The promise of upskilling on demand, that is, helping employees gain skills via access to the contextual knowledge and relevant people they need, when they need them – in the flow of work – (as covered in my last post) intuitively seems great. We would expect it to drive growth and profitability, thanks to a more nimble ability to onboard, change and adapt new and better skills.  And indeed it does, as the following story of a division of a Fortune 50 healthcare company attests.

While I can’t reveal the company’s name (as it considers its ability to upskill on demand a competitive differentiator), I can share with you their story, which is documented more thoroughly in a case study here.  The bottom-line is that they became able to onboard new support agents in two months rather than two years, while hiring less technically skilled (and hence less expensive) applicants, in emerging markets, closer to their customers.

Here’s what happened:  The company had achieved significant market share in established markets (North America, EMEA, Asia Pac) and was seeking to accelerate its growth in emerging markets.

During its short, 15-year life, the company had expanded from a few product lines and information repositories to more than 200 SKUs, increasingly complex products, while facing a much more stringent regulatory environment and complex documentation requirements, as well as an expanding information ecosystem with data spread far and wide, from multiple websites and training libraries, to data warehouses full of service records, and more

At the same time, its support function, while critical to expansion, had become a potential impediment to growth, with significant challenges:

  • Slow ramp time (up to two years) for new agents
  • Expensive hires and a limited recruiting pool (hiring for medical technology degrees due to complexity of products supported)
  • Baby-boom agents with significant, institutional knowledge reaching retirement
  • High levels of agent turnover due to the fast pace of work and high degree of technical knowledge needed to serve customers
  • Large contact centers in established markets only

Moreover, the support organization was committed to maintaining critical uptime SLAs that enabled its customers in turn to provide high levels of patient care.  Quality had to remain extremely high.

Support leaders developed a three-part strategy to transform and widen the skillsets of its agents, with:

  1. New career paths—including hiring for softer, customer support experience rather than in-depth technical knowledge;
  2. Revamping training materials; and
  3. Providing unified, highly advanced enterprise search across the “ecosystem of record,” in effect indexing all of the systems accessed by support agents on a daily basis.  This enables agents to quickly and easily understand everything about a customer, their products and how to solve their challenges—plus what experts are available to help.

All strategies were targeted to create the culture and practice for gaining skills on-demand, in the flow of work.

Providing the new hires (without technical knowledge) with the exact information they needed, exactly when they needed it, enabled them to start working with customers after just a three-week training program. The new hires are now fully on their own after two months rather than the previous two year training program.   Because adults learn by doing, presenting agents with the knowledge they need when they need it increases retention of that knowledge for the next task or challenge

The enterprise search portion of the strategy provided the core foundation for this transformation. Clearly support organizations benefit greatly from just-in-time knowledge acquisition enabled by highly advanced enterprise search technology that can “understand” in real time, both the dynamic context of support agents and what knowledge is most relevant to that context, from across vast amounts of data. Radically faster ramp time for new hires, the ability to hire less expensive agents who can perform at the same or higher levels of effectiveness, increased location in emerging markets – both better for customer satisfaction and with a lower cost infrastructure—all combined for this company to increase SLA measurements and customer satisfaction while at the same time reducing costs significantly—resulting in higher margins for the company overall.

What would the ability to add skills in the flow of work mean for your organization?