Thursday, April 12, 2012

THE TRAINING CYCLE | System skills training

In order to adopt a systematic approach to your training it is helpful to use the key stages of the training cycle, and if you follow the cycle in the design and delivery of your training programme, you will create a more effective learning environment.

1. Assessing the participant’s training needs

When dealing with system skills training this is a quite straightforward stage, particularly during induction. Most organizations use customized systems, so a set of very specific learning requirements exist that are the same for all course participants. System skills training o en takes place when a modification to the system occurs or a new product is introduced and this training is essentially the same for all employees.
Once the employee is fully operational on the system, individual training requirements are normally identified through analysis of the metrics used by that department or section. This analysis indicates if training is required to raise the employee’s level of performance. When this occurs, any system skills training should be tailored to that individual’s particular learning requirement, rather than reusing the original system skills training programme. The individual may require refresher training on just one aspect of the system, or may have not understood one element of the system when trained during induction.
Unfortunately, system skills training is o en used to address deficiencies in an employee’s metrics and fails to address the individual’s actual training needs. It is important, therefore, that you have a discussion with both the individual employee and with the team leader to more closely identify the individual’s specific training needs. Remember, not all performance gaps are the result of a lack of knowledge regarding the system.

2. Designing training

During this stage you are already clear about the training needs of the participants and should use these as the basis for your training objectives for the programme. You need to now consider the techniques that you should use during the training. A key consideration at this stage is the availability of a ‘training version’ of the organization’s system. A training version will allow the trainees to practise in a safe learning environment that is as realistic as possible, while still protecting the organization’s main system and data from any errors or ‘mishaps’ that may occur with trainees practising on a live system and using live data. The choice of training techniques will depend on the training needs of the participants. Due to the nature of system skills training, the key techniques should be a combination of computer-based training, instruction and group discussion.
Each technique has advantages and disadvantages and you need to consider these when you are deciding on which techniques to include. The activities most o en used in system skills training are as follows.


You will need to instruct and facilitate the training sessions. However, in using this approach you should remember that a lack of interaction with the participants during the instruction and input stages may result in misunderstanding occurring. Success in using this method relies on a number of key issues including:
  • Providing the opportunity for participants to ask questions after each input stage. This will allow clarity to be sought where necessary.
  • The length of the input will o en determine the participant’s ability to concentrate. The longer the input, the more likely the participant is to lose concentration. Bite-size learning (Black, 2004) is one way to achieve this by delivering both instruction and practical exercises in small sections.
  • You need to sound enthusiastic when delivering instruction if you are to maintain the learner’s interest.
  • Speak clearly and vary the tone of your voice throughout each instruction section.

Technology-based training

The majority of your training sessions will involve the participant working on computer-based training systems to simulate the real working environment. You should consider the following:
  • Technology-based training needs to be horizontally and vertically integrated into other core components of the training such as customer service training and problem solving skills training. Combine the so -skills training elements (such as customer service and telephone skills) with the system skills training. This will allow you to fully train the employee by simulating real working situations.
  • The technology-based training needs to be in sync with the natural customer process. For example, if a new customer is calling to enquire about car insurance, he or she will need to be asked basic questions on name, address, age, car make and model, etc. Importantly, the operating system will need to work in the same way and allow the trainee to enter the data in a logical customer process, as opposed to requiring information such as ‘How did you hear about us?, and ‘Who is your current insurance provider?’ These questions can be asked at a later stage, once the information required for the call is obtained.
  • Break the job down into the core skills to build system skills training. For example, using a financial services context, there is no point in teaching a new employee how to process driver and/or car changes to an existing car insurance policy if the trainee does not know the basics of how to provide a new car insurance quote. In this example it is best to show the trainees how to respond to an initial request; how to provide an insurance quote; how to process payment for immediate cover following the quote; how to make amendments to an existing policy; and numerous other logical steps up to and including terminating insurance cover.
  • Teach participants the logical steps involved in a call, then practise these steps using the phone and the system, during training. The point here is that the trainees will need to be allowed time to practise the technique of talking with customers, while at the same time operating the system. It is likely that the customer will ask questions or make requests that are not typical/logical during the course of a normal call. The trainees will need sufficient experience and knowledge, therefore, to handle these instances. In certain call centre environments there may also be a requirement to inform the customers about mandatory information, eg if your customers apply for a loan or a credit card, the agents will have to inform the customer about mandatory statements that are required from the Financial Regulator. This must also be practised during the training sessions and its position in the call determined.
  • Never use live data for your training sessions. This may be both inappropriate and unethical.
  • This training needs to be practice-based, using real examples. For instance, if you are putting up an insurance quote on the system, it would be best to provide the trainees with some basic details that will be required from real customers such as name, address, age, car make and model, etc and get the trainees to enter the data and provide you with the initial insurance quote. Where possible, and at key stages, the trainees should be required to practise what has been learnt.

