Customer service can be a key competitive advantage in the global marketplace. It can differentiate best-of-breed organizations, and those industry practitioners often regard it as a core part of their success.
Take Comcast, for instance. The company always has had customer service training for its customer account executives, but in July 2006, it launched Comcast Bullseye.
This program created on-demand, targeted learning that would help develop this key population of the workforce both professionally and personally while helping to meet the company’s business objectives through performance and process improvement.
Jon Folkestad, director of customer service training for Comcast’s West division, said the main impetus for Bullseye’s development was to combat one of the organization’s biggest challenges: attracting and retaining top talent.
Specifically, there was a gap between a newly hired agent’s first day and when that person could begin mandatory training. Often, agents took other jobs during that lag.
Bullseye enabled Comcast to switch to staff training on-demand, for which required learning had no start or end dates. Using a constructive learning-theory approach, learner-directed training for Folkestad’s roughly 3,000 customer account executives or customer service agents is now done in three stages.
In the first, new hires undertake a confidence-based assessment.
“That’s a little bit interesting for people because they’re used to taking assessments to show what they’ve learned,” Folkestad said. “In this space, we’re using assessments to show what they already know. This key piece of the program actually frees up our facilitators from delivering information and redirects their job to more of a performance coach.
“They take these assessments upfront, and they direct all our employees to places within the system where they can learn more about Comcast. That may be online learning, our Web sites, our performance support systems or knowledge bases. It takes them any and everywhere they will go in their job to be proficient.”
Folkestad said the ability to develop a customer service agent into a performance coach is one of the unexpected informal learning pieces that came out of the program’s implementation.
“We don’t say specifically that your role will be that of a coach to your peers, but because of the learning experience and the environment, they end up doing a tremendous amount of peer-to-peer coaching that happens inside the classroom,” he said. “It removes the supervisor or trainer from being the single source of knowledge and builds more of a community-of-knowledge sharing throughout the entire organization.”
After the first knowledge acquisition/assessment phase is completed, learners engage in a lot of hands-on lab work, working with the company billing system and role-playing with peers.
Metrics remain a constant through the entire three- to four-week program, however.
“We look at demonstrated ability,” Folkestad explained. “That comes out of the final third phase of the class, which we call BITS — ‘bringing it together.’ This is an integration phase, where they take all the knowledge and skills they’ve learned and integrate them into a complex working environment. They take mock customer interactions, and they have to apply all of the skills they’ve learned previously and demonstrate that in these BITS.”
Comcast University professionals partnered with internal business customers and call center management to identify which performance objectives or job-success indicators for which agents should be measured. These performance objectives make up the BITS portion of Comcast Bullseye.
Comcast has rolled out the program across its West division, and Folkestad said it will be deployed in nine or 10 of the company’s 12 call centers by the end of the year. Bullseye will be the chief mode of learning for new customer service agents as they enter the company.
“We see customer service as a key to our future growth,” Folkestad said. “Without good word of mouth and customer loyalty, it will be really hard for us to compete. From Day 1, when a customer service agent comes onboard, we’re giving them a program that says, ‘We’re not going to make you into a carbon copy, phone-answering robot like other companies may do.’ We’re giving them a learning experience that frees them to have human-to-human contact and interactions with our customers, and we’ve seen that to be one of the key drivers to improve our customer satisfaction scores.”
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