A telecom giant was losing 25% of its customer base per year. When customers’ promotional offers ended, they’d call to cancel service. The call center agents either processed the call as a routine cancellation, or offered a substitute promotion. When that discount ended customers canceled yet again, and the vicious cycle continued.
The client requested a training program that would teach those agents how to sell its services based not on price, but on value. If the training resulted in a 5% increase in customers retained per region, it would be pronounced a success.
My blended-learning design needed to recognize and respect this tech-savvy, sophisticated audience of multi-taskers. In order to ensure the training (a combination of pre-work, instructor-led training, and an online situation simulator) resonated with them, I turned to Malcolm Knowles’ six assumptions of the adult learner.
1. I let the learners know up front why the course mattered to them. The classroom portion of the training kicked off with a trivia game. While engaging in the heat of competition, participants were also learning the sobering costs and consequences of failing to retain a customer.
2. I gave the learners the power to direct their own learning. This started at the design phase, by assembling a group of target audience representatives to gather their input and learn what they wanted to see in the course.
One major feature we emerged with was an online retention simulator, where learners could apply their new retention skills. But in addition to assuming the online persona that represented their current job role, they had the choice to explore within the context of two job roles separate from their own.
And rather than handing out boilerplate job aids in the classroom portion of the training, I had learners create their own, based on those aspects of the training that resonated with them personally.
3. I had learners draw on their own experience. As classroom pre-work, I required each learner to submit in writing his or her most challenging retention situation. At the end of the training they saw these same submissions, this time in the form of role plays. Role plays are sometimes disparaged for being shallow and one-dimensional. But these resounded with relevance because they were derived from the learners’ actual experiences.
In addition, I pulled actual customer recordings from the call center (carefully protecting reps’ identities) so that learners could analyze what techniques worked to retain a customer and what didn’t. By reworking calls imported directly from their own environment, learners could try out their new skills in a format that also used their experience.
4. I presented real-life situations to induce their readiness to learn. I provided videotapes of a number of enthusiastic coworkers describing how they turned a cancelling customer into a retained customer. In some cases, the employee even managed to sell that customer additional services! These videos were part of an online resource that fired learners’ imaginations and opened them to the possibilities that the training could unlock.
5. I presented their new retention skills in a real-life context. The online simulator was designed with the customer situations that learners were most likely to encounter on the job. They could navigate it based on their present knowledge, or they could access a learning portal that explained retention skills. This gave them an environment, as close to real life as we could recreate, in which to practice without negative consequences.
6. I shifted the training focus from external motivators to internal motivators. Instead of tying course completion to promotions and salary increases, I emphasized job satisfaction and employee self-esteem. The common theme of the training was: YOU make the difference, since they are the primary and often sole interface that a customer has with the client. I positioned their individual “Retention Hero superpowers” as the deciding factor whether a customer canceled or stayed. As the Hero ranks swelled with each individual course completion, their success stories were posted to an online resource bank via videos, personal essays, and actual call recordings.
And the final results? My client tracked an average 40% increase in customer retention, with one region measuring a 70% increase—considerably exceeding that original 5% target goal!