By Margery Weinstein
In an effort to continuously improve member service levels, AAA – The Auto Club Group faced a learning challenge: It needed a simulation that would address the specific service issues its customer-facing employees handle. The company decided the best way to meet this learning need was to develop its own custom simulation, says AAA – The Auto Club Group Vice President and Chief Learning Officer Daniel Hill.
The program begins with a screen entitled, “Customer Interaction Model,” which explains how and why to establish a “caring climate” with customers. Employees are shown the right sequence of events in customer interactions, including the need to begin with an open attitude that allows the employee to solicit feedback from customers, understand their needs, thoughtfully reply and close the interaction, and make customers aware of the company’s other products. Participants can move their computer’s mouse over icons on the screen to learn more about any of the components of this interaction model.
The simulation was customized to meet AAA – The Auto Club Group’s needs, with the technology enabling customer service agents to practice each component of the interaction model. One part of the simulation, for instance, asks participants to watch a video of a customer service interaction, and to identify which customer service principle was ignored. Learners are able to replay the scenario as often as they like.
To reinforce the customer interaction model simulation, the company required that the field managers observe and rate each of their employee’s face-to-face and phone interactions with live customers four times a year (one per quarter). The participants have to achieve a score of 85 percent or higher to pass, and the results tie to the employee’s annual performance appraisal that affects pay and incentives. To assist the field managers in this process, AAA – The Auto Club Group created an online observation checklist that automates the tracking and reporting process.
This checklist, which double-checks that lessons were effectively learned in the simulation, asks managers to assess specific points such as whether the service agent applies the customer care greeting by having a “smile in their voice” and a positive attitude and says the customer’s name; demonstrates effective listening skills and acknowledges the situation; navigates efficiently through interactions and explains breaks in the conversation; consistently demonstrates the ability to handle emotional customers; demonstrates knowledge of AAA products, anticipates the customer’s needs, creates alternatives, and offers solutions; demonstrates ability to up-sell and cross-sell products; and properly closes interactions.
An online “Field Employees Observation History” page allows field managers to make detailed comments about employees. One critical observation, for example, notes that “Karen did not send the prospect over to a sales agent” after an interaction with a customer who called to request membership and a Triptik. The manager also notes that Karen may have left the customer feeling ignored, making note of “long breaks with little interaction.” The field manager also offered the positive feedback that Karen “knows travel and insurance very well and completed the transaction” and that she offered a “good close on the transaction.”
The simulation and the online scoring allow managers to determine the training individual agents need to improve. In the case of Karen, the manager might opt to reiterate the importance of establishing a caring environment in which customers do not feel ignored, and might even suggest or require her to repeat that module of the simulation.
The custom simulation and the online checklist program—which works in tandem with the simulation—results in nearly foolproof training. “We know exactly how proficient employees are during training, and then how well they are able to apply the skills back on the job. This avoids ‘flavor of the month’ training and reinforces and solidifies the lessons taught by the simulation,” says Hill.
After customer service employees complete the simulation and are given online ratings for how well they apply those lessons on the job, a computer-based system provides AAA executives with information on how well each field manager is training employees. It tells executives what percentage of the manager’s employees completed the training, what percentage of those employees passed, and the average year-to-date score of those employees. The system also assigns a percentage that reflects how close the manager came to meeting his or her business goal. Executives can see whether, based on the numbers, the training that was provided to employees, and the manager’s oversight, resulted in the business goal being met, exceeded, or whether the manager fell short.
Hill says simulations that work with other training methods to create high-performing employees is something his company will see more of. “I believe system simulation technology has had the biggest impact over the last 10 years and will continue to have a big impact,” he says. “The reason for this is that simulation is considered the highest form of learning short of performing the actual job. It can be done in a safe and controlled environment. Performance can be observed and measured. And this type of learning is perceived to have the highest value by the learners.”