Guest Post: Why shadowing doesn’t work: proper training in a call center setting

I recently left a part time job with great hours and a great location because of bad training, and it wasn’t the first time. Training can make or break a candidate. Systems knowledge and confidence are key when speaking to customers. Why then do companies so often use shadowing as a training method when it is doomed to fail?

I have been working in call center settings for over 18 years, and it never ceases to amaze me how companies who use shadowing expect a new candidate to learn complicated and convoluted computer software by just watching someone else. This is especially difficult for the new candidate because the person training them is often tied down by call center metrics such as quotas and monitoring scores. The trainer does not want to be penalized by management for not meeting these metrics, so they hurry through the training process.

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As an example, let’s examine the job I just resigned from. The trainer I sat with, although very nice, did not take time to explain the several software systems she was using, but instead she hurriedly typed up an auto claim while an insured on her line was reporting a recent auto accident. The trainer had not only a windows based database, but a DOS based ( yes, companies still use these dinosaurs), and a computer phone system. I have used all of these in previous jobs, but each company writes their own version. Her desktop was utterly cluttered with open files. None of this was conducive to learning.

I do want to say here that I have run my own genealogy business, and I also write the blog gonewiththewheat.net. I have worked in health insurance, communications and banking. I usually pick things up within a day or two. I have administered death benefits and pensions. But all of these, aside from my own business, utilized proper training techniques.

By that afternoon, she had me typing while she talked, as she pointed frantically to each field I was to fill out, as she jumped ahead to the next page. The windows database she was using required scrolling up and down, and side to side on each page (not exactly user friendly). Pages were also missing important templates for pertinent information, so that I had to “remember” to include this information.

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The most difficult part of the claim intake process was deciphering convoluted accident details into concise, adjustor approved notations. All this without any specific training on just how this was to be done.   By day three, I was taking phone calls, as she sat next to me, again frantically pointing. However, she was at most times distracted. She kept telling me how great I was doing, but I knew better. I was also facing being sent to the “next department” where I would have to start all over again on a new system. By day four, she pretty much left me on my own. At complete panic mode, I promptly quit rather than face another day of this ridiculous charade.

If companies would only utilize a proven method of combination classroom training and shadowing, I think they would retain more new candidates. Step-by-step systems training using slides and scenarios (but please, no role playing-a pet peeve of mine!) would go far in the making of successful, confident candidates.

So the next time you call a 1-800 number, think about the person on the other end of the line, and what outdated software they are using, or what comfort level they have in using that software to assist you. Chances are they don’t have a clue, if they have been at that company for less than six months. Then please, cut them some slack.


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I began my gluten free and dairy free journey just over a year ago. I would like to help others navigate this daunting but often rewarding path with tips, recipes, ideas and support. You can reach me @ gonewiththewheat.net or directly by email at glutenfreelady16@gmail.com.

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