first_img Previous Article Next Article A year after Thomas Cook Holidays and British Airways Holidays merged toform Accoladia, its call centre team reviews its training and developmentprogrammesReach for the stars and Telephone excellence Designed by: Academee, Bollin House, Bollin Walk, Wilmslow SK9 1DP Phone: 01625 540 540 Fax: 01625 540 541 e-mail: [email protected] test: 2001, Thomas Cook Holidays merged with British Airways Holidays toform Accoladia, a leading UK outbound scheduled tour operator. While Accoladia,a trading name rather than a consumer brand, benefits from increased buyingpower and shared knowledge and experience, Thomas Cook Holidays and BritishAirways Holidays continue to operate as individual consumer brands to satisfycustomer needs. One area where the two work seamlessly together is in the call centre. Followingthe joint venture, the decision was made to expand Thomas Cook’s existingPeterborough call centre to accommodate all Accoladia’s customer contact. CarolJones, who runs the call centre, realised the new operation needed to focusmore on training and development to ensure its success. “We had already started to review our training and development prior tothe joint venture, but when this was agreed, we realised we needed to actquickly,” says Jones. “We already had some good training in place,but it was not intensive enough for new starters and not consistent throughoutthe call centre. It was mainly delivered by team leaders who often hadconflicting demands on their time. We decided the best way forward would be to create a separate trainingfunction and designated training areas so we could really focus on creating anddelivering excellent training programmes to all our call centre people.” Productivity Janine Lane, who had previously been head of operations, took on the newlydeveloped role of training and development manager, working alongside Jones tocreate training programmes that supported Accoladia’s strategic aims – tocreate an increasingly successful organisation through improved productivity,customer focus and sales. Management consultant Academee also became involved at this stage, spendingtime with senior managers, reservations managers and team managers to helpidentify training needs and create solutions. “We were looking for a consultancy that had good call centreexperience,” says Jones. “Although external companies had deliveredtelephone skills training before, we hadn’t worked with anyone who reallyunderstood call centres Introductions “We did a lot of research with Accoladia, asking existing staff what theirtraining needs were and what they felt they would have benefited from when theyjoined the company,” says Academee consultant Janine Nolan. “Everyonewas eager to get involved. They told us they would have liked more intensiveinduction training with more structure. So we created a five- to six-weekinduction training schedule, which was important because it meant that as soonas individuals joined the company, they knew exactly what to expect.” This immediately gave new starters a sense of purpose and ultimately theknowledge and skills to embark on their new roles with confidence. When newstaff start working in the call centre, a ‘buddying’ programme ensures they arecoached by experienced colleagues. Opportunities for training existing staff also emerged. Call centreconsultants were keen to cross-train on different products, applying theirexperience and enthusiasm to new areas. They were also open to the benefits ofimproving their skills in other ways, such as developing increased customer focus.”As for other types of training,” adds Nolan, “it becameevident we needed to start everything from scratch. In particular, we saw therewas a real need for improved telephone skills training.” This need was met by the introduction of a new programme for everyone in theorganisation – existing staff as well as new recruits. The programme, entitledTelephone Excellence, was designed and delivered by Academee consultants. Thefeedback from delegates on the course has been overwhelmingly positive. “Some of the ideas were completely new to me,” says oneconsultant. “and I wasn’t sure if they would work, but the course gave methe confidence to put them into practice.” One such new idea was the suggestion that the consultants should notintroduce themselves right at the beginning of the call, but rather say helloand then introduce themselves after the caller had spoken, at the same timeasking the caller for his or her name – a kind of verbal handshake. “Thiswent against everything I’d ever learned,” said one delegate, “butwhen I put it into action, it really worked. If you give your name right at thebeginning of the call, it often does not register with the caller. The ‘verbalhandshake’ is more professional and results in a more successful call.” All 380 consultants and team managers have now completed the TelephoneExcellence course, and the difference both in language and in tone can be heardthroughout the call centre. “It’s great to hear everyone around me usingconsistent language – and enjoying it,” said one Accoladia consultant. Making the call enjoyable for both client and the consultant was somethingelse the course promoted. “Enjoyment is key,” says Academee’s MaggieColman, who worked on the design of the Telephone Making course.”Enjoyment helps consultants to feel able, confident, willing andmotivated. A successful call should make both parties feel good and enhancetheir day,” she says. The teams in the call centre each deal with different holiday destinations.Most consultants are now cross-trained and expert on at least two locations.Everyone in the call centre is given opportunities to visit the areas theyrepresent. These familiarisation trips are a real perk of working forAccoladia, but can also be hard work, often involving visits to up to 10different hotels in one