3 Key Strategies to Re-Imagine Agent Onboarding

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David Hadobas:

Well, welcome and thank you for joining our discussion today, presented on the CCNG Member Webcast Channel. That’s a channel that has been helping for some time create a community of over 6,000, almost 7,000 contact center and customer care professionals for about another, for about eight years, and here, members discuss a variety of topics on process improvement and staff challenges that they face managing contact center and customer care operations.

I’m David Hadobas, president and CEO of CCNG, and I’m here today to help facilitate our discussion with you, our live audience and our member, JD Dillon. He’s the Principal Learning Strategist with Axonify. And for those of you who are new to CCNG, we are a professional peer network. We’re contact center and customer care. For over 25 years, members have been sharing their stories, which provides the foundation of what CCNG’s approach is to the exchange of ideas and perspectives sharing.

And today, we’re talking about people programs, specifically as you can see from your screen, a new way of thinking about onboarding agents, so you can speed up time to competency, mitigate early turnover and continuously build capability on the job, which is ultimately going to drive better business performance. I’m told it takes an average of 11 and a half weeks to onboard one agent, and one in three agents will leave your organization within a year, and I’m sure I’m not telling anyone in this audience anything they haven’t heard or know, so it’s maybe time for you to consider re-imagining your approach, but it’s certainly never been more critical.

We will have a poll question for all of you today. We encourage your involvement, and it will focus on what is the biggest barrier to improving your onboarding approach? That’ll come a little later in the webcast today, so please participate, and we’ll discuss the results of the poll on the back-end. During any time during the webcast today, please use the question box on your screen to submit your questions for JD, Mr. JD Dillon, there he is, and we’ll address as many as we can take as time permits on the back-end. We’re shooting for 50 to 60 minutes for our virtual discussion today, so that’s our set-up. JD, let me say welcome. Thank you for taking time and I’ll turn it over to you.

JD Dillon:

Thank you very much David. Thanks for hosting me today and thanks to CCNG for hosting our conversation, so and finally, thanks everyone for hanging out with me. I’ll long story short my bio, but the most important thing is that I’m currently the coldest person in Canada. I’m coming to you live from about an hour outside of Toronto in Waterloo, Ontario at our Axonify corporate office, but I live in Orlando, Florida. More specifically, I live at Disney World, so I’m used to that. It’s snowing and icing here right now. I’m the most uncomfortable and coldest person in Canada, so I have that going for me.

But as David introduced, I’m with Axonify. We’re a learning technology company that helps organizations re-imagine their approach to supporting their people in order to solve meaningful business problems. Personally, I’m a corporate learning and operations guy, so I come out of primarily large enterprises where I supported a variety of different lines of business in very different use cases, so you see some of the logos on screen. I spent the majority of my career between The Walt Disney Company, where I supported the Walt Disney World Resort, which is why I live in Orlando, including all lines of business, including the reservation center and contact center operation, and I also spent about seven years as Director of Learning Technology and Development at Kaplan Higher Education, where I supported again, primarily a contact center environment.

So, it’s from those perspectives and with that practical experience that I’d like to explore the idea of onboarding with you today for the next 45 minutes or so. So, first, to level set a little bit, let’s talk about the word onboarding. It’s a big word, not in letters, but it’s a big concept that could include a lot of things. A lot more things than we can talk about in 45 minutes. So, for today’s … purposes of today’s conversation, I’d like to focus down a little bit in terms of what we’re going to address with onboarding and kind of specifically, what topics we’ll address and it’s really about the enablement side.

How do we help a new employee get operational in their role as quickly and successfully as possible? So really looking at the learning, the development, training and enablement side of onboarding. Yes, it’s part of a larger puzzle, lot of different things, lot of things from recruitment and culture and process come into play, but we’re really focusing on that enablement function today within our conversation.

And as David mentioned, when it comes to the onboarding experience within a contact center environment, there’s a couple different things or challenges I think everyone in this call is inherently facing that really needs to feed into this conversation. First is the considerable turnover, even when compared to other industries that have considerable turnover. I know when I worked at Kaplan, we were onboarding 75 agents it felt like all the time, just because we had that relatively traditional turnover experience, so how are we going to shape a support experience that addresses that and potentially helps resolve some of that reality in terms of constant onboarding and constant turnover.

The expense and the duration that it takes to get someone productive, and when you start to combine the elements of how many people stay and how many people potentially leave, and how long does it take to get them on the phones and into the operation and really being productive for your business is another key consideration. And finally, the stakes, right? Once they get on the phone and they’re supporting your customers, there’s very limited leeway in terms of what a customer will take or what they’ll accept before they potentially walk away to a bad experience. I don’t think I have to tell anyone here, but the people that are on the phone, talking to your customers are the forward-facing elements of your brand, right?

They’re what your customers know when it comes to your organizations, so you put all three of those factors together and onboarding becomes not only just a critical consideration in a contact center environment today, but it’s particularly challenging, and I … That’s why I think it’s really important for us to take a look at it through a different lens and consider how can we adjust what we’re doing to match those realities.

So, tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Is this what your onboarding experience traditionally tends to look like? We start at the beginning. The person walks through the door. They tend to be kind of happy, they got a job, right? Maybe they’ve been looking forward to this, they’ve been looking for a job for a while, one way or another, they’re ready to go. But what starts to happen almost immediately on day one? Well, they get introduced to a one-size-fits-all fire hose approach of training, as we said that 11 and a half week number, at Kaplan it was a three to four week experience where we put you in a room and we often just drill you with content, right?

Class after class, e-learning after e-learning, document after document of all of the things you possibly have to know, or that subject matter experts have said that you have to know or product owners have said that you have to know, in order to be able to talk to a customer. So this fire hose approach hits this new employee. Maybe they’ve been in a call center operation before, maybe they have never done this job before and this is new, entirely new to them, so there’s a lot of different variation within that audience, but they get hit with this training program.

