Reskilling your frontline telecom workforce: Why it matters, and where to start

When the world went into lockdown this year, the internet became our gateway to work, school, social interaction, worship services, exercise classes and more. Our devices became a portal to the outside world. Telecom services were more in demand than ever—and customers needed support more than ever. But they couldn’t go into stores or stop at the kiosk in the mall to get it. 

Lou Tedrick, Verizon’s VP of Learning Development, summed up the challenge facing many telecom companies: 

“We started to see (the way to support) our customers who were no longer able to go to stores was through calls or through chat and telesales,” she explained in a recent panel conversation. “We also had this supply of retail reps who wanted desperately to be serving our customers and weren’t able to go into their environments to do so.”

They acted fast to reskill their frontline retail employees. “We quickly looked at the skills they had. What’s the knowledge they have and how can we transition them to become a call center customer service rep?” said Tedrick. “And we were able to do that in days.” 

23% of frontline workers filled a new position during the pandemic—but less than half got training for it

In our survey of 2,000 frontline employees conducted this summer, almost half (46%) had taken on new tasks as a result of the pandemic, and 23% had filled a new position altogether. But not everyone had the same levels of support.

In fact, only 21% of retail employees and 46% of contact center employees said that training had been provided for their new role and/or task. It’s no wonder that 39% reported they didn’t feel prepared to do their job properly in the current environment. This lack of training comes with real consequences for customers: transferred calls, slower call resolution, missing or incorrect information and an all-around worse experience of the brand.

Clearly, just getting the right people in the right roles is not enough. Employees need frontline-focused training to bridge the gap between what they know and don’t know.

Reskilling is here to stay 

Pandemic pivots aside, reskilling is an essential part of many telecom companies’ long term plans, given the rapid pace of technological change. This month, Verizon announced a $44 million investment in upskilling programs to prepare job-seekers for future roles. AT&T, too, has earmarked $1 billion for programs to prepare its workforce for the jobs of the future. The World Economic Forum estimates that 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling in just three years. 

An agile workforce isn’t built in a day. It’s time for telecom companies to get serious about their reskilling strategy, so they’re ready to adapt to changes in the business—whether they happen next week or in the next decade. 

3 characteristics of an effective reskilling program

1. It’s personalized.  

Every minute your frontline employees spend training is time they’re not spending with a customer. To minimize time off the floor and make training time really count, pinpoint the gaps that individual learners have and target only those gaps. 

As Tedrick described, you have to ask: what skills and knowledge do retail employees already have? What skills and knowledge are important in the call center? Where is the overlap—and where are the gaps? 

Start by getting a better understanding of what your employees know and don’t know. By continuously measuring knowledge levels, you create a baseline that can be used to personalize training at scale.  

2. It’s focused.

In a perfect world, you’d have time to train employees on every single aspect of a new role before they start. But frontline employees are busy, and your business’ needs are, more often than not, urgent. Efficient training separates the ‘need-to-know’ from ‘nice-to-know.’ 

Start by breaking the role or task down to its basic components and identifying the minimum required knowledge and skills. Then, fill in the rest as the employee learns on the job, with performance support, coaching and continued training.

See how a streamlined approach to frontline training gets employees contributing faster.

3. It’s ongoing, not one and done. 

A change in responsibilities at work clocks in at #29 on Holmes and Rahe scale of most stressful life events)—and that’s without considering the added stress a pandemic or other disruption adds to the equation. Our brains aren’t built to remember a firehose of information at the best of time, and stress only makes it more challenging. In fact, multiple studies show that stress markedly impedes memory retrieval.

The reality is employees are not going to remember everything the first time they hear it, and they’re not going to break the habits or routines they built throughout months or years in their previous role right away. With this in mind, make sure your training is built to help them remember what they need to know. Here are a few strategies:  

  • Reinforce critical information in short bursts of training over time 
  • Use question-based learning, which is proven to improve recall (for the same reason flashcards were more effective than re-reading the textbook back in school)
  • Target coaching conversations around key behaviors 
  • Use scenario practice to help employees recall and apply their knowledge in situations they’re likely to encounter on the job

Reskill rapidly at scale 

See how ongoing frontline training helps you prepare your business for whatever comes next. 

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