Respect what they can bring to the table. Challenge them to teach you by promoting discussion. Recognize every contribution by paraphrasing or clarifying your understanding and it will encourage more constructive dialogue. The more of an impact they make on your knowledge, the more open they are to be learning new concepts. When you are unsure, task them to discover the answer. Back-peddling is detrimental, admitting we only know what we know builds trust in the accuracy of the information we do apart.
Jennifer is a life-long student, passionate for learning new concepts who also facilitates leadership development training initiatives, in that order.