Wells Fargo's 12 national call centers are a critical component of its business model. Its 3,000 customer service agents provide assistance to the company's clientele 24-hours a day. Although this company puts approximately 2,000 service agents per year through new hire training at a cost of over US $3,000 per agent, the training was not delivering the desired results.

In recent years, more than 50 percent of new hire turnover led to high recruitment and training costs. There was an inconsistency in the delivery of training. The curriculum was presented in different ways in each center, with no consistency in order of topics, emphasis, or structure. And, the existing new hire curriculum, combining instructor-led classroom training and on-job practice, averaged six weeks in length.

As a result, performance was inconsistent across 12 geographically dispersed call centers. Most important, the informational, instructor-led curriculum and the lack of a training database for systems practice left trainees unprepared for the pressures of the call center job environment.

The purpose of the reengineered curriculum was to improve customer service, increase customer loyalty, and drive revenue through improved sales referrals. To achieve these goals, corporate management gave a mandate to the call center training organization to develop new hire job proficiency faster and more accountably by

  • reducing new hire training time from six weeks to four weeks
  • improving new hire competence and confidence
  • reducing turnover.

The solution: Wells Fargo's training group implemented a blended learning approach for its Phone Bank. The training design combined the efficiency of self-paced e-learning with the effectiveness of facilitator-led classes, small group activities, and one-on-one coaching. Also, consistent training delivery techniques were instituted throughout the organization.

Developing the blended solution

The performance-based blended solution for re-engineered curriculum grew directly from the results of the needs analysis. First, measurable project goals were identified:

  • reduce new hire training from six weeks to four weeks.
  • improve new hire competence areas: call quality, sales measures, and average
  • handle time.
  • improve new hire confidence as measured by training exit interviews.
  • reduce attrition.

Based on these goals, a blended solution model that incorporated several core elements into a "High Tech/High Touch" solution was developed.

Performance-based curriculum architecture. The architecture prepared agents to handle the common and critical types of calls they would encounter on the job. The curriculum architecture is organized as a matrix in which the sequence of performances (columns) is supported by the underlying knowledge and skills threads (rows). The performance-based curriculum architecture helped compress the initial training time through its focus on common and critical performances and emphasis on consistent knowledge and skill threads. In addition, new hires progressed through the curriculum sequentially.

Web-based performance emulations. Web-based exercises were used to provide instruction and practice for each of the common and critical call types. These modules use a layered approach to learning that allows the learners to develop mastery through a variety of means. Each lesson includes the following components:

  • Lesson Intro
  • Concepts and Terms
  • Watch the Expert (animated system emulation with audio)
  • Learn the Skills (steps back through the call in a slide show format, focusing on individual skill threads: Process & Systems, Customer Care, Selling Solutions, Regulatory Issues
  • Try It (system emulation practice)
  • Mastery Test (combination of knowledge-based questions and system emulations).

These self-paced lessons also helped shorten the overall training time by allowing new hires to progress through the core content at their own pace.

Classroom instruction. Facilitator-led classroom instruction and collaborative small group activities were used to provide opportunities for discussion and practice of customer service and sales skills. These classroom activities also provided linkage and support to help make the new hires feel a more integral part of the organization.

Performance assessments. The reengineered curriculum used a comprehensive performance assessment strategy, with both online and face-to-face options, to ensure that new agents were deemed competent to perform the job before graduating from training. The assessments support the learning approach by ensuring that the learners master the knowledge and skills required for the job. Sample assessments include the following:

  • mastery tests (Web-based system emulations that focus on the call types taught in a single module)
  • cumulative progress Tests (Web-based system emulations that follow a series of related modules)
  • one-on-one role play assessments with the facilitator/coach, using the call quality score sheet that is used to evaluate performance on the job
  • on-the-job evaluation by the coach using the call quality score sheet and other job metrics (for example, sales referrals, average handle time).

Finally, it's important to note that this High Tech/High Touch blended solution was a progressive blend, in which the proportion of the mix was varied to meet the needs of the trainees during different weeks of the training. The blend shifted from primarily facilitated learning in the first week to primarily on-job in the fourth week. During week two, the Web-based training delivers core content for key performances, while week three includes an extensive facilitated unit on customer service.

Bottom line

The reengineered curriculum was piloted at three call center locations during November 2002, and officially rolled out to all 12 national call centers in January 2003. Following the pilots, the courseware was revised to incorporate minor corrections, refinements, and updates. However, the overall design of the curriculum and courseware remained constant. In the months since the official rollout, the practice has remained true to its initial purpose and has achieved significant results in several areas: Training time has been reduced and new hire competence has been improved in terms of call quality and sales referral close rate. There are currently no plans to expand the practice beyond the 12 national call centers.

Most important, evaluation results indicate that the reengineered curriculum has already achieved significant return-on-investment:

  • Reduction in training time by 33 percent (10 days per trainee) has resulted in more than $2 million annual savings in training salaries
  • An average improvement rate of eleven percent in the referral close rate during the 12-week evaluation period following training resulted more than an $1 million increase in revenue for that period
  • An average 12.63 percent increase in weekly core unit profit during the 12-week evaluation period following training. Core unit profit represents the bankers' average core profit for all core products referred in that week and later closed
  • Although specific dollar amounts have not been assigned, there was a 13 percent improvement in call quality is expected to produce long-term improvements in such factors such as first call resolution, customer satisfaction, and customer retention, all of which will contribute to the corporate bottom line
  • Since rollout, voluntary attrition of center agents has been reduced by four percent, resulting in a reduced training headcount of more than 100 trainees, and representing a annualized training cost savings of over $200,000. Phone Bank believes this is at least in part a result of the rollout of the new curriculum.

To be sure, the design and implementation of this new blended learning approach required both the project team and training staff to venture into new and challenging ways of thinking. However, based on the success of the first classes to complete the re-engineered training, this "High Tech/High Touch" solution has been wholeheartedly embraced by the organization, training staff, and the learners.