Group discussion

By building in time for short group discussion sessions (5 to 10 minutes) after each section has been covered, participants can learn from each other. It is important that you structure each of these sessions to ensure that the discussion does not diverge too far from the topic being talked about. These sessions can be particularly useful when held after instruction sections and after practical assessments. You can also gather information from the discussion that can assist you in adapting information you might include in future training sessions, to ensure clarity of instruction and to maximize learning. Building on the previous example you could consider asking the trainees, what is the price of their insurance quote? Where the trainees have different quotes, explore why. It is also possible to explore with the trainees the importance of getting the information right and accurate, as it will impact on the insurance quote provided.

Role plays

These are particularly important learning mechanisms for developing interpersonal skills. Employees can role play with each other, one acting as the customer and the other acting as the employee.
It is useful to record these role plays and allow the participants the opportunity to listen back to their own call and then make suggestions on how they could have improved the call. You can also provide participants with the opportunity to re-enact the same call after their first attempt has been played back to them. This then consolidates the learning from their first attempt.


Using videos and DVDs can be helpful in showing examples of good and poor practice to a number of people at the same time. Using short discussion sessions after showing an example will also allow you to gauge the level of understanding in the group. There is a tendency to more easily recall what not to do, so those videos/DVDs that emphasize this aspect are particularly useful.


This is a general term used to refer to computer-enhanced learning. It has many obvious advantages for conducting system skills training. Additional advantages include increased retention and application to the job, and consistent delivery of content is possible. According to Colvin-Clarke and Mayer (2003) e-learning should promote psychological engagement between the learner and the lesson content, in ways that help learners to select, integrate and retrieve new knowledge.
A path that can be used to achieve this learning process is the use of practice exercises. Wilcock (2002) believes that one of the strengths of e-learning is its ability to provide instantaneous feedback to learners by means of online tests and quizzes. These exercises are o en referred to as ‘interactions’ in computer learning environments. Based on empirical evidence, Colvin-Clarke and Mayer (2003) recommend four principles for effective practice in e-learning:
Practice Principle 1: interactions should mirror the thinking process and environment of the job. E-learning designers should create transfer-appropriate interactions. These are activities that require learners to respond in similar ways during training as they will on the job. Therefore problem solving skills should be learnt within the context of realistic problem solving situations. For example, a hotel switchboard operator may be asked how to deal with a call from a hotel guest, saying that she has just dropped her ring down the plughole!
Practice Principle 2:critical tasks require more practice. For critical tasks, for example safety consequences, it is vital that the participants are exposed to many different practice elements prior to working with live data. An example here is that for some aspects of financial services, ie obtaining a loan, the call centre agent will be required to read a number of mandatory sentences to the customer. It is important that the agents do this and it is important that the agents practise these statements and the answers to any potential questions they may get asked during the training sessions.
Practice Principle 3: make sure that the practice exercises are specific to the instruction material being covered. There needs to be a match to assist with the transfer of learning.
Practice Principle 4: train learners to self-question by showing examples followed by practice that requires learners to self-question the instructional materials.
It is vital that your system skills training builds knowledge and skills that are needed on the job. This means you must integrate system skills training with other core activities such as so -skills training, eg customer service and reward mechanisms, so that individuals are rewarded for the right performance each time. This point cannot be over-stressed. In call centre environments it is possible to train employees in many different skills, referred to as multi-skilling. This is an important beneficial aspect of training for the employee, as multi-skilling means that you will encourage career progression and achieve retention, an area acknowledged as being problematic for call centres.
During system skills training, multi-skilling is crucial, as agents have to learn how to use the system while at the same time listening to what the customer is saying and how he or she is saying it. They also o en need to ask questions and guide the conversation, all at the same time. This is an exceptionally difficult skill to master, particularly when the line manager may also be measuring the average call duration and telling the individual to reduce the amount of time spent talking to customers. System skills training therefore needs to incorporate the development of multi-skilling, in the classroom environment. While this skill can be one that is a by-product of experience, if it is not initially included in the training programme, it will be more difficult to develop once live.
An additional aspect for inclusion here is the impact of customers buying online. Customers who buy goods and services online on a regular basis are more likely when they place a call with a contact centre to require a greater degree of knowledge and experience from the agents. Calls of this nature may require ‘second level support’ and this increases the amount of system skills training that agents require in order to solve the customer’s problems. The integration of so -skills training, such as problem solving skills, is vital in this type of situation.

