Go Deep - Learn Everything You Can
The broad theme of this phase of the launch is the actual work of learning and designing the program. This post covers the program scrutiny and building of the associated learning materials. It continues from the previous two steps listed in the first post of the Outsourced Program Launch series.
In keeping with our artisanal approach to program delivery, we make sure someone from management owns the project and understands as much as possible about the processes contained therein. Learning from the front ensures continuity of service delivery and avoids gaps in understanding that translate to ill-prepared staff and supervisors.
A clear, unimpeded view of the program in the round is the correct mentality for service delivery.
In this way, Lambent offers meaningful suggestions for process improvement through data sharing across relevant applications and for automation where possible. We use our experience with many deployments to create novel ways to handle the work, reduce effort, improve performance, and enhance quality.
Step 3 - Program Due Diligence
The point of diligence is to gather all the program information you need to build an accurate blueprint for launch. Outsourcing blueprints apply equally to freelance and managed teams alike. The blueprint governs the following:
- Selecting the right people for the job with skills and experience mapping
- Processes calculated to yield the right outcomes with work activity descriptions
- Quality instruction and job aids through clear process documentation
- Streamline program work with correctly specified and configured technology
This seemingly endless list of questions covers everything from time zones to staffing schedules to platform preference. Our checklist for back-office program launch includes the following categories:
Logistics covers the scheduling considerations like the timezones we need to support and shift schedules for the Philippines. We also check holiday schedules and seasonal ramps, which are common among our travel clients.
We nail down the team assignments and set a calibration schedule to learn the processes before building the tools for staffing and learning. Lastly, we finalize start and launch dates with the appropriate internal team meetings and a kick-off to introduce ourselves to our client.
In the negotiation step, we seek to understand a client’s process well enough to make a reasonable estimate of the costs we will incur for service delivery. On the other hand, process diligence goes deep enough to learn how much time we need to understand what the client expects us to accomplish on their behalf.
We map the main processes and expect to pull the supporting processes later as we build our documentation and learning material. To categorize the primary operations, we organize them according to the type of work we deliver: Online Marketing, Online Learning, Lead Generation, Customer Support, Data Collection/Processing/Management, or Outsourced QA. These get further refined according to the industry we’re supporting, like Travel, Logistics, Business Process Outsourcing, and so forth.
For each process we name, we map the process steps, document it in as much detail as possible, and specify metrics where appropriate.
We often complete the documentation detail when we dive into building the learning materials and conduct calibration with the client. This is because processes may be new or developed from ad hoc activities supporting internal execution rather than formal outsourced process.
When we document and design processes, we remain mindful of Michael E. Gerber’s dictum in The E-Myth Revisited:
Those mundane and tedious little things that, when done exactly right, with the right kind of attention and intention, form in their aggregate a distinctive essence, an evanescent quality that distinguishes every great business you’ve ever done business with from its more mediocre counterparts whose owners are satisfied to simply get through the day.
As back-office service providers, we often perform “those mundane and tedious little things.” Through clear documentation and a thorough understanding of the process, we commit to “do it exactly right.”
Hardware and Apps
Often, skilled handling of the tools for service delivery makes a massive difference in performance and quality.
As we work through this checklist, we clarify what applications we’ll use and if we supply the apps or the client has their own set of tools. If we plan to use client-specified applications, we need to identify these to develop training materials or locate staff with the appropriate experience or both.
We don’t enumerate all the configurations we need during the launch since many of these decisions happen in tandem with our process documentation and learning development.
When voice is a primary process, like customer support, lead generation, or lead management, the telephony platform delivers much of the program reporting for key performance indicators like call volume, call handling and call record dispositions.
Therefore, if the program has a telephony component, we clarify all the aspects of the telephony system, its configuration, and reporting early. This is important because international phone numbers take time to provision and, if a number needs to be transferred (resporg-ed), this can be tricky. Likewise, reports take time to develop as we hack through the performance and quality metrics.
Concerning online marketing, which covers everything from cold email campaigns to social media management, we account for a myriad of details.
We collect all the hosting information to avoid confusion down the road where multiple vendors control the client’s infrastructure. Knowing who is responsible for domain renewals and hosting fees is critical to a quick response when needed. We also check domains for blocklist issues that impede site traffic or reduce email campaign effectiveness. In this vein, we run a site audit to flag issues when we start any online marketing work for a client.
Depending on the assignment, we check social media sites to make sure their information is current. We also collect access information for all facets of the client’s online infrastructure, so we are ready to execute across Google or Bing analytics, paid advertising platforms, and the website itself.
For most of our projects, a CRM works as the central hub for marketing and lead information. Often it functions as a hub for managing the client relationship after the sale with help desk and billing information integrated along with inbound lead tracking and management.
We also prefer to automate as much as possible from the CRM for basic marketing tasks like information requests, pricing information, and the like. In our case, our CRM sends the Service Agreement (discussed in Part 1 of this series) when we schedule a discovery call.
Help Desk Configuration
Help desks are usually deployed for support projects, although we often use a help desk for internal task management on many of our programs. Essential metrics like service levels and escalation triggers, and support agent roles live in this portion of the launch process.
In general, we also use knowledge bases for projects. Knowledge bases work in tandem with help desks and are often part of the same app. The taxonomy for a knowledge base covers many of the same areas that help desk configuration requires. What are the support categories offered? What kinds of incidents does the program track? The knowledge base is where we detail support answers, which inform process mapping and learning material development.
Step 4 - Employee Profile & Learning Specification
At this juncture, the program is beginning to take shape. The client commits to the program, and we’ve spent time with her to learn the basics of her processes and the kinds of tools we need to launch and operate.