day. However, the benefits to each individual and theorganisation are enormous. Alongside this, suppliers regularly visit Accoladia to run training sessionsof their own, educating staff on the products they are selling. “Since weembarked on the training programme, suppliers always compliment us on thequality of our staff when they visit,” says Lane. “The credibility ofour call centre is very important, as we are representing our suppliers. Theyneed to have confidence in us.” Excellent reputation Accoladia’s excellent reputation combined with the improved trainingopportunities and perks such as foreign travel mean that they have no problemrecruiting staff. “When the first Accoladia recruitment advert went out in July 2001after the joint-venture announcement, we had more than 2,000 responses andrecruited 200 new staff,” says Jones. The increase in consultants meant that the call centre also needed 15 newteam managers, who were mainly recruited internally. Accoladia was aware thatthese people required additional training to help them take on new roles in achanging organisation. “We identified exactly what type of training we needed to offer teammanagers,” says Lane. “And designed a ‘Reach for the Stars’ developmentprogramme, with five key modules. As well as Telephone Excellence, all teammanagers have now been trained in Coaching Winners, Leading Teams, Motivatingto Win and Focusing on You (a personal effectiveness and time managementcourse). Team managers have been soaking this stuff up like sponges. It has hadan incredibly positive impact on the way people work and lead theirteams.” Team managers Individual team managers back this up: “The Reach for the Starsprogramme has totally changed the way I work,” says one experiencedmanager. “It was a real eye-opener and has helped me to become a betterleader. I now appreciate what delegation is and how to delegate properly. I canunderstand different behaviours and how to communicate better with the team.I’m also more aware of my own behaviour and the impact it has on other people.I take time out to coach the team. The whole thing has also really energised meand that’s had a real impact on the people around me, too. We’ve got a realbuzz going.” The elements of coaching and motivation in the programme are key to enablingteam managers to help their teams implement their newly acquired telephoneskills in the call centre. “Coaching is key,” says Academee’s Nolan. “Managers who are good coaches can help their teams to apply their newknowledge and skills to everyday tasks. A good coach will draw the best out ofindividuals, helping them to reach successful conclusions for themselves.Coaching is totally different from a ‘telling’ style of management, and it getsmuch better results.” When the Academee team walk through the call centre, individuals often runup to them to talk about the successes they’ve had as a result of theirtraining. Motivated staff “Following the training, our people are a lot more confident andmotivated,” says Jones. “Consultants are more keen to get on thephones and put their training into practice.” They are also more adept atcreating solutions to their clients’ needs. “This means that managers are not getting tied up with calls, whichfrees up their time so that they can focus on coaching and leadership. We’realso seeing a positive impact on productivity. We’re answering more calls, anddealing with them more effectively because we’re more knowledgeable and morecustomer focused.” “There is still a lot of pressure on us following the jointventure,” continues Lane. “We’ve been through a lot of change, buttraining has already brought many benefits, and we expect to see several moreover time. “Now that we’ve got the basics in place, we’re planning to build on ourearly success through an ongoing training and development programme which helpsus meet our medium- and long-term objectives.” Accoladia is not resting on its laurels, however. The team says it remainsdetermined that its commitment to training and to developing its people will bea central part of its continued growth and success. VerdictTraining takes offIn the run-up to the busy 2002holiday season, the investment in training has prepared Accoladia’s people forincreased success. The company is already seeing a positive impact on staffmotivation, customer service and sales– Morale at the call centre, which has always been high, hasimproved since the introduction of the training programme.– Staff turnover, running at 15 per cent, is 5 per cent lowerthan the average for UK call centres. In a period of tumultuous change, this isquite an achievement.– Quality control criteria are high. Accoladia has a qualitycontrol programme, which measures key criteria in a typical call. This callmonitoring has always been regarded as a positive thing by call centreconsultants, as it helps to highlight areas for improvement and can also leadto rewards.Since the introduction of the training programme, the qualitycontrol criteria have been re-evaluated in line with new initiatives such asthe ‘verbal handshake’. This reflects the increased focus on customer needs andensures consistency across the call centre. It also rewards individuals forsuccessfully applying their new learning in the workplace.The results are one of the best indicators of the trainingprogramme’s effectiveness. “Since we introduced the training, we’ve seenincredible results from quality control,” says Lane. “Some newstarters are achieving scores of 100 per cent, which was unheard of before now.It’s fantastic.”Effectiveness     * * * * *Ability to meet business needs   ** * * *Value for money           ** * *Appropriate to any business      ** * * *Entertainment value       ** * * *Key * = disappointing   * * * * * = excellent Related posts:No related photos. Comments are closed. Accoladia earns its wingsOn 1 May 2002 in Personnel Todaylast_img