Title: Effective Communication Skills for Technical Support Staff
Designed by: Waterman’s Training, The Abbey Brewery, Market Cross, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, SN16 9AS
Phone: 01666 825123 Fax: 01666 825233
Star is a leading provider of technology services to mid-sized business and public sector organisations in the UK. Since Star was founded, productive and mutually rewarding relationships with its clients have been central to the business. It provides client service of the highest quality and aims to build long-term partnerships. Our client operations department, the first point of contact for incoming customer calls, has grown in parallel with the business and now has a staff of more than 50.
When I joined the company, the challenge was to constantly measure the call quality from the client operations team, and to ensure the team was fully trained in all aspects of the customer care element of their role. At that time, Star was a five-year-old company making the transition from a small entrepreneurial business into a larger organisation and, like any growing organisation, it needed to establish effective systems and processes that supported this ongoing growth.
Within the client and technical operations team there are two main groups. The first are direct, customer-facing staff who have worked in departments such as client services and the help desk areas. These are Star’s key customer contact points through which services are implemented and supported.
The second group are technical engineers, the next line of contact for customers, providing problem-solving and technical trouble-shooting. This group has a very technical bias and previously had very little training in telephone or communication skills. What would not have worked for these staff was a generic ‘telephone communications’ course. Star needed something that specifically met the needs of the technical support team, and approached the training in a way that would work for them.
When Star first met the Waterman’s team, we were encouraged by the fact that they had developed similar courses for a number of major corporations and clearly had an understanding of the dynamics of technical learning.
In some cases, clients calling us with a technical query are not technical themselves, and we required a different style of communication to deliver the subject matter to them. With the help of Waterman’s, what we were trying to achieve was a more upbeat, interesting, positive style of communication.
Before running the effective communications course, we involved the team leaders at an early stage and ran a pilot programme. This effectively meant they sat through the course before their team did. Each department provided real-life operational and technical situations for use in role-playing, so that the learning was as relevant as possible.
The courses were very participative with a high degree of group work and rehearsing. The team leaders were completely engaged and bought into the ideal of the training. Running the pilots provided useful feedback, adaptations were applied, and the courses began to run in earnest, with full support from the team leaders.
Client operational and technical people often have specific learning styles, and for our technical team, auditory and visual was a common style. This means they are process-orientated, logical and communicated in factual language. Waterman’s had to tailor the course delivery to ensure the material was acknowledged, understood, and retained by this group of attendees – and tailor the content to begin from a baseline of this style of communication.
One of the things both Star and Waterman’s were keen on was reviewing the effectiveness of the training. Before each course, all attendees were assessed while communicating with customers. Waterman’s designed a call-monitoring sheet for this task that has now become an ongoing part of Star’s quality process across the department. The same review was repeated a month after the completion of the course, and continues to be carried out on an ongoing basis.
As part of the training process, we have developed our on-going quality measurement process and started a major culture change. I do not believe introducing such a change would have been anywhere near as successful if we had not had such high-quality training and consultancy. We have effectively broken down existing prejudices and processes and given staff the chance to see the benefits of the new system for themselves.
The feedback after the training events has been extremely positive. Each attendee came away with improved techniques and new ideas to put into practice. We used the call review, based on the call-monitoring sheet, 30 days after the courses were completed. Star’s target had been a 10 per cent improvement in call quality, and we actually achieved 16 per cent. We were very pleased, but the fact that this training programme enabled us to put a whole performance management review system in place, which will have long-term benefits for the company, is just as important to me.
The team leaders are now training and coaching their staff on an ongoing basis. We are in the early stages of creating a ‘coaching culture’, which is one of my ultimate goals. The training Waterman’s provided was of excellent quality, but what it also left behind, in terms of process and culture change, has been immensely valuable.
Value for money *****
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Key: disappointing * excellent *****