Then, onboarding and they go into the operation. Training is over, now it’s time to do the job, and in a lot of cases they fall off what I term the capability cliff, where there’s a lot of different factors influencing those several days to weeks after the formal onboarding program is over that often leads to a considerable amount of the turnover that we see in an operation, so that 22% number? Taking place almost immediately after any type of formal onboarding is complete, and then from there not everyone leaves, right? People do stay. They continue to grow, they start to learn, but because of this inconsistency and this cliff they’ve fallen off of and the change in the support strategy, this is where bad habits start to evolve, right?

This is where people start to fail and make mistakes that they can’t necessarily recover from or mistakes that start to negatively impact your business, and it all comes back to the fact that the support experience from the beginning wasn’t setting them up to be at their greatest level of capability over an extended period of time, and not just in a contact center environment. This is what onboarding really starts to look like in most modern businesses, but because of the story we’ve set up and all of the different factors that are influencing your business, it’s a particularly potent and challenging time in order to try to get people up to speed as quickly as possible.

And when I talked about that capability cliff, you know what are the negative things that are influencing people when they come out of a traditional onboarding program? Well first, the support strategy completely changes, right? They maybe had a trainer with them for weeks. They had a go-to people, they had people surrounding them that were trying to help them through this massive learning curve that it is to get up to speed with your products and your services, and now that support structure’s gone. Now they’re reliant on the management and the guys on their team that are the go-to people, right? And maybe their manager isn’t potentially as supportive as they could be, so there’s the reduced support.

There’s the natural concept of forgetting, right? We like to think that because we send to someone to training, now they know. That’s not true because simply stated, people forget. I would challenge everyone here to the idea that could you pass the driver’s exam today without studying? Or have you forgotten a lot of those strange regulations and those signs that you never really see on the road because you haven’t studied for it since you passed it when you were 16 years old? People simply forget, so when we fire hose them at the beginning, they’re not coming out with all of that information when it’s the operation and things start to change and bad decisions are made.

That impacts confidence, right? There’s a difference between me being supported by a dedicated trainer or coach, I’m doing role-play, maybe I’m side, yeah side-saddling some calls and I’m building up that confidence but then when I’m out on my own, does that confidence translate or does it diminish and then again, challenge not only my ability to do the job, but how I feel about myself in this role and culturally do I belong? Because like I said, onboarding’s a lot more potentially than just the learning and enablement side, but the learning and enablement side really sees in to the overall story of what it is to be new inside of an organization.

And finally, the difference between what are perceived capabilities and true capabilities. Everyone here has probably taken an exam at some point in your life. We’ve probably all crammed, right before the exam, and we did decently on the exam, right? But then two, three weeks later, how would you do? What did you remember? Often not a lot, and it comes back to that forgetting curve comment, but also the fact that when you took the exam, you took the assessment and I just look at a snapshot right there, it looks like you can do this. You have this knowledge. But, it’s because the continuous support doesn’t match up with how you got there, that you’re not really able to do it. Your real capability doesn’t match your perceived capability, and that falls off and that’s where that capability cliff really comes into play, so again, hopefully this is a familiar story.

This is really setting up where we’re going to go in terms of how do we get out of this cycle? How do we escape the capability cliff, and re-imagine the way that we support people to drive that long-term capability. But before we move forward, David I think we have that poll you mentioned? I’m curious because, again everyone’s … You came to a webinar about onboarding in a contact center at two o’clock on a Tuesday. You’re obviously looking for maybe a new idea? Maybe something is broke and you’re trying to fix it? Something’s going on, so I’m curious if you’re looking at evolving this strategy in your organization. What is the biggest barrier you have to improving that onboarding approach, so we can think about those ideas as we move forward, so David I’ll pass it to you to load up the poll.

David Hadobas:     

Excellent. Poll is up, again you’ve got four options, A, B, C and D. It’s not hard. Pick the one that most closely resembles what you think your challenge or barrier as JD mentioned, and we’ll leave that poll question up for a few minutes here so again, thank you for participating. Please everyone, jump in and then on the back-end of content sharing, we’ll ask for JD to interpret what the results are, so go ahead JD.

JD Dillon:   

Awesome, and again it will provide great insight to help us kind of shape where this is going. It’s not the only four options that maybe are out there, and obviously at the end of today’s presentation, plenty of time for question and answer, so if there’s a particular challenge that you’re having, happy to address that in our conversation moving forward as well.

So, ultimately again to come back to what are we trying to achieve while we’re talking onboarding today, to get out of that story and to escape that capability cliff, and it’s helping a new agent achieve a baseline level of capability and confidence as quickly as possible, and a couple things to highlight in that statement. Again, baseline level of capability. We should not be expecting a new agent to be as good as a veteran agent when they walk out the door of an onboarding program. It’s simply not how life or learning works. So how do they get to the right level of capability, where you trust them inside the operation and at the same time, how do we make sure they have the confidence to execute, to use that new knowledge, to make the decision when it needs to be made, so that they’re able to translate that learning into meaningful action on the job, so that’s our target. That’s what we’re going to try to do, and that’s what we’re going to walk through in terms of how to get there.

And the first big point I need to make is that I don’t believe onboarding is a program. I don’t believe it has a start and a stop date. While I think obviously people training needs evolve, and you know the types of topics they’re going to address are going to change over time, I look at onboarding as the beginning of an overall experience. What people see when they come through the door on day one when they go to that first class, they experience that first online content, is the beginning of how they’ll be supported throughout their time within the organization. When we start to think about onboarding as the beginning of our overall support structure, it allows us to do a lot more and to support things in a lot more targeted way, and that’s what I’m going to show you and that’s how we work with our customers and clients here with Axonify, when we work with onboarding.

So, again, something to keep in mind. When we talk about onboarding, it’s not a program that starts and stops. It’s a way that we’re kicking off and igniting a continuous learning and support experience, and when I say continuous learning, here’s what this could potentially look like. Again, this is … experience is going to be different for you. You’re in a particular organization with particular needs, but when I talk about ongoing and continuous learning, this is what this feels like and when I share a couple of stories, this is the experience that’ll I’ll be talking about when we get to that point in our conversation.

