Life Lessons of Riding a Bike – for Teaching Customer Service Reps

It’s almost spring time here in Boston, and this year, that means I’m teaching my six year-old son to ride a bicycle. I only wish more contact center managers could join me, because they’d learn valuable lessons for how to teach their customer service reps.

If you’ve ever trained an eager young bike rider, you remember how this works. The surest path to success is simply to invest hours and hours running alongside the bicycle. You hold up the biker as he pedals, correcting his mistakes until he has the confidence to ride on his own. While this technique is effective, it doesn’t particularly “scale” given all of a dad’s other responsibilities. So you look for help from other resources. My son’s more experienced big brother, for instance, tried to teach him by example. “Watch me!” he said as he offered coaching and advice. Sadly, there’s only so much you can learn about a new skill by listening to someone else.

Thankfully, we have the answer: training wheels. My son can learn the fundamentals of bike riding without constant supervision. He can focus on pedaling and steering without being distracted by balancing or the fear of falling. Training wheels are simply one of the best ways to learn.

Every time I walk into a contact center, I see a similar scenario being played out again and again. Of course, I always see eager new Customer Service Reps with their Y-connectors, trying to learn by listening to more experienced reps in action. More often, however, I’ll see experienced reps themselves struggling to deal with change. The reps must adapt their routines after a new marketing campaign, updated product offer, or shift in pricing policy that disrupts business as usual.

Unfortunately, their contact center manager often doesn’t have training wheels to help them. She holds an all-hands meeting that morning, explains the changed situation, and suggests possible workarounds for the current system. Then she and her lieutenants run back and forth all day trying to help everyone keep their balance as they pedal forward. And, she handles any escalations from when her reps fall and scrape their knees. Frequent business changes means reps are forever re-learning how to ride a bike.

The best contact center managers recognize that rather than focus on teaching the rider themselves, they should change the bicycle to help teach its rider. They recognize that even experienced reps need training wheels when the business changes. These organizations add training wheels to their agent-facing systems that:

  • Simplify, to limit what a rep needs to manage all at once
  • Add guidance, so a rep always knows the next action to take
  • Keep it updated, so a rep can adjust to changes.

When a business adjusts its strategy, the contact center must deliver. Contact center managers who can fix their bicycles, by simplifying and updating their agent-facing systems, won’t have to spend entire days running alongside their reps.