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Axonify Executive Interview

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect, Axonify

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Sheri Greenhaus, Managing Partner, CrmXchange met with JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect at Axonify, a micro-learning technology solution, to discuss how employers can ensure their staff is properly trained to use new communication methods.

Where do you see some differences in training as opposed to 3 or 4 years ago?

Many businesses that now employ remote workers are trying to figure out the best way to train.  Initially, in order to keep the business running, the tendency was to throw technology at it.  There wasn't time to really think through the issues.

As things settle down, businesses are starting to figure it out. My contention is that we haven't taken the time to meaningfully rethink the kind of learning and support experience that is required. We just moved it. We took what we used to do in a building - which was to either put people in a room and tell them things or put them in front of a computer and show them things for a period of time. We took that and put it on Zoom.

We haven’t really asked what kind of learning performance and support fit within this version of the workplace.  On top of that, we need to ask what technology will be of help.

Today, management is deciding if we should bring people back to the office, if they should be remote, or hybrid.  Once that decision is made, organizations need to redesign work and how learning and support fit into this shift.

We hear from managers and supervisors that they understand the need to work, train and engage frontline workers differently.  But costs need to be considered.  Do you think this is where the bottleneck to change is?

It's very similar as to why there is high turnover. Not enough investment is put into frontline employees. Organizations are throwing money in the wrong places. There are budget constraints.  Companies worried about where the economy's going next are not going to invest in something new. However, this leaves employees that are not as capable or productive as they can be.

In years past, it was thought that if we lost 10 people this week, we’d hire 10 more next week. You can’t do that now. I think it’s starting to bubble up a bit where people are seeing it is tangibly hurting the business if there was no investment in the turnover problem and the employee experience.

The CrmXchange audience agrees with you that we need to constantly train people. It’s not a one and done.  How do we get upper management to realize that? Are you seeing that organizations are using self-service technology to replace workers lost from the company?

Many are using chat or the new ChatGPT on the problem to close the gap. It is still being evaluated how best to use these technologies.  There are still moments when you need a live person, and we need to find those people.

Staffing numbers or what work people do has shifted.  Even if headcount is reduced with technology, you're still going to need to be able to attract and retain people with greater skills.  While technology takes care of some basic simple questions, when the customer reaches a live agent, it’s either going to be a very complicated conversation, or a very heated conversation. What is then required is a very capable agent.

For organizations that hire new staff, is there an optimal way to train? 

We have to embrace the reality of how people work. We are not built to retain large volumes of complex information in a short period of time.  So, the experience of onboarding somebody and getting them ready to do what is often a challenging, stressful, complex job is not easy.

Traditionally, we put people in 3 weeks of contact center training, bombard them with product information, process information, technology information and then soft skills.

We're basically fighting against human nature in a lot of ways. I like to look at how you bridge this person into the workplace so that you're not expecting them to get on the phone and handle the most complex conversations and calls right away. First, start with certain types of simpler calls, prove that they can handle those to mastery, then move on to more complex calls.

We also need to make sure that complex product information, and steps to execute different processes are well documented and easily referenced by anyone, even if they haven't worked there very long.

Perhaps the hardest and most meaningful part of the job is having a good conversation with a person – being able to understand the tone and requirements on the other side of the phone and react accordingly.

I might come in first with a dedicated trainer, go through a couple of weeks of structured activities, which include refining skills and core job capabilities such as: having a great conversation, compliance, etc. It’s getting the upfront items covered.

The challenge is, we then throw them into the operation with hopefully a good manager.  We reinforce the skills and measure their performance to see if they mastered a topic. Once they have, we move to more advanced knowledge or calls that are more advanced.

What about micro learning?

The number one rule of the contact center is to keep people on the phone.  That's where the money's made. When designing training, or in learning and development, we look at how we can leverage the minutes that people have in-between calls, as they start their shift, or right after they come back from their break.

We talk about micro learning activities in these moments that allow them to slowly, over time, refine their knowledge and reinforce things that are critically important. While 5 minutes between calls does not sound like a lot, these are 5 minutes of focused activity every single day. That adds up quickly. The whole concept of bite size, targeted, micro learning-based information matches up with human nature and the reality of your frontline worker.

With micro learning, are you looking at providing personalized information or information in the aggregate?

The key is, if you ask someone to engage in some type of learning and development activity, they have to get value out of it. Otherwise, they are not going to come back for the next one. That’s where the idea of personalization is critical.  The contact center has so much data about each individual's performance in terms of call time. There's so much going on that gives us a picture of what this person's performance looks like. You can then match that up with data that we collect by continuously engaging with an employee.

If I know I have 3 minutes between calls, I can have them log into the learning platform and in those three minutes they are given a few scenarios.  They use that as a practice opportunity to see if they can remember how to apply different parts of information. We also use that as an assessment tool to assess where that person is in their development. Then you marry that kind of data with their operational data, it gives us a picture of where this person needs help. It allows us to focus on something that they're particularly struggling with. The data story gives us the ability to personalize both the digital side of learning and support as well as human intervention with a manager.

What is the best way to measure the impact of any of their learning and development?

The simplest answer is business results. The impact of training, in every case, should be pointed in the direction of a particular problem. Most times that's going to be some type of operational business-related problems. Whether it's reducing call handling time, reducing escalations, increasing customer satisfaction score, whatever it may be.

The idea of continuous engagement and making learning and support part of people's jobs allows managers to watch them change over time through the data. And then, because their evolution is visible, we can marry that up with data about how their performance is changing.

By doing this, we can connect the dots to see if the training is having an impact. There are many factors that influence performance outcomes but when you measure all of these different elements of the employee experience you can get towards causation.

Customer satisfaction score isn't solely based on what the training team did, but we can carve that pie apart and say a select amount was based on the type of training experience that employees are having. It allows one to see if the investment being made is employee training and development is clearly paying for itself and more.  It also gives you an understanding of how a change in investment could actually damage our outcomes.

With the last couple of minutes that we have, can you talk about the modern learning ecosystem?

The simple way to look at it is getting beyond the traditional four walls of learning and development, because a lot of workplace training programs are inhibited by the fact that they just don't align with how work is done. With a contact center agent, they have minutes available in their day. It’s not optimal to take them off the phone for a 25-minute course.

Instead of being limited to time, we put courses in our learning management system, and agents need to come to us for learning, we need to look at how we flip that model and build what we do into their reality. The learning and development department needs to be the people that help employees solve meaningful problems every day. It’s the team that's going to help agents find the resource needed while on the phone with the upset customer.  We can help find the resource, or walk through the process that's going to help alleviate that issue and help the agent get a greater customer satisfaction score in that call, and then level that up to say there's still going to be things that are more complex and more difficult skills that are just harder to learn like the compliance side of training. 

The framework that I offer in the modern learning ecosystem concept is that it becomes the right solution at the right time. Instead of basing everything we do on structured opportunities, we insert things like referenceable resources, performance support, coaching, and practice opportunities, as part of the job and those can be accomplished in the everyday workflow without having to pull agents away for an extended period of time.

Axonify is a technology solution that is built around the reality of a frontline worker Axonify believes that frontline employees deserve to perform their best at work every day. They focus their efforts on making that happen—with a learning solution that actually helps someone do the right things every shift and do them to the best of their ability.