L&D Best Practices: March/April 2013

Strategies to strengthen customer service and role-based professional development.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

 

By Dave Fogleman, Vice President, Sprint University

Sprint University’s customer service training strategy drives a holistic approach to improve business performance and the customer experience. Innovative learning and performance solutions are key elements of unprecedented results in customer satisfaction for Sprint. In the 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) study, Sprint was recognized as No. 1 among all national carriers and most improved in customer satisfaction, across all 47 industries, over the last four years. Sprint University’s learning and performance approach has been instrumental to that exceptional outcome.

Balanced, Operational Approach

Until about four years ago, our customer service training solutions were often reactive, addressing a specific need and featuring classic classroom training. This approach required learners to remember most of what occurred in class and then find ways to apply it on the job. To improve this approach to training, Sprint University took a balanced, operational approach with performer support tools, knowledge management, and content development and delivery.

Now, Sprint University leverages patented performer support tools that enable our specialists to access the right information and tools at the right time to support the customer they are assisting. These tools typically are accessed multiple times on each call to support process and policy solutions, and they are used in both new hire orientation and with live customer calls. Because of the capability of these tools, Sprint University can focus on teaching learners about the tools, solutions found in our knowledge management databases, and driving a satisfying customer relationship, versus lecture-based training built around memorization.

Knowledge management solutions also are used to help our business partners establish workflow processes as they work through projects such as our recent billing system implementation. Knowledge management platforms have become a key tool for our business partners to inform employees, as well as drive collaboration and feedback around business practices. This also benefits Sprint University because it allows development teams to share content across business channels and eliminates the need for multiple content versions. This concept has reduced labor cost and improved cycle and maintenance times.

Owning the Learning Experience

Since much of the “how to” information is provided by performer support tools, the new hire program now focuses more on providing an outstanding customer experience. While addressing ways to improve the customer experience, we also have moved toward learners owning their learning experience. This is accomplished by promoting discovery learning and ensuring that different learning styles and preferences are recognized and addressed. Within this environment, learners can personalize the learning experience in a way that works best for them. This shift has evolved the role of trainers from lecturers to facilitators of learning and coaching, all while maintaining a consistent eye on performance.

A key factor in our success is strong alignment and partnership with the business units. By understanding the business strategies and opportunities, Sprint University can offer solutions to optimally support business needs. This was not always as easy as it sounds. Our early conversations around performance were challenging because our business unit partners weren’t sure why the training organization wanted to engage in operational and business issues. By first establishing business and operational credibility through business acumen that influenced operational and strategic decisions, Sprint University was able to demonstrate how performer support tools, knowledge management platforms, and new approaches to training content and delivery could help move the performance needle. Thus, if you are looking to demonstrate this connection between training and customer service improvements, you first must sit around the operations table with your partners to understand the issues they are facing and establish trust and credibility within the business unit. Then you are ready to introduce learning solutions that help improve their key business metrics.

ROLE-BASED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

By Hariraj Vijayakumar, Global Head, Cognizant Academy, Cognizant

The greatest strength of a company such as Cognizant is its people. Their expertise and ability to consistently deliver outstanding work are instrumental in driving the company’s growth. It is, therefore, imperative for the company to facilitate continuous learning to enable its employees to perform their roles more effectively and efficiently, and be better prepared to take on bigger roles in the organization in response to the demands of growth. At the same time, smart and forward-looking organizations must transform high-potential employees into next-generation leaders.

In the last 16 years, Cognizant, a global technology and consulting services company, has grown from 1,000 employees to more than 150,000 employees across five continents—at times even hiring approximately 20 people every business hour. While presenting both an opportunity and a challenge, this explosive growth has made planned career development and role enablement, all aligned with the company’s corporate vision and objectives, a strategic imperative. The key is to improve customer satisfaction by right-skilling employees and optimizing operational metrics through the right role pyramid.

Role-Based Approach

Cognizant has developed an integrated talent management program that augments role-based professional development for employees. Here, employees are provided with an individualized development plan that not only supports their long-term career goals, but also helps fulfill value and competency-based development goals, as well as corporate operational goals.

Named Cognizant Career Architecture (CCA), the program maps individual roles (and not designations) and brings in transparency in role-based expectations, goal-setting, and competencies required to achieve these goals, while also helping employees tailor the learning and development needs to accomplish their goals and further their careers.

