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How wearables might work to train employees in customer service roles

March 10, 2015

This is part 3 of my series of posts on wearables. You can view the others: Part I,  Part II and Part III.

In this post we’ll look at the potential use of wearables in customer service work and more specifically how we use them for training and development purposes. First of all, let’s clarify what customer service roles considered for the purposes of this post.

  • Retail service
  • Food service
  • Financial service
  • Travel agents and tourism providers
  • Call centres

There’s many others, but we’ll stick with those. They share common challenges when it comes to training their employees. The most common is that employees are interacting directly with their customers constantly. Providing training to them usually means doing it outside of work hours (and paying them more to complete) or sometimes skipping it altogether. Not a great idea (see last post on Training Debt). These are also typically high-turnover types of jobs and that means organizations are constantly training new employees.  Most of these organizations also involve selling and servicing a wide variety of products so ongoing training is usually required for existing employees. Service-based businesses, especially large chains, often have many employees. The cost of training is very high and never ending.

So, what’s the role for wearables?

1. Reduce the amount of formal training and increase the amount of performance support with feedback. There are many places that wearables could provide an ability to track activity by time or motion and trigger some type of follow-up performance support. The work environment is still not completely under the employee’s control (their pace and activity is determine by customer arrival), but there are mechanisms to at least capture a datapoint and provide daily feedback, much like a fitbit does. Perhaps at certain points of a workday the employee can provide their own reflection or impact, much like was suggested in this post, and then they can do some analysis on trends and challenges over time.

2. Sensors on furniture or equipment that “talk” to wearable, such as a uniform or a nametag or a watch. The wearable could provide some trigger that this person has arrived in the work environment and they are ready for a certain piece of performance support or are able to order up a mini-lesson. This would enable training/performance support to be based on demand, not supply. It could also trigger customer activity and offer prompts to the employee, such as: “customer is looking at the jeans section, remember to talk about style, size and fit”. Or perhaps innovations like this provide an example – this billboard uses facial recognition technology to change the display coupled with push notifications built with this to capture the attention with donations.

3. Wearables might be interacting with their point-of-sale (POS) or customer relationship management (CRM) program which can compile data such as frequency of errors or inefficient processes that can be “audited” and corrective instruction provided. This provides evidence-based performance support that really targets what the employee is doing in the software or POS that could provide valuable information about how they could improve their performance on the job.

4. Video recording of interactions or “virtual coaching” of customer interactions that are subsequently viewed and discussed to illustrate teachable moments. While there are potential barriers to this (how many customers are going to agree to being recorded?) it is a way to use a wearable to provide a data point for ongoing learning. In call centres, we are always advised that the transaction may be recorded for training purposes, so this is really an evolution of an existing practice.

There are concerns about the role of wearables in the workplace, but they are a tool. Tools can be used for both good and evil. Before we jump to conclusions, I think we need to explore the potential of wearables and of any technology. I loved this post by @JulianStoddThe Inexorable March in the Quantification of Me” – and especially his closing line:

It’s our role to explore: to think. To try things out. The Social Age is about iterative learning and a willingness to question everything. To humbly share our success and failure and learn together. Cynicism and denial are not differentiating behaviours.

I couldn’t agree more.

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