So first, how do we create an agent-centered, personal individual-need type learning experience? Well first, we base everything on a community of knowledge. We make sure people have access to the resources they need in the moment of need, so we don’t feel the need to cram as much information into their heads, right? When I worked at the contact center at Kaplan, I had one simple rule. It was before I was going to train any agents on a particular piece of information, that information had to be accessible to them whenever they needed it because people don’t go back to the training. They don’t go back to that e-learning to find that one thing they forgot that one time.

How do we make sure they have access to all of the product information, the process information that could come up throughout the course of them getting familiar with the job so that we don’t shove nice-to-know information into their heads, it allows us to focus on the critical need-to-know stuff first. So first, we base everything on accessed information as needed. We then surround the individual with a continuous set of tactics that are used continuously on the job, so it’s not going to a training program or a class. This is something they potentially experience every day, so how we’re motivating and engaging people to learn, to make themselves better on the job.

Reinforcing, and we’ll talk a lot about reinforcement, that information that maybe they do get introduced early on, but we know they’re going to forget, so introducing reinforcement tactics along the way. Enabling managers to be effective coaches, because they are the boots on the ground. They are the people in the operation every day with the employee, with the agent, so how do we make sure they’re doing the best that they can do to provide the right coaching experience. Drive all of this via data, one of the great things I love about a contact center environment is you tend to have a lot of data that can really inform a learning and support experience, so how do we use the right data? Then, how do we make sure we’re getting feedback from the associate and from the agent, so that they’re helping us understand where they need help and where they’re comfortable and where they have and maybe don’t have the right confidence level so that we can address accordingly.

So, again we’re surrounding the individual with a continuous experience and then using the right inputs along the way, because like I said, we’re not necessarily going to change all of our tactics. We’re still going to have classroom sessions. We’re still going to have online content. We’re still going to practice and role-play and do these different types of things, but they become a targeted way of addressing particular needs, especially up-front, not the only way.

I see a lot of people design onboarding programs based solely on the fear that when the leave the classroom, we’ll never get them back. They have to be on the phone, right? That’s where your operation is doing what it needs to do, that’s the job they’re hired to do. That’s what … That’s how they’re expected to use their time, but if we design training based on the fact that we’re never going to get them back, and never have an ability to support them again unless we schedule them off the phone, we start to cram unnecessary amounts of information, build a bloated program and experience the capability cliff we talked about earlier, so this continuous experience allows us to adjust that, we’ll talk a lot about that, and then finally that’s what leads to the results.

Because we’re not just looking for knowledge growth and learning for the sake of learning, but we’re looking for business results. The ability to change the key metrics, and the KPIs that are going to help justify the value of this training and continuous learning experience, and I’ll share some of those results from some example organizations that are applying this experience. But when I talk about continuous learning, and really changing the entire puzzle in order to make that front-end experience stronger and more impactful, this is what continuous learning can look like, even in the very limited amount of time people have in a contact center environment. When I talk about continuous learning, I’m talking about minutes, not hours, not days, not pulling people into a room for two, three hour sessions. I’m talking about the power of what you can do with two or three minutes a day to make everything you’re doing that much stronger, so hopefully everyone’s following me and this makes sense, so let’s dig in a little bit more.

So what are the three different things I need you to be thinking about or three particular strategies that you can apply to make that experience work and to change the onboarding story that I talked about in the beginning? The first we’re going to talk about is the idea of prioritize, which I’ve mentioned a couple times, because again it’s about enabling you to focus on just the right topics, just what people absolutely need to know before you let them on the phone. The specific products maybe they’ll be representing, the specific processes and technology they’ll be using to do the job, to get rid of a lot of that nice-to-know stuff that they’ll figure out later, or they can look up when they need it, and again, focusing on the critical topics.

Coming back to that driving example. You need to know how to park the car, accelerate the car, stop the car. You don’t necessarily always need to know everything about how an engine works. That’s the nice-to-know stuff that you can look up or go to an expert when you need it. That’s the differentiation, so one, focusing on critical topics up-front. Two, I already said that day one access to shared knowledge. Believe me, this entire puzzle changes if an employee, when they walk through the door and they haven’t been trained at all, if they can find the information they would need, how you change them completely shifts, so making sure they have access to information right up front and then leveraging the concept of micro-learning to fit that training continuously into the workflow.

Because like I said, in the beginning, focusing classroom time and on online content just on the critical stuff, and then inserting the other elements, reinforcement, new topics, things like that into the moments of the day when they’re in the operation so that you keep learning going and drive that continuous experience. So again, what, for those of you who may not be familiar, what do I mean by microlearning? So on-screen you see our definition of microlearning, but to really focus down on the fact that it’s about focused, short bites of information. Rather than create a course about all of the products that you offer or maybe of course about a particular product, how do you focus down on the specific pieces of information that they need to know to help you solve a specific problem?

You know, if you’re having trouble with a particular process, particular compliance requirement, how do you build content that is targeted so that one, it addresses that particular need and two, it fits into the day? Because we can fit a three-minute video, or a set of questions into the moments people have in their day rather than try to schedule them to come out of the operation. So microlearning not only fits into the day and fits the particular challenges you’re trying to address, it also fits how people learn. We only can hold on to and digest a certain amount of information at a given time. You’re not going to remember everything I say in 45 minutes, so how do we make sure that we focus down and deliver content in a way that people can retain?

So again, here’s an example on screen where you see what a daily session could potentially look like when someone accesses Axonify as an example or accesses a learning technology, and they complete that three-minute moment in their day. In my experience at Kaplan, some employees did it when they first logged on for the day. Some did it right after their break, and some actually did a three to four minute refresher session in between calls when they knew they had a moment, and it was an interesting way not only to continue their knowledge but to kind of refresh them on their day, so how do we insert these moments into the workflow, rather than looking for the giant batches of time to schedule people out of the operation, which is almost always impossible to do.