This information translates into an employee profile to define the skills and characteristics needed for the program. We also use the information to create our learning materials.
Employee Profile - Skills Map
If we’ve effectively described the work and the requisite tools, the corollary explains the skills needed to accomplish that work. We call that explanation the skills map. We break these down into three categories:
- Conceptual Skills - Conceptual skills are overarching personal characteristics and abilities that inform the work. We think of them as someone’s work IQ. Examples include attention to detail, customer-centricity, or individual initiative.
We can hone these, but the essential DNA for these skills must already reside with a candidate.
- Foundation - Foundation skills are basic work skills and range from application proficiency to broad program competency. Examples include English fluency for support agents, Google Sheets knowledge for data administrators, SEO keyword research for online marketers, or gatekeeper handling for outbound agents.
All of these are teachable but often require significant experience to reach mastery.
- Program Skills - Program skills are specific, usually combining application knowledge with client-mandated processes. Order tracking processes for back-office assistants, social media posting using client content guidelines, data collection parameters for survey agents are all program skills.
Program skills are taught as part of the program launch.
Our approach to learning specification is the same as our Foundation Learning design. Foundation courses cover common topics concepts like customer service, efficiency hacks, or data management best practices.
We base our methodology on Scott Young’s handy book, Ultralearning. He frames each learning effort with a set of questions, which we use to develop our learning outline.
…break down metalearning research that you do for a specific project into three questions: “Why?,” “What?,” and “How?” “Why?” refers to understanding your motivation to learn. If you know exactly why you want to learn a skill or subject, you can save a lot of time by focusing your project on exactly what matters most to you. “What?” refers to the knowledge and abilities you’ll need to acquire in order to be successful. Breaking things down into concepts, facts, and procedures can enable you to map out what obstacles you’ll face and how best to overcome them. “How?” refers to the resources, environment, and methods you’ll use when learning.
Why are we doing the outsourced program?
It's a deceptively simple concept, yet one that doesn’t get answered in most program training in the outsourcing world. The answer to” Why are we doing this?” seems so self-evident that BPO training departments don’t explain this fundamental concept to the people on the project.
And yet, without the answer, a team never has the true north for their work. That oversight consigns the team to learning everything by rote rather than building a framework for understanding based on program objectives.
The answer to Why begins with a client’s goals.
One reason our clients outsource is to clear time and capacity for different, perhaps core, activities.
To illustrate: A dive resort with several locations can centralize customer and booking support. By offloading inquiries and booking duties, the resort frees local resources for onsite responsibilities — the things that make the traveler's stay memorable. Simple details like hand-written welcome notes, facility tours, and staff introductions create a welcoming, hospitable atmosphere.
Conversely, the back-office team handles booking inquiries, local travel support (airport to resort), and COVID requirements information. In this scenario, the Why is to streamline the customer experience and blanket the guests with great support before arrival. From inquiry to booking to transfers, our team guides divers to the resort’s front door as quickly and conveniently as possible. Our client focuses his team on the details of the visit itself, coordinating all the aspects of the resort experience from arrival to departure.
The payoff is two-fold: Lambent’s team shepherds travelers through booking and foreign travel, solely focused on those offsite processes while the resort concentrates its effort on face-to-face hospitality. There are, of course, additional cost dividends for offloading payroll with right-sized staff.
What do we need to do?
The second question we ask, “What do we need to do to accomplish the work?” guides the curriculum design. This boils down to deciding what skills and competencies our team needs to accomplish the client’s goals.
Continuing with our dive resort example above, we need to recruit or assign agents with a broad understanding of the hospitality industry. If someone on the team is an advanced diver, divemaster, or scuba instructor, all the better. Beyond this basic understanding, serious customer support chops make the difference between a good and outstanding customer experience.
We’ll build on our recruits’ skills by learning about the industry, specifics of the resort locales, how to get there from nearby international airports, the basics of dive packages, and customer support techniques.
Further, we need to catalog the processes involved, then eliminate where possible, automate where logical, and pour our effort into the remaining activities. Do we have self-service options for package and travel information? Can we automate information emails? Can online inquiries and bookings trigger immediate, in-person call-outs?
At every turn, we want our support team to have a solid command of the technology used for support: customer relationship management apps, online booking platforms, payment processing dashboards, and travel information sites.
How will we learn the skills and the processes we need to support our clients?
Our learning tools are relatively straightforward: online and face-to-face live classes and online learning with our learning management system (LMS), a knowledge base for easy access to helpful information snacks. After launch, we layer on quality checks to concentrate our instruction effort on weak areas and flag competencies we should train differently or better.
Beyond these teaching and learning platforms, we’ve developed strategies for learning that work well offshore.
First, we develop as much context as we can around the learning experience. We exhaust all touchpoints for the material. For example, a project related to keyword selection or an expansive website rewrite means we explain keywords, search intent, domain rank, search result presentation (SERPs), and detail how online search works. Context helps reduce cultural and experiential disconnects when moving work offshore. This technique also uniformly aligns the team on essential concepts.
Another aspect of the Lambent learning experience is our approach to professional development. Since we hire for the long-term, we take many extra steps to build competency through instruction combined with coaching. This strategy contrasts with larger organizations that load dozens or even hundreds of agents onto a program. Large scale means that agents must sink or swim with generic training.
We take the attitude that, once we’ve vetted and hired an agent, we commit to making the process and technology learning as clear and easy to understand as we can. Fundamentally, it’s our job to prepare the team for the work at hand. To make the learning great, we invest a lot of resources in its development, bearing in mind Mark Twain’s apology, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”