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  • Tom Brooksher

Information Tools Instead of Training

When a potential client says they need us to develop training, whether it’s a classroom-based or an online program, naturally we’re excited to help. But our decades-long experience has taught us that training isn’t always the best solution to every learning problem. Sometimes a client needs only a resource—something that provides exactly the right information that their employees or customers need at just the right time. We call these resources “information tools.”

Here’s an example: Over the years, we’ve developed a lot of training for call centers, ranging from new-hire orientation programs to safe handling of personally identifiable information (such as credit cards and Social Security numbers).

Three categories of technical training

We’ve also done a lot of technical training for agents who troubleshoot customer problems. That kind of training typically falls into different categories:

  1. Conceptual information, such as how electrical circuits work, so you can understand how a particular type of equipment functions and what can go wrong with it.

  2. Product-specific information, such as that the hard drive is under the fan on a Model L-116 personal computer.

  3. Troubleshooting information, such as if the customer isn’t getting a signal, first check X then Y.

Mastering conceptual information is a training issue. This is baseline understanding that needs to be learned.

Most product-specific information needs to be learned, too. For example, salespeople representing a new piece of equipment or a new medicine need to learn what the product does, which other products it competes with, who is most likely to need it, and so on.

But providing training on specifications may not be the most effective approach to learning. Providing a specs sheet for reference and teaching the salespeople how to apply it may be a better use of time than trying to get them to memorize specs they may need only periodically. In this example, the specs sheet is an information tool.

Troubleshooting is another area that can benefit from an information tool in place of, or in addition to, training. Part of troubleshooting is the conceptual understanding of the technology and process. As we mentioned earlier, this requires training.

Decision tree

But if the troubleshooting requires a long series of steps that vary based on the symptoms of the problem, it’s often more effective to develop an information tool, such as a troubleshooting decision tree that agents can use to work through a problem as quickly as possible to get to the root cause.

A few years ago, we were involved in developing just such a tool for call centers. It was a computerized binary decision tree that contained thousands of permutations based on the observable symptoms of the problem. The decision tree provided the agent with one question at a time, such as, “Is your modem’s power light on?”

Based on the answer to the question, another question appeared until the problem was diagnosed and solved—or the decision tool determined that the problem couldn’t be solved by phone and another method would be required, such as sending out a technician to fix it or asking the customer to return the unit for a replacement.

It took less than an hour to train an agent to use the tool in real time as they talked to customers. With the tool, they were guided to ask the right question at the right time, then ask the next question based on the customer’s specific answer to the previous question. This saved dozens of hours trying to teach the agent all possible variables for each problem that a customer might encounter. Also, it was much more accurate than even the most highly trained and experienced agents, and it saved a great deal of phone time. Prior to the tool, agents wasted a lot of time asking a customer questions that weren’t relevant.

We’ve also developed several searchable knowledge bases to provide staff members with easy, fast access to an entire library of information they need to do their jobs. And most recently, we created a tool that helps employees of highly regulated healthcare businesses determine exactly what information they need to gather for government auditors, and that provides the database to store and retrieve it when it’s needed. This minimizes the amount of time spent in training, as well as in retraining when government regulations and requirements change. When things change, we can simply make the changes in the information tool.

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