So that’s number one, prioritize. Number two is adapt. This is where data becomes in particularly important. You’re hiring people that maybe have been in call centers for years, they’re just moving from company to company in a lot of cases. In my case, people were jumping from higher education to higher education organization, so they’re coming in with a level of capability, you just have to contextualize that to your organization. Meanwhile, the person sitting next to them has never worked in a call center before. They don’t know how to talk on the phone effectively. Hopefully, you’ve vetted some of that out before they got in the building, but there’s obviously going to be a difference in terms of baseline experience. How can you leverage adaptive learning, so people only get the information and the content they need, not everything for everyone’s sake, because that’s a waste of time and resources.

Two, that allows agents to accelerate their own learning, because when they’re only receiving the support that they need, only completing the classes, and the online content that matches their need, they can move at their own pace, so they’re no longer held back by the rest of the class if they’re able to move faster based on their past experience or just the fact that they are picking things up a little bit more quickly, and finally how do we provide frontline managers with the right data to coach, so that when they’re having team huddles or conversations with individuals, it’s not the same message to everybody. It’s really focused on where there are proven knowledge and proven performance gaps, so they become, again, an invaluable part of that continuous learning experience.

So, you know, just to visualize what does adaptive and personalized learning look like? Like I said, people come in with different levels of capability, maybe someone’s transferring within the organization. They’ve been around for a while, so they know some more about the company and the brand, but then you’re hiring another person who comes in. They’re a veteran associate, and they’ve worked in a contact center before, but they don’t know your company. So rather than put both of these people through the exact same training process, the goal is always sustained knowledge, but we do it in a way that matches their particular needs, so the idea is that everyone gets where they need to go, we’re driving sustained knowledge across the board, but we’re doing it in a way that adapts using data and technology to maximize their existing experience and their time, so they’re not wasting time doing training they don’t need, so that’s what adaptive and personalized learning can look and feel like. I could go on for hours about that topic.

The other big thing is the data to enable more effective coaching by your leadership teams. On screen, you see an example of a management dashboard. So, today a lot of what managers do when it comes to training is chasing people down to complete training. How do you change that so that because you’re using a continuous approach, because people are doing activities all the time, using those two to three minutes a day, it gives you a greater understanding of what people know and don’t know. How confident are they and how, maybe where are there areas where they’re lacking in confidence? Managers can use a dashboard like you see on screen to target their coaching, to say, “Hey, this particular agent has a gap in this particular product knowledge. Let’s focus the conversation there rather than giving the same announcement about the product to the entire team when they don’t all need it.”

So again, a great way to gather data and use it to inform the operation in a different way because we’re changing the way that we’re collecting data and there’s a great ability in a contact center especially to merge this learning and knowledge data with your KPI data. Everything that you’re collecting from the behavior side if you’re observing calls, and you’re evaluating calls as part of the operation, to really use that to shape the coaching experience more effectively. Again, a lot more I could go into there.

The third principle is also … it’s called stretch. So, first of all, the idea that we can continuously reinforce knowledge over time. We’re not locked into, “We’ve got them in the classroom, we got to get everything into the classroom,” because we know they’re going to forget. They’re not walking out the door with everything you delivered, so how do we insert those moments of the day where we can reinforce the really important stuff to make sure people retain it? Find the way to engage people, to get people activated. When I was, again in a contact center environment at Kaplan, we had a 90% engagement rate at one point for these reinforcement activities because we positioned it in a way that it was easy for them to do, they could fit it into their day, it was actually something people liked to do, because people don’t dislike learning or training. They just dislike learning or training that doesn’t mean anything to them. When it helps them do their job and there’s value, people engage.

The idea of behavior observation, which again, something most contact center folks are doing, when it comes to observing calls and identifying critical behaviors where there are gaps, and finally establishing the continuous feel from day one, so that’s it not … They go to training and onboarding, and then everything about how they’re supported is completely different when they go to the operation. You’re setting up the feel of what it’s like to learn and be supported in this organization from the beginning, and they’re continuing with that experience as they move forward.

So, a couple concepts here that are critical to that reinforcement idea, again aligning how we support learning and enablement based on how the brain actually works. In the links, there’s a great video available there for you to take a look at more deeply in terms of these brain science principles, but again, simply the idea that the more often information is repeated, the more likely people are to retain it, and the idea that you can use retrieval, asking people questions in order to help people learn. It’s not just about sending people to classes or making them watch videos or take e-learning. People learn through questioning, and it’s actually more powerful than studying, and again if anyone here used flash cards, you’ve had that experience, and the idea of assessing confidence to help really drive home that learning and connect with what people already know and deepen the overall learning experience, so three great principles. I encourage everyone to take a look at the attachments and the links. There’s a great video from a learning scientist who can help you understand those in more detail.

And then finally, I talked about engagement, the idea of getting people active. This is where gamification, the idea of competition can really come into play, especially in a contact center environment. I knew things were changing at Kaplan when I started to use game mechanics, when I saw screenshots getting forwarded around the organization with snapshots of where people were on the leaderboard, and I knew something was different and something was matching up with the culture of the organization, so again, ways to help people compete and to again, recognize the value and the fun of learning, especially if they’re not used to this type of experience in their past life.

So, what does the onboarding experience start to look like when you apply these different principles? What’s the after part of the story? Well, here we go. First of all, we’re establishing that baseline knowledge. We’re at a higher level already than the blue curve, you’re looking at the green arrow in this case because we’ve made information available on day one. People can look things up when they’ve got a question and when they don’t know, and they’re also now focused on just the need-to-know critical information because everything else is either going to come later, or it’s going to be something they’re going to access in the moment of need on their own.

