Customer service is important to most businesses but when you work for a telecom company — it is absolutely critical. People simply aren’t willing to wait and since the market is a large, competitive one, they don’t have to.

BT Consumer, a division of British Telecommunications Group, which is responsible for consumer fixed-voice and broadband services, was determined to move ahead of a highly competitive pack of telecom competitors by offering a customer service experience that was second to none. So determined, in fact, that the company made it a top business priority.

BT logo on a wall

As a first step, BT decided to conduct a survey to find out what its customers wanted. The results uncovered two important facts:

  1. Customers wanted to speak to contact centers located in the UK (rather than overseas).
  2. Customers wanted to have their concerns dealt with by the first advisor they spoke to (they did not want to be passed on to others or have to call back).

BT responded quickly by creating 2,200 new advisor jobs locally and launched a 12-month recruitment plan. This response triggered several new challenges. The company would have to get these new advisors up to speed quickly while, at the same time, reduce call-handling time. To achieve this, BT set some ambitious goals for itself:

  • Improve customer service at every level
  • Reduce customer callback by equipping advisors to find a resolution at first point of contact
  • Grow advisor knowledge, confidence, and broaden skillset on a wide range of products and services to reduce call-handling time
  • Decrease new recruit onboarding time so advisors could speak to customers faster

To accomplish these goals, it was obvious that BT would need a robust training platform to allow its newly hired advisors to hit the ground running. And, equally obvious — a traditional training approach wasn’t going to cut it.

BT’s previous training method centered around four to five-week classroom onboarding sessions for new hires. The content was general and tended to focus on the lowest levels, as generalized content frequently does. It wasn’t fun, and it didn’t engage. Trainers would conduct the traditional tests and record completions, but once on the job, advisors were often forgetting critical information.

Knowing when it’s time for a new approach

Jasha Fletcher, Head of Learning Solutions Architecture at BT, and her team were clear on what wasn’t working. But, what would work? What were their options? Rather than simply put out a call for proposals and have vendors dictate their options, Fletcher and her team decided to do their own research.

“We knew learning styles vary, and people learn at their own pace and advance on different paths, at different rates, depending on their interests and abilities,” explains Fletcher. “We needed to tap into all of these different styles and make the learning stick.”

What they really wanted to know was what makes people remember and retain information. What could they do to ensure their advisors had all the information they needed to provide a superior customer service experience?

Microlearning + hands-on experience + repetition = retention

What they discovered was that hands-on experience is what truly cements learning. And, the key to remembering information over the long term is further supported through repetition.

Knowing that the hands-on experience would come from the job, they still needed to create a training experience that would get advisors on the phones quickly and before they forgot what they learned. Naturally, the next step for BT was to find a vendor that could provide a solution which addressed these challenges and delivered tangible results.

To escape the time commitment of the classroom learning approach, which in its current configuration was not proving to be the most effective way to build and sustain knowledge, BT specifically sought out companies offering microlearning capabilities. All but one of the proposals had significant gaps in their offerings. The Axonify Microlearning Platform was the only solution that could offer the complete package BT was looking for.

Recognizing the need for confidence-based learning

For Fletcher and her team, knowing how confident employees were in their knowledge was a critical piece. “We wanted to check the confidence of the advisors so we could support them with coaching when needed. We wanted to be sure they were applying that knowledge correctly. We didn’t want it to be guesswork.” A lack of confidence can lead to hesitation and can increase the call-handling time and the chance of repeat calls — either because the advisor has to call for assistance or because the customer has to call back. BT had already attempted to do something similar with confidence-based assessment in-house, but its generic software wasn’t sophisticated enough to get the results the company was looking for.

“It was a basic model made with software that wasn’t tailored.” Fletcher explains, “It also didn’t offer the algorithm that Axonify provided on the backend.” Axonify’s Microlearning Platform included both confidence-based assessment and a method of tracking that confidence alongside both knowledge and behaviors. “That level of reporting was a key differentiator because we couldn’t get that kind of deep insight from our existing learning management system,” Fletcher adds.

