Spaced Repetition Is Disrupting Traditional Customer Service Approaches

The importance of a consumer-centric contact center has become more significant in recent years. Consumers want and expect high-quality experiences, especially when seeking help from agents. If they don't receive this, it can have a knock-on effect on many factors, including customer satisfaction and retention rates. The increased use of the internet also allows negative reviews to spread faster and to a wider audience, significantly damaging an organization's reputation.

It is common for contact centers to have key performance indicators and specific metrics that are measured to demonstrate success and efficiency. These include customer satisfaction scores (CSAT), first-call resolutions (FCR), average handling times (AHT), and more. But where should contact centers start when trying to achieve these?

Front-line customer service representatives are your customers' first point of contact. They have the responsibility of delivering a high-quality experience, so investment in improving their knowledge and skills is vital. In particular, it is product and service knowledge that plays a key role in delivering great customer experiences. Your agents should know specific details about the company's products and services to be able to resolve issues and answer queries, while being able to demonstrate good communication skills.

Product knowledge doesn't come naturally, however, and it takes time to learn about multiple products. Certain industries are also faster-paced than others (such as technology and IT services), therefore it is imperative to keep up to date with product and organizational changes. The way to combat knowledge decay among agents is with systematic training as opposed to a one-off training session. One-off training sessions are great to initially introduce employees to new pieces of information, but if this information isn't reinforced over time, then it is just forgotten. Research from Unum suggests it can take between 12 and 28 weeks for an employee to reach the optimum productivity level, therefore consistent training is essential to reinforce the information learned in the first training session.

There are many ways to approach training to improve agents' product knowledge. Agents having hands-on experience with the product they're selling will make a significant difference, as this ensures familiarity with the features. Another method is leveraging more experienced agents. As part of the onboarding process, experienced agents can help coach and monitor live calls. Monitoring calls and having a support system of more experienced agents will give new staff more confidence. The combination of confidence and good product knowledge is key to increasing efficiency within contact centers and meeting goals like reductions in AHT.

How Spaced Repetition Can Help

Interactive, engaging approaches to training are ideal when introducing information to agents, but getting them to successfully retain and apply this knowledge is the challenge. The key to reinforcing knowledge is the scientific learning method of spaced repetition. The theory is that newly introduced and more difficult information is presented more frequently while older and less difficult information is shown less frequently to make full use of the psychological spacing effect. Using this to reinforce what is initially taught in onboarding or classroom training sessions will effectively move important information, whether it be product knowledge or customer service training, to agents' long-term memory, helping to improve their call performance.

HomeAway Europe used spaced repetition in its training approach. As a result, customer service representatives were able to keep up to date and informed about changing processes and subscription plans, ensuring they delivered excellent customer service. Due to the continual training administered, employees were able to achieve first-call resolutions faster, reducing total call handling times by five seconds per call. Further pre and post-assessments helped to consolidate knowledge and confirm improved knowledge retention after spaced repetition training.

The most common way to use spaced repetition within a contact center is microlearning platforms, that can deliver content straight to agents' mobile phones. According to research by Aberdeen, contact center agents spend up to 25 percent of their time idle. Making use of this idle time is imperative to the center's operational efficiency as well as the agents' knowledge. The convenience and accessibility of mobile learning means that agents could be logging onto their learning platforms during this time break and reinforcing bite-sized pieces of knowledge that they could use on upcoming calls. In addition to this, creating a library of online resources can offer on-demand performance support for agents. Having manuals and fact sheets available in one touch can help them reinforce knowledge and carry out self-directed learning at their own pace.

Spaced repetition is a scientifically proven learning method that is shown to increase knowledge retention, so it makes sense for the contact center industry to take advantage of this. Systematic training using this technique can help reinforce knowledge over time and increase agents' confidence while talking to consumers. Overall, this helps centers meet important metrics, such as reductions in AHT and reaching FCR. Meeting these KPIs helps to increase customer satisfaction and retention, as your employees are seen as product experts who can make convincing sales conversations and handle customer concerns effectively. Highly knowledgeable agents will find ease in building strong relationships with customers, which is integral in expanding your customer base and your organizations' reputations as a whole.

Cassie Walker is a marketing executive at Wranx, providers of a microlearning platform that uses spaced repetition and certainty-based marking assessments to improve employee knowledge and competence across a range of industries.