We’re able to overcome that initial dip into the capability cliff because we’re now filling in that additional information of those additional topics. We’re not losing the person when they leave training, and they’re going into the operation and sinking or swimming. We’re continuing to support them because information is available on demand, and they’re experiencing those reinforcement moments along the way. We’re now further nurturing that knowledge because we’re activating the managers. They’re able to come in and provide that targeted coaching experience as people are continuously learning and getting access to those moments every day to keep their overall capability up, and then finally we’re able to practice that and sustain that knowledge. We’re able to insert new topics, compliance requirements much more rapidly because we have a continuous touch point with the agent. They’re not having to go back into a classroom or completely shut down your operation because it’s training time.

Again, we’re still going to maybe use classroom experiences and traditional e-learning in certain cases, but it’s more about using their moments in the day, and their access to on demand knowledge to change the overall story and again, not only shorten the time to operation, get them at a higher level of capability faster and sustain that capability, so they don’t fall off the cliff. You potentially don’t experience those lost confidence moments and those greater turnover considerations and those mistakes and shortcuts don’t start to develop because you’re reinforcing information over time. So, hopefully you see the difference in the story and where those principles start to apply to create a better ending because it’s about a continuous onboarding experience, not just a program they do at the beginning, and then they go figure it out on their own afterwards.

So, two quick examples before we head to a question and answer period. The first is British Telecommunications, BT. So, to summarize this story, the organization was looking to rapidly onboard 2,500 plus agents as they were shifting the mechanics of their call center operation, so their target when they started to look at this type of an experience and this type of an approach was to reduce the amount of time in training to get people operational faster to fill the existing business need. So, when you look at the results on screen, one, they were able to achieve a 24% reduction in training duration by applying the principles, and the experience I’ve already talked about.

Even more exciting was what they started to see of people who were coming out of this experience into the operation, was a considerable change in their KPI results, so they were impacting the business, not just coming out of training faster. So the idea that one, there was an improvement in customer value, a reduction in call handling time and also a reduction in repeat customer calls. I don’t have to tell anyone here how important those can be in your environment, so the idea that not only is it about making training time shorter, getting people to the operation faster, they’re coming out with that greater label, level of capability and you see that here in the results. I’d also urge everyone again, check out the links and attachments because the full BT case study is available there if you want to go into greater detail.

This is my favorite part of that case study, however, is this quote from a transition center manager, so someone on the front lines, and the idea that when they’re speaking to the new advisors compared to those who went through the previous experience, they’re clearly more knowledgeable, and they’re more confident, so not only do they the knowledge, they’re expressing that confidence and using that knowledge more openly, and it’s not only visible in the data, it’s also visible in the way people are interacting with one another. So again, a great ending to the story, and a great quote from someone who’s experiencing this every day.

My second quick example is coming from Canada. It’s MCAP, who is a mortgage financing organization, one of the largest in Canada. In this case, they were looking at how do we make sure that we have agents retaining key knowledge after what was originally a traditional onboarding experience, right? How do we boost that knowledge and confidence and not let people fall off that capability cliff? So they introduced again, the experience and principles we talked about today, and a couple key factors. One, an increase in call quality rating, two, reduction in call escalations, another key KPI factor, but that middle number’s interesting, that 94% voluntary participation. The fact that agents are engaging in daily learning experiences in those moments in the day at that rate, so 94% at least once a month, more often, more frequently than that are engaging in those moments in the day. So when we talk about making learning more accessible, embedding it in the day, it shows you that it can happen, as long as it’s structured appropriately even in a very busy contact center environment.

So, a couple kind of last comments, kind of calls to action, things you can be thinking about in your role, because obviously I know everyone here is from a different place, whether you’re from retail, maybe you’re from energy, maybe you’re from finance, you know what can you do leaving today, besides taking some of these principles, downloading as many of the attachments and documents as you’d like, some things to be thinking about moving forward.

So first of all, exploring how onboarding connects to continuous learning. What’s the difference between that program, that several-week moment you put people into a classroom, how they’re supported there, what topics are covered there as compared to what happens when they leave that program? And if you start to notice a gap in experience, a gap in support, a lack of knowledge reinforcement, and if it doesn’t really connect well and you’re seeing turnover, you’re seeing people come out not prepared, you’re seeing a loss of capability over time, this is why. Because there’s that disconnect, so first take a look at your existing onboarding program and say, “How does this set people up for success moving forward or is there a disconnect there?”

Two, considering how data could be used to improve training. Again, you’ve got a lot of great data. Is there additional data you could be collecting through a continuous experience of what people know, how confident they are so you could better target not just training, but those coaching experiences as well, so how are you using your overall data profile, which you have a lot of in this type of environment, to improve training?

Three, fitting small learning opportunities into each day. Take a look at the individual day and say how much time do we honestly have? And I’ve never met an organization who’s ever said to me, “We have all of the time for training. We can do whatever we want. Pull them off the phones,” right? You need people to do what they’re hired to do every day, so how do you find those moments in the day? In some organizations, it’s right after people clock in for the day. In some cases, it’s during a break. Some organizations I’ve worked with do schedule a five minute moment in the day to complete a reinforcement activity, so how do you find those small moments, realizing a lot of small moments over time equal big impact. Doesn’t have to be a two-hour class to have tremendous impact on your business, as our example showed.

How do you prioritize efforts to enable frontline managers? I consider them the most important person in this overall equation, so how are you helping support and guide their coaching efforts through this type of an approach? And finally, designing an agent-first learning experience, so how are you taking all of these principles into account, looking at the individual and saying, “Regardless of your background, experience, how much knowledge you came into the job with, how are we creating experience that maximizes your capability?” Not a one-size-fits-all, not a fire hose, how do we use all of these different tools and tactics to create something that works for the individual, because that’s what will sustain people, help them become more capable and reduce some of those factors like turnover we talked about in the beginning.

