Corporate call centers have long been vulnerable to atrocious attrition rates, and typically the culprit is sloppy basic training that fails to graduate competent agents who are ready for the rigors of customer service. E-learning technologies—many have hoped—offered a tactical solution, with their ability to simulate in a controlled environment the sundry customer scenarios that agents encounter in the real job.
Many of these solutions, however, offer strictly data-based ballpark imitations of customer-call interactions rather than human-voice enhanced duplications of live calls. Atlanta-based Simtrex has addressed this fundamental shortcoming with the StarTrainer, which integrates human voice and data (including e-mail, Web chat, etc.) to replicate calls exactly as they occur in a live contact center. Agents are able to listen to customers, respond to them verbally, and navigate through applications just as they would in a live call.
Through voice-energy detection that cues the simulated customer's responses, StarTrainer matches the pace of an actual call, allowing trainers to gauge true call handling time and evaluate time metrics for each student. "We take what can be fairly overwhelming for the student and break it into chunks," says Jim Byrnes, vice president of sales and marketing. "We give them a coach's view, first letting the computer demonstrate the best practice, then work into the final mode where the student types, talks and interacts wholly."
Hilton Hotels, with headquarters in Beverly Hills, Calif., had suffered high turnover in their contact centers, particularly in the first 120 days of training, and turned to StarTrainer to increase efficiency and reduce attrition. "While many current training systems are capable of transferring knowledge, we wanted more than that," says Carl Pollock, director of training for Hilton Reservations Worldwide. "We wanted to build employee skills to effectively handle customer interactions."
The results were notable. In a 12-week Hilton-sponsored study, two groups of agents were trained simultaneously, one using traditional methods and one using StarTrainer. Attrition for the StarTrainer group was 33 percent lower than the control group. Call handling time was 24 seconds lower immediately after training for the StarTrainer group, and remained almost 20 seconds lower than the control group after 12 weeks of on-the-job experience. And the StarTrainer group attained required performance levels 41 percent faster than the control group.
"A lot of the stuff on the market is focused on knowledge transfer," says Byrnes, "but it doesn't have a feel for real-life material. We're giving call agents the experience of what it's going to be like on the floor, without risking customer relationships." —J.B.