of the learning experience is as good as, or better than the face-to-face alternative. Or, of course, e-learning and face-to-face can sit side-by-side in a blended learning solution.
Customer service skills, competencies and behaviours can be developed in the training room, in the office, and in the contact centre, but a key advantage of online courses is that they give employees the golden opportunity to talk to each other - in a structured way - about the knowledge, skills and competencies that make the difference for customers.
E-learning participants often relate online discussions to what they are actually doing in their customer service role. Participants can take more control of their learning and can continue to engage with colleagues long after the learning outcomes have been achieved, via online forums and/or social media sites.
Employees have many competing demands on their time, both at work and at home. See it from a participant's point of view. Design your e-learning around the factors that will maintain the progress of your participants. As a general rule, the activities that will remain on an individual's agenda over any length period of time have to include one or more of the following characteristics:
Essential: If my training programme is a compulsory part of my development activities at work, then I will certainly remain engaged. However, there should be other reasons that really motivate me to become wholeheartedly involved.
Enjoyable: It is a positive experience which I look forward to, and in those moments when I am deciding which of a range of competing demands to engage in, I'll often choose the learning, because I know I'm going to enjoy it and find it rewarding.
Structured: If there is a clear, predetermined structure to my learning programme, such as completion dates and times, or I can access the learning at certain times of the week, then my mind is predisposed to expect the learning to take place. Any doubts I might have are lessened by my assumption that I will do the learning.
Social: People are social beings, and we all enjoy activities where we relate to other people. If we can actually make friends through our learning, then we will be motivated to keep returning to the discussion forum or to see the latest news about the ideas and activities of our new-found online friends.
Supportive: We need support from the friends we meet online, together with our online tutor and even the technology and resources that are made available can bring ideas and concepts to life and friends are made,
Levels of learning...
Learning is not, for participants, simply a matter of taking on a body of knowledge. Yes, there are important knowledge requirements that you need to get across in the programme - such as how employees should deliver their service to customers, how to handle problems, and so on. But participants need to develop their own knowledge and understanding to higher levels.
One can identify three stages of learning that typically exist for participants as they go through an e-learning course. At the lowest level they are engaging in shallow learning, becoming familiar with the use of the system, and introducing themselves to their online tutor, if there is one, and the other participants. They begin to learn, taking on new knowledge and concepts.
Next, at a deeper level, they progress in their learning, beginning to understand how to apply facts and concepts in order to analyse situations. For example, they may use or even generate a behavioural model for dealing with a difficult customer or colleague in a customer service situation. Much of the learning at this deeper level comes through the sharing of information and ideas with others - online collaboration.
At the highest, profound level of learning, key questions are asked - by participants and online tutors. The learning, knowledge, concepts and ideas are now applied to totally new contexts, and participants at this level will challenge previously accepted ideas and assumptions, creating new meaning and collaborating. For example, participants might discover innovations in their customer service delivery for their organisations.
Moving through the stages from shallow to profound learning maintains momentum for participants and enables the organisation to gain real and measurable benefits from the learning programme.
So consider: is it time to institute a full e-learning or blended programme to achieve those inspirational yet challenging service objectives.