So, to finally start to wrap up, like I said it’s not about a one particular component, or one particular tactic. When we talk about Axonify and how we support organizations like BT and like MCAP in shifting this experience, it’s about the right combination, the right blend of factors. Pulling together, again how people learn, how we motivate people to engage and get that huge participation number that MCAP shared, how we adapt to the individual, fit those moments into the day, make sure information and training’s available wherever people are, whether it’s in an office or maybe on the go, and then finally how we use data and actual insight to improve the overall experience.

So why we’re successful and why we see the results we see in the contact center organizations we work with is because it’s this blend of factors that really drive that modern, continuous experience. And again, I’d recommend everyone take a look at the links on the side. This full deck is available there as well. If you’d like more information obviously we’re going to have some time for questions and answers here, so at this point I’ll hand over to David and see if there are any curiosities that have come in while I’ve been talking.

David Hadobas:

Yes they are, boy you covered a lot of ground there, thank you. Thank you very much, JD and I know what we have learned from talking to members, the discussions that occur in our programs, there’s just a lot of questions around this topic, and a lot of people have different perspectives. You know, let me start with the poll question. Thank you again for those of you who participated. Our question again, what’s the bigger … biggest barrier to improving your onboarding? What I noticed on this JD, only 11% said there’s no real immediate need for change, the rest had some obstacle. I’m not sure if you’re seeing what I’m seeing JD, I’ll read it to you if you’re not, but it looks like 38% said resources. Your thoughts around that?

JD Dillon: 

Sure. One, not hugely shocked at the 11% number, given that we’re all in this conversation to start with and then just, again just what I’m seeing for onboarding in almost every use case, but particularly in contact centers. What I would say to the resources question is a couple of different factors. First, for me, if I were answering this poll question, I would need a fifth response, and I actually think it would be mentality. The way that we’re looking at the way that we support people continuously, which is where the beginning of the story starts, is what’s impacting the resource conversation in a lot of cases with the organizations I work with. So, when we start to think about things a little differently, we can apply our resources differently. If we no longer prescribe to the fact that everyone has to get everything up front before they get on the phone, we have a lot more leeway there, so whether it is using existing technology, resources, content or maybe small adjustments are needed over time.

When I was with Kaplan, I didn’t flip the switch and go from the beginning of the story to the end of the story right away. I started with that foundational layer, making sure information was more accessible in the moment of need. When suddenly people could look stuff up, it opened doors to me where I could do things differently. When I started to apply Axonify methodology and reinforcement and learning science, it opened doors to me, so I see this as an iterative transition that people can start introducing pieces and parts of this and then prove the need and value over time, especially if you need to justify any type of budget or expense. When … and you notice, I didn’t just say people train faster, I showed business results that have tangible outcomes and price tags associated. When it’s about building a business case and not just justifying value, it’s a different conversation, so I think there’s a couple different ways we could go there.

David Hadobas: 

Gotcha. Well, thank you again. We’ll get to our questions now, and I’ve got some notes but I want to encourage our audience again, we’re going to have him here for another 15 minutes or so, so if you have a question, please post it on anything that was covered today. First one I want to read to you here JD, and I think this might be a great place to start, you know how do you convince managers to provide the time for continuous learning when the priority is as we hear keeping agents on the phone and available to customers. How do you respond to that?

JD Dillon: 

Sure, and most times, and this is even true in my background. When we were talking about more time for training, we were always talking about large batches of time. When you talk to any type of manager, and you talk about training, they’re expecting well we got to schedule people off, it’s going to be 30 minutes, it’s going to be an hour, they’re going to have to leave their desks, they’re going to have to do all these certain things. When we change the conversation to be about minutes, I work with a lot of different use cases and a lot of different complexities of roles. I still believe everyone has minutes, if we value those minutes, right? Even if someone is on the phone from the beginning of their shift to the end of their shift, what if you spent three minutes doing something to help them get a little bit better at the job every day? Those three minutes are going to add on and provide greater value over time, but when you change the conversation to minutes and access and not schedules and classes, that conversation shifts in my experience.

David Hadobas:

Thank you. Speaking of that, classrooms and certainly, CCNG members have hosted us for the better part of 25 years, we’ve certainly seen that most contacts in our operations have a classroom for training, and it’s either packed or it’s empty. In your view, what’s the place of the classroom learning in this model?

JD Dillon: 

Sure, I think it’s … just thinking about what are the right reasons to put people into a room, right? There are some information delivery moments, whether it’s complexity of topic, or just you need focus down because it’s a compliance topic, you know there are different reasons to put people in a room for information delivery, but a lot of cases we waste time in a room just throwing information at people that they’re not going to retain two hours later. Putting people in a room is valuable for conversation, for the different things that can happen in a room because they are together, not on the phone, not wearing a headset, you know really focused.

Role-playing, practice, again, more conversational moments, pulling information and experiences and stories out of people in the room. That’s where I see the value generally speaking in a classroom. Again, there will still be moments where you have to be more instructor-focused, you know you do have to deliver information because people are new. They wouldn’t get it in another method, but in this story, in this type of experience the classroom becomes an option not the default only way we have to do things. I think that’s the difference.

David Hadobas: 

Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. This one reads does it … Is this, and I’m assuming about the approach and the design you’ve been discussing, is it more designed for people who are experienced in call centers and don’t have to get more down to the basics of call center agenting before they can get on the phone, so can you speak to that?

JD Dillon:

Sure, and I’ll go back to what … that my references I made to adaptive and personalized learning, I think if anyone’s particularly challenged with that question or that topic, that’s probably where you should start digging into and start researching. So, once you … Once you’re able to assess people’s knowledge up front, right? You have two agents that get hired tomorrow. One’s been in call centers for 30 years, one’s never done it before. Today, one holds the other back or they both get the exact same experience, but if you’re very early not able to assess that knowledge, right? You put them through some practical assessment, ask them some questions, get that baseline, you’re then able to adjust the experience, where the experienced person probably isn’t going to go to all the stuff, isn’t going to take all of the e-learning, isn’t going to watch all the videos. They’re going to move faster because they’re working with their past knowledge.