The program enables employees to clearly visualize their career paths and provides for a structured and time-bound development roadmap based on the competencies required for performing various roles so as to prepare the employee ahead of time. The program also helps the organization to identify the right candidates for the right roles.

CCA’s development sequence follows a three-step process:

  1. Assess the skill and competency status of employees
  2. Identify skill gaps
  3. Provide development plans that align with employees’ performance goals

Cognizant currently has more than 150 tracks and 1,600-plus operational roles.

Planned Professional Development

CCA was launched in 2008 as a pure developmental framework. It since has evolved into an integrated talent framework and offers transparent growth and professional development opportunities to employees. Employees are tagged to the right roles by their managers and are able to view in the company’s enterprise systems the various skills required to fulfill those roles and the relevant learning interventions. Several evaluation tools such as employee self-rating, supervisor rating, and internal and industry-standard external assessments are used to assess or benchmark employees’ skill proficiency levels.

CCA lets employees arrive at a development plan based on the gap analysis vis-à-vis their current roles. Development plans are strengthened further by aligning them with employees’ performance goals for the year. The impact of the development activities undertaken is evaluated during the subsequent performance appraisal cycle. What sets this initiative apart is that it goes further to leverage assessments of workplace behaviors to enhance individual plans, as well as the supporting developmental interventions. The personality traits assessed are mapped to the organizational behavioral competency framework and typical responsibilities for each given role. This input drives the customization of employees’ individual learning plans. Further customization is carried out across the organization’s various business units.

Another special feature of the program is its high-touch nature that gives more control to the employees over a range of activities, from assessing themselves to chalking out their development path and customizing their learning plans based on their skill gaps, aspirations, and business goals. The program also provides all required support to employees in terms of learning and developmental interventions, which include training programs, coaching programs, and experiential learning.

Measuring Success and Learning

The majority of Cognizant employees use development plans on a regular basis. The program is evaluated every quarter on four aspects:

  1. Processes
  2. Systems
  3. Content
  4. Perception

User-connect sessions, project feedback, change management drives, and surveys periodically evaluate the reach and absorption of the program.

Projects where employees were role-enabled through this program have shown better “on-budget” and “on-time” performance compared to projects where the employees had not yet been role-enabled. Clearly defined roles and related skill expectations and enablement have helped employees become role-ready and thus increased internal talent mobility.

For the learning adoption to increase, it is critical that employees link the learning and development to the day-to-day work. Processes and systems form the backbone of implementation and can sway the success of implementation either way. The processes, therefore, are simple and in the self-service mode as much as possible, while the systems support the processes through automation.

Beyond the Basics

In response to the need to develop formalized leadership training, Cognizant has developed the “Life-Cycle Intervention Series” exclusively for employees who are transitioning from one career stage to the next. An example of this is the enablement of an individual performer stepping into a supervisory role for the first time. Here, an intervention named “Embark” ensures a smooth transition. There are similar well-defined interventions that are designed and delivered as learning experiences over several weeks to the employee. These interventions are designed to engage the employee’s manager and have clear “application of learning” components built into them. Additionally, there are three dedicated tracks—Executive Essentials, Executive Excellence, and MPower—to help strengthen the managerial and leadership capability of employees, ranging from middle managers to emerging leaders.

The MPower track, meant specifically for the role of managers and above, invites Cognizant subject matter experts to share their work experiences and perspectives on strategic topics, and connects managers across the globe. Attendees join from various geographies using video-based learning tools and ask questions, gaining valuable experience-based insights through peer learning.

The Takeaways

For organizations looking to implement role-based development programs, the first step is to scope them out as an integrated talent management framework rather than limiting them to a standalone learning and development framework. The next step is to clearly define and articulate the various tracks and roles within the organization. From there, the organization should establish a procedure to thoroughly evaluate each employee’s skills, both in the context of the current role, as well as the skills required to grow into the next role. In addition, organizations should:

  • Develop a comprehensive employee capability profile to identify the right skills for the job
  • Provide the right job rotation and enrichment opportunities to employees
  • Implement planned workforce development
  • Manage operational metrics through a focus on roles versus designations
  • Provide for planned and structured learning aligned to performance goals
  • Enable right recruitment decisions based on role expectations in terms of skills and proficiencies

Gone are the days when leadership meant wielding unilateral power. Present-day leaders exist at all levels and are called upon to mobilize people to face challenges that require new habits, new values or priorities, and new ways of doing business. Training and leadership are about getting things done by bringing people together and by inspiring them to take responsibility and do the best work they can.

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