Axonify allows companies like BT to pinpoint exactly where the issues are. For example, are employees failing to perform because they lack knowledge or because they aren’t confident in their knowledge? It’s a critical point and one that requires very different responses. If managers have this kind of insight, they can provide the right type of coaching and help the employee achieve success.

Adapting to the individual employee

Every employee comes with their own set of experiences and expertise. Employees also have individual strengths and weaknesses. Finding a platform like Axonify that had adaptive learning built in was a huge bonus for Fletcher. Adaptive Microlearning software can both identify any gaps in knowledge, and automatically adjust training content to address individual needs ongoing. This not only helps to target the right training to each individual, but speeds up the learning process. It also ensures a more knowledgeable and confident employee.

After the extensive research Fletcher and her team conducted, they knew they wanted an approach rooted solidly in brain science principles that would help their employees learn more effectively. Axonify delivered that as well. But, for Fletcher, there was one more critical piece.

The learning experience had to be engaging. People tend to be more engaged in learning when it’s targeted to their needs and they don’t feel like they’re wasting their time. The other key to engagement is making learning fun. Enter gamification.

Using gamification to make training fun

While Fletcher was able to find other companies that offered microlearning with some low-level confidence-based assessment, none were able to combine it with her other “must have” — gamification. “Gamification is fun and engaging and more aligned to the way people learn,” says Fletcher.

Gamification engages on several levels. Her increasingly younger pool of advisors was used to playing games on their phones. Gamification plays right into that by leveraging this familiar experience. Leaderboards add a great motivator through competition. This also aligned nicely with existing performance leaderboards that BT already had in place for their advisors and sparked some friendly rivalry.

Reaping business results from a solid strategy and solution

Armed with research, BT opted to launch a trial of Axonify with members of its Sales and Retention team who are responsible for handling customer service inquiries. It formed four teams who each received 30 days of classroom training and 30 days in transition where they practiced taking calls with coaches. Two of the teams were given access to Axonify to continue learning new knowledge and reinforcing what they had previously learned. The others were not given access to the platform.

The results of the first Axonify trial run were stunning:

  • Knowledge increased to 91% (from 76%)
  • 96% of new recruits agreed their knowledge growth began with the start of the Axonify project
  • Duration of training dropped by 24%
  • 28-day repeat customer calls dropped by 2.3% (when customers have to call again after speaking to an advisor)
  • Call-handling time decreased by 14 seconds
  • Customer value improved by 5%

While the control groups gave BT a basis for comparison, the trial did not give the company the whole picture in terms of the improvements that might have been made. Curious to see the whole picture, BT decided to crunch additional numbers to show the improvements it might have seen if all new recruits (who had joined the company in Q1 of 2017) had been given access to Axonify.

The projections showed:

  • A reduction of 13,000 customer call-backs
  • 8,000 more calls answered
  • Cost saving of £26,000 ($34,000 USD) due to improvement in customer value score

Buoyed by the results from the Sales and Retention trial, BT launched a second pilot in March 2017. This one took place in the Connections department, which is responsible for assisting customers with service start up. BT included five teams and a total of 47 advisors in this second trial.

This one too demonstrated the kind of results the company wanted:

  • Knowledge growth increased to 86% (from 69%)
  • Training duration reduced by 4 days
  • 7-day repeat customer calls were reduced by 10%

The 7-day connection rate also improved by 2.7% (the rate of the speed with which customers are able to get connected to their service), which BT projected would result in an additional 289 more customers being connected to their services.

This focus on customer service, coupled with the great results BT achieved from the pilots, is the catalyst behind a wider rollout of The Axonify Microlearning Platform across the company. “It makes sense for us to drive these improvements right across the business to support all types of learning,” says Fletcher. “Our people love it. The business loves it. And, we’re delivering great customer service as a result.”

Carol Leaman

Author: Carol Leaman

Carol’s not your typical CEO. Sure, she’s built several startups into multi-million-dollar successes, and as Axonify’s President and CEO is currently driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge. But she’s more the doors-open, come-see-me-anytime sort of executive. Her ambitions are sky-high, but her approach is warm and down-to-earth; Carol doesn’t just dream big, she makes big things happen.

You can read more of her writing at ATD, CLO and Training Industry Magazine. She’s also a regular contributor for Fortune.

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