The person who’s new is going to go through more rigorous, is going to need more reinforcement, right, is going to get certain content repeatedly, to make sure they got it over time. So it’s that adaptive learning capability and using the right types of data and the right types of technology to drive that, that can balance that out because that’s something we’re never going to get away from, especially in this environment, that mix of backgrounds, experience, knowledge and capability, right?

David Hadobas: 

Good point. You know, in the opening statements, I referenced the average of 11 and a half to onboard and one in three stay. Do you have some results to talk about about how your approach has maybe changed those numbers a little bit?

JD Dillon:     

Sure, so first I’d recommend again, the two examples that I shared here today. The full details available in the case studies alongside, there’s also a research study in the attachments and links that we conducted late last year and the results are focused on contact center employees that really digs into the current state of affairs when it comes to training in this type of environment that I think people will find interesting I couldn’t really go into today. But again, the results that you see in these case studies, if you go to Axonify’s websites we got, we have even more at

It’s all about the business results side, not just the reduction in training, but you’ll see changes in things like turnover, in key KPIs, like I said, in reduction in call escalations and all the different factors that are critical to a particular business because they’ve designed the experience and their content to focus on those metrics, right? They did want to reduce training time, but they’re also concerned about particular parts of their business. This experience allows that type of focus so you can solve meaningful problems and change the business, not just check boxes and complete, learning for the sake of learning. That’s the big difference in focus.

David Hadobas:   

Okay. Alright, I’m getting ready to open up a bag of snakes here, so there’s my … my forewarning because I’m going to use the M word, millennial. There are a couple of questions here that are all around the millennial challenge, and for those millennials in our audience today, with all due respect, we’ll just refer to them as today’s workforce, so I’m going to read a couple of questions here to just let you spend a few minutes addressing this and then I’m sure there will be a follow-up question or two, and I’ll read this, so excuse me for being dry here, but regarding millennials, we tend to experience a higher-than-expected attrition rate within the first year with this group of individuals. I think that can be echoed across a number of centers. We have heard it again and again and again.

In fact, in a recent study, that was the number one listed challenge of, I don’t recall … somewhere in the area of 100 to 500 contact center managers that were polled in the question. So do you have any strategies on how to better integrate them with a culture so they can see or feel belonging sooner? We are heavily focused our employee experience and culture, but that takes time, as most things may, to bring, to feel that strong sense of trust and belonging, and I want to add to that because that was a question and a comment, this question. Does this approach that you’ve been discussing here work better with millennials or Gen-Z type of hires or perhaps some other demographic, so I’ve opened the bag up. It’s all yours, JD.

JD Dillon:       

Thanks for that bag. So, one, I urge everyone to get past age. It’s not about age, it’s not about demographic, it’s about other, more complex factors such as background, experience, options, expectations, right? If you’ve been in the workforce for an extremely long period of time, you become used to certain things. You know what the landscape is like, you know what the reality is like, and you also have different responsibilities, right? You can’t just walk away from a job because you have to buy people food and pay for a roof and these types of things. People that are younger maybe don’t have, and if you look at some of the research, a lot of people don’t have that exact type of responsibility. They have different expectations because they haven’t been experiencing this type of work life for that long, and again, they’re looking at the difference between what it’s like to learn and solve problems in everyday life, and what happens when they go to work.

So while there’s a lot of different things that come into account when it comes to helping people feel involved and part of a culture, a couple things that I talked about that I think directly relate are things like support and confidence. The fact that if you feel … Think about your own experience. Have you had a job where you were excited about it, you got hired and then you didn’t feel supported? You didn’t have the tools. It took five to ten days to get your computer set up. No one introduced you around, you didn’t feel like you were part of things, and you had a hard time leaning into the job. How do we make sure people have support from day one, a place they can go, like I said and look up the information. They don’t have to sit in a meeting room and hear a bunch of abbreviations fly around the room and not know what anyone’s talking about, because that happens at every company. Working at Disney, all types of short-hand.

So how do we make sure people have the resources so they can step in, feel like they’re part of the conversation and again, support them in a way that buoys the confidence, so it’s not that, “Hey you got trained. Go figure it out,” and then they fall off the cliff. How do we make sure that this continuous support cycle keeps moving forward so that they do, again, feel more integrated, feel like they’re ready and capable of doing the job and they don’t walk away because they’re not getting that experience?

Not directly applicable, but I work with some retailers who, their onboarding experience was put person in the back of the room, and they clicked through e-learning for eight hours, and they’ve had people walk out in the middle of that eight hours because who wants to do that? That’s not why they’re working here, so we have to get past those experiences to make sure people have the support they need, to buoy that confidence so that the other pieces come into play and make sure they feel appreciated and supported. And again, not about age, it’s about treating people as individuals and making sure they’re supported, regardless of who they are in my opinion.

David Hadobas: 

And would you add to that or you agree or disagree … We’ve learned from organizations like ZipRecruiter and other members that as they too tackle this, you somewhat have to meet them in the middle. Understand what is their world been like in the last five years as they are new coming into the workforce versus perhaps someone who has been in the workforce five, ten, fifteen years? Any thoughts around things that companies have had to do to meet millennials kind of in the middle?

JD Dillon: 

Completely, like I said that there’s that stark difference between what it’s like to live in the real world and solve problems and then to go to work. And if you’ve been doing it for 30, 40 years and you constantly try to search the internet and nothing comes back, you’re kind if used to that and you just move on. But if you’ve grown up with Google and you’re used to being able to access a lot of information rapidly and then you step into the workplace and all of that falls apart, you’re going to feel it, so again, it’s not about your age, it’s not about digital natives or anything like that. It’s just about what people get used to and what they’re using in everyday life, and what their past experience is like, and the disconnect that tends to happen in a lot of workplaces.