3. Evaluating training

Many organizations fail to evaluate training interventions due to the difficulties involved. Evaluation of a training programme is, however, a necessity to gauge the success of the programme. This data collection and evaluation process must be planned as part of the design and development segment of lesson preparation. Otherwise, it is possible to miss an opportunity to collect data needed for the evaluation process.
The most o en used type of evaluation is what is referred to as ‘first level evaluation’. This takes place at the end of the training and focuses on the reaction level. The basic questions that it seeks to answer are: ‘Were the participants pleased with the programme? How did they feel about such things as lesson or course material, the instructors, the facilities used for the class, the methodology, etc?’ Think of reaction level evaluation as measuring your ‘customer satisfaction’. Remember though, that a positive reaction to a lesson does not ensure that a person has learnt anything, but a negative reaction to a lesson almost certainly reduces the chance for learning. There are a number of reasons why measuring reactions is important. First, it provides you with valuable feedback on the training session. Second, it provides quantitative information about the training that can be used for management review. Finally, it provides information on the session that can be used to establish standards for later classes.
In addition, a more complex type of evaluation needs to take place. Evaluation at the learning level is viewed as problematic by many trainers, but it provides vital information for the trainer and is therefore worth the effort. Learning is o en referred to as the extent to which participants change attitudes, improve knowledge, and/or increase skill as a result of a ending a training programme. To effectively evaluate the learning that has taken place, the training must have a specific objective against which evaluation can be undertaken. For example, in a sales environment it will be quite easy to measure the ability of the new agents to achieve targets. In more product and customer service areas, measures such as quality, mystery callers, errors, recalls, etc can all be used to evaluate the training.
It should be possible to obtain data from the system in relation to errors, call length, etc, which are all useful indicators and if tracked over a period of months and weeks should show a gradual improvement in a new call centre agent’s ability. Methods such as mystery callers will be able to determine the agents overall ability to handle the conversation and manage the interaction with the customer. In fact many contact centres record all calls, and these could also be used for evaluation purposes. In addition, it is also possible on most systems for the team leader to listen in on calls and provide feedback and coaching to the agent at a later time in the day.
One of the key ways in which evaluation can be conducted for those individuals who have been targeted for training by their team leader, as a result of quality or quantity metric deficiencies, is to evaluate job performance both before and after the training. Through this comparison any change can be observed and the change attributed to training.

Key points in the design and delivery process

  • Delivery needs to be interactive and use participative mechanisms.
  • Ensure you have clear objectives for the programme at the start.
  • Design needs to follow the logical customer process.
  • Ensure employees can use the phone system and give information at the same time.
  • Provide information in small chunks with appropriate time allocated, eg if it takes five minutes for a customer to give the information, there is no point in allowing them to take 10 minutes to input the information during training.
  • Provide an accompanying manual for both trainer and participant
  • – this could be paperless and online.
  • Systems training needs to be integrated with telephone skills, customer service skills, and problem solving skills training.
  • If using a manual or online tutorial, it will need to have screen shots to illustrate.
  • Make sure you are informed of any system changes as they will need to be incorporated in future training sessions.
  • Ensure any legal requirements/considerations are included.
  • Inform participants of the details of refresher training.
  • Begin refresher training with a test to see where any gaps in knowledge or skills exist: your call centre stats or customer feedback should tell you where gaps are.
  • Regarding how much detail to go into, work back from what is the objective of the training.
  • Employees can role play with each other, one being the customer the other the employee – record these and let the participants listen back to their own call.
We have included below some tips that we hope you will find useful in the design and delivery of system skills training.

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