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The following article was contributed by Ray Hansell CEO of RMH Teleservices

Do You Train'em or Brain'em?

Funny as that question sounds from our experience in building a dozen call centres and consulting with dozens of others it certainly seems like managers do seem to fall on either side of these two options. In other words, either organisations place more emphasis on their processes or on their people!

Soft Skills

Funny as that question sounds from our experience in building a dozen call centres and consulting with dozens of others it certainly seems like managers do seem to fall on either side of these two options.

In other words, either organisations place more emphasis on their processes or on their people.

Process-Oriented executives tend to "Brain'em" or figuratively knock-em up side their heads when their people just can't seem to grasp what appears to be a straightforward work process.

We've found over the years, that process-oriented executives would share their frustration with us regarding their employees by saying You would think that they could at least ----(fill out the rest for yourself).

In these cases, we usually would discover a lack of training programs in place particularly with softer skills like selling and servicing which to a large extent explained the work performance problems and also yielded frustration from the employees point of view.

Conversely consultations with a number of People-Oriented employers, where process issues were the problem, proved much easier to address than the former. Typically the representatives were being treated better by people-oriented employers and training was regarded more importantly by management who showed more empathy for employees and consequently an openness to invest more in training their personnel.

The following story chronicles our experience in training at our call centre firm which we started in 1985 with a dozen reps and grew over a fifteen year period to thousands of employees in a dozen call centres.

Training Case Study Training with a Twist of Humour

At RMH Teleservices one of the distinguishing differentiators of our call centre company from the very start was the training we provided to our call centre representatives. Back in the 70's and 80's it was fairly common for call centre managers to train new personnel by simply handing out a script and pointing to a desk with a phone.

In addition to a conversation guide/script reps may have received training on the products and the companies they represented so they could answer common questions that were anticipated. Contrary to this approach and based on our experience managing various corporate training functions, my partner and I created a soft skills training program that included skills like listening, questioning, and presenting features and benefits.

As a by-product of our training programs we were generally recognised for providing superior training to our representatives and the results they produced both quantitatively and qualitatively (as measured via monitored calls) were typically superior to competitive alternatives.

One of the more interesting training challenges at RMH was that as direct marketers moved from direct mail to using teleservices they frequently required tighter use of scripts as a way to measure progress similar to the way they tested direct mail. This created a problem in that the implementation of tightly adhered scripts was a challenge particularly if the people were trained to respond with soft skills like using open-ended questions.

Searching for ways to adhere to the script process while still offering superior performances we determined was a similar challenge faced by actors and actresses. Professional actors trained in modern techniques offered a great insight to us. While being mired to the recitation of a prepared script, frequently the very best performers inject such life into their performances they inspire us - making us laugh or cry on cue.

Which of these techniques could we employ to create inspirational performances in the call centre?

Well, certainly listening is still needed but also pacing skills to match the customer as well as voice articulation. Many of the skills we taught were introduced with humour. For example, pacing skills were conducted with a supervisor that wore a police uniform and pulled to the side of the road anyone caught speaking over a certain speed limit of say 80 words per minute in response to slower speaking customers.

Today at MaraStar Communications, our training and communications company that produces animated software programs, we offer even more efficient solutions by producing short simple training cartoons that address problems like pacing.

While it was generally frowned on in the past, today the use of humour to diffuse tension and to get adult learners to open up their minds to accepting new ways to behave is now common in corporate training circles.The evolution of corporate training that started with lecture-centred recitation of product facts in the 70's and 80's has now matured. Companies now employ rich robust content that often integrates humour into the mix and consequently is a more interesting experience enabling employees to improve their performances and delight their customers.

By training employees with engaging humorous content we found from our experience that organisations can achieve more positive results for their clients while creating a more positive work experience for their employees.

So what are the major "TAKEAWAYS" from our experience as call centre operators as well as service providers to the call centre industry Well here's a few rules to keep in mind

Rule #1 "Train'em DON'T Brain'em" If you want to maximise performance and keep the people who do the performing happy: It's always better to provide them with the appropriate training to do the job rather then punish them for NOT knowing how.

Rule #2 "ENTERTRAIN Them" Employ humour in training via puzzles, animations, games and other engaging venues to capture the attention of adult learners and watch how it captivates their interest and improves their participation in learning.

Rule #3 "Positive Approaches Yield Positive Results" Using positive approaches in training usually takes more time and money in the short run but pays off in the long run with the benefits derived from a positive workforce.

In summary, investments in providing comprehensive corporate training is like Taking The High Road to maximising employee performance versus the Low Road via punishment - One that yields a much more satisfying harvest for all the constituents involved.

In a nutshell: Don't Brain'EM Train'EM!!!!

Ray Hansell has been involved in the Teleservices and Direct Marketing Industry for over 25 years. He was the CEO of RMH Teleservices, an international call centre operation that he co-founded with his partner MarySue Lucci in the mid 1980's and took public in 1996. During this same period, he also performed consulting services for dozens of Fortune 500 companies regarding their in house call centre operations. Currently, he is the co founder of MaraStar Communications, a direct marketing software company founded in 2000. MaraStar produces animated training and communications products that are used in training and motivating employees particularly in the call centre industry.

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