So, for me it’s really addressing what it needs to be to work in a modern environment and applying that across the board, and helping everyone get used to that because again, I don’t believe that younger people are better at technology than older people. I see the same types of behaviors regardless. It’s about individuals, so how do we lean into that and create more modern experience for everybody?

David Hadobas:

Gotcha. This question might be a little deep dive down a rabbit hole that you don’t want to go down, and perhaps you can take it offline, but let me just throw the question out there. It’s regarding interview questions. The person writes that sometimes those questions can be a bit cookie-cutter in that they’re very typical or predictable questions that you ask during an interview focused around customer service, so you know answers can also be rehearsed and perhaps not truly depicting the true character of the candidate at work, so what are some creative interview questions, onboarding methods that can be used to really capture what a prospective employee may bring to the job at hand? Any high-level thoughts on that, I know that’s a deeper dive on another subject.

JD Dillon: 

Sure, like I said, onboarding, giant umbrella, right? So I’ll more lean into this from background as being a hiring manager in these types of environments. One, I absolutely hate the cookie-cutter form that everyone completes on every interviewer or interviewee and then expects to be able to compare and contrast. It … Someone like me and someone who’s experienced in work life could probably predict what your questions are going to be just because they’ve been asked them 90 other times by different companies.

So one, how do you have an actual conversation? How do you get people talking about things they’re interested in, about what they’re looking to do, what they’re looking forward to. Get them engaged in a real conversation because then you can start to understand what type of person somebody is, you know, how do they … how do you think they’ll fit in this type of a job? Two, how do you … maybe put them through some practice exercise. How do they answer certain types of questions or how would they deal with certain scenarios, especially from a storytelling perspective? Kind of pulling out people’s own real-life experiences, how they’ve interacted with similar types of roles, if they’re going into a customer service-type role, telling stories about good and bad interactions they’ve had in real life, again tends to help you better understand versus the cookie-cutter type of moments, and I’m not talking about, “Tell me a time when,” I think it has to be more organic and driven.

And again, I always like to involve different types of people in conversations. I think if you use the same interviewer for everything, you get the same types of responses back and you get a lot of bias built in, so how do you make sure that there are multiple people involved in the conversations, and they’re not all doing the same thing, because they may pull out different parts of a person’s experience and personality and be able to collaborate that, on that more effectively. That can take more effort, more time, but I think you get a better value out of it because you’re finding better matches along the way, rather than just asking the same 10 questions repeatedly.

So, I look at things like that and then depending on the type of recruitment process you have, I would look for ways to maybe put people in group settings. Get them around people they’ll be working with, because again, things can change, you see different types of interactions in those moments than you would see in the formal suit and tie sitting across the desk interview, so a couple of loose suggestions there. I could dig in more in the future after I think a little bit about it, so feel free to reach out.

David Hadobas:

Let’s do a wrap-up question. We’re right at the end, this is kind of a broad, open-ended … any other recommendations do you have to engage agents to participate over the long term? Most of these people have a great, well I think I shared some of the demographics, you know, have multiple centers, are sizable centers, the typical member has between 100 and 500 agents in their contact center operation within the CCNG network, so how do you keep these people involved and engaged to participate over the long term?

JD Dillon: 

Sure, three quick points. One, demonstrate clear value. I’m not going to do it if it’s not going to help me do what I’m held accountable for. If I’m held accountable to certain metrics, doing a certain type of job, any type of training, experience, things that I have to do that’s optional to me has to align directly, or I’m not going to do it. That’s just the way people operate.

Two, make it enjoyable. There’s … no one ever created a rule that said training can’t be fun, so that’s where, again, competition, game mechanics, these types of elements can add a layer that for some people triggers engagement. I had people, like I said emailing screenshots and talking trash about training. It was great, in a contact center environment because they’re having fun, and it matched the way that the operation was functioning.

And then three, keep it simple. If people have to click 19 times to go watch a video, they’re not going to do it. The bar has changed in terms of how people engage with technology and content experiences, so make it easy for people to fit into the day, for people to consume content, for people to engage, you’ll see greater results.

David Hadobas:   

That is a great place to wrap things up, so again if you had a question and didn’t have the time or the inclination to post it here, we’ll give you some information on how to reach JD. As you can see on your screen there, you can always email him, feel free to continue the conversation on that level and speaking of which, this year, something new from CCNG, we’re bringing out online community forums on a variety of topics that include issues that members are discussing from both our in-person events as well as virtual programs like today. This extends and expands the perspectives that you have access to, using a larger group of folks, so we welcome your participation in these forums, and our events by joining the CCNG Member Network, and I also wanted to mention the new customizable CCNG resource site called If you haven’t, go check it out.

You … There’s no cost or anything, just be a part of it. Go take a look and see … What’s unique about this is not only is the variety of topics that are being brought to bear there, and that is based upon what readers are looking for, but it is sourced by bloggers, so if you’re a blogger and you want to be a part of the conversation at that level, you can have access to over 43,000 subscribers and growing, so just make note of that. As we wrap up, we also want to remind and encourage you to share our webcast today with your colleagues and the web link will be coming to you shortly via email, and this will not only help CCNG members as we continue to grow the virtual content, we have over, as I think I mentioned earlier 11,000 recorded viewings and that is growing very, very quickly, so we appreciate your help and as it says on the screen, you can share your thoughts about today’s webcast using Twitter, at CCNGNetwork, at Axonify, please do that.

We would appreciate it. I know Axonify would appreciate it. So as we wrap up here today, again a number of you downloaded and had access to those links, so that’ll remain active, so if you do share it, anyone else has access to that including the slides, as JD mentioned. JD, I can’t thank you enough. You provided a tremendous amount of content in a very short window of time. You’re quite good at it. It’s clear you’ve been doing this for a while, but I will thank you on behalf of all of CCNG membership and ourselves here at staff, thanks for taking time today and we’ll wrap it up.

JD Dillon:   

My pleasure, thanks again everybody and thanks David for helping me out.

David Hadobas: 

Bye-bye now.