With only so many training dollars to go around, those who need to improve the knowledge and skills of their customer service and sales employees must make some choices: send the employees out to a public seminar, train them together in class, or have them learn on their own in an e-learning environment. What's the best choice?
It depends on what you want to accomplish, your budget, the number of people to be trained, and how mission-critical the information or skill is to your organization. Let's take them one at a time:
Public seminars are great for companies who only need to train a few people, and who need to build awareness of a topic or skill. They are short, relatively inexpensive, and if the seminar is near your location, there are no travel costs to incur. For example, SkillPath has a one-day customer service seminar that's $149 per person; Fred Pryor/CareerTrack has a one-day sales seminar for $195 per person. Both of these provide information on basic techniques, approaches, and skills.
But there are drawbacks to public seminars: the course is mostly generic—it's not geared specifically to your business—and there's little opportunity to practice what you learn as it relates directly to your job. When it comes to communication skills, sufficient practice and on-the-job reinforcement are critical to changing communication habits developed over the years. So while public seminars are good tools for building awareness, they are not as good at changing behavior as other methods.
Training in Class
Although more expensive than public seminars, there are two main advantages of classroom training: content can be tailored specifically for the participants with examples relevant to their job, and the classroom environment provides for co-workers to share best-practices and build team understanding.
For example, The Telephone Doctor has a 4-hour workshop on customer service training for $2,900 plus travel & expenses. Back-end reinforcement is available in the form of DVDs at $495 per course or $4,490 for the entire library of 18 courses. At 4 hours, the Telephone Doctor provides basic training for those new to customer service or those who have not had any type of training before.
Integrity Selling, has a different model whereby the trainer attends a 3−1÷2 day train-the-trainer certification course for $3,000 (plus travel & expenses), then delivers the course 1 hour a week over 8 weeks for $545.00 per person. Although it takes longer to complete the course, spreading the learning out over time gives participants an opportunity to practice and cement one skill before moving onto the next.
The main drawback of classroom training, in addition to cost, is that a number of employees need to be taken off the job at one time and this may impact the ability of your customers to reach you.
One of the biggest advantages of e-learning is that it's less disruptive to workflow. You can schedule a few people off the job at one time, leaving the rest to work with customers. Or, you can schedule training during non-peak times. Also, e-learning is great for a distributed workforce where it is not possible, or is too expensive, to bring everyone together for training. There are a variety of e-learning courses available, with some providing mainly awareness training, like public seminars do, and others having skill-building or simulation exercises to help change behavior. Of course, the awareness training is less expensive, and skill building more expensive due to the increased programming required, particularly if simulations are used.
SkillSoft is a popular provider of online training. For example, their 6 hour course on Preparing for Outbound Sales Calls teaches inside sales reps how to plan and be prepared to make an outbound call. The entire curriculum for inside sales reps is 24.5 hours. Courses aren't sold individually. The minimum order is $750 and includes 30 courses. Like the Telephone Doctor's DVD's above, this is a great solution for an in-house library for new hires to help them become aware of the general requirements of their job. As an example of something more specific, HDI offers a 10–12 online hour course for desktop support technicians to help them develop customer service skills to improve the customer's experience. The cost is $595 per user.
I'd like to propose a fourth approach: a blend of e-learning and classroom.
In the blended learning approach, participants take advantage of the staffing flexibility of online learning. During the online sessions, they learn about the skills they'll need on the job…just like awareness training. If you choose the right program-one that builds skill practice into the online component-and follow that up with classroom practice, then you've got the best of both worlds. And it can be an affordable way to go as well. For example, Impact Learning Systems' customer service skills training course or customer service course for technical support reps, each have 8 hours of online learning and 8 hours of classroom review followed by 21 days of on-the-job activities to transfer learning to the job. The cost is $149 for per student ($299 for technical support reps) plus $2,500 if a trainer travels to your location (plus travel & expenses). Or if you do the training yourself, the cost would be $149/$299 per student plus $995 for a trainer's kit (no certification required).
So what's the best answer?
You'll have to decide for yourself based on the criteria outlined earlier. But here are my two cents:
- For new hires, use public seminars, generic DVDs, or generic online learning to build general awareness. It's less expensive, and new hires need to know the basics and have a little job experience before the investment in more job-specific training makes sense.
- Once people have job experience, provide additional training that is relevant to their job by using blended learning. Embed job-specific exercises in the online training to make earning more engaging. To practice, classroom follow-up is invaluable with interactive group webinars a second best if people can't be brought into a classroom together. To top it all off, add job aids and on-the-job activities to transfer learning to the job.
What do you think is the best answer?