Pencils Down!: Testing Keeps Employees' Skills Sharp and Customers Happy


by Linda Wetz and Debra Murdock Dodson


When a major component of your team’s job is handling calls from some of the most high-profile customers in the world, how can your company ensure its employees keep up with a constantly changing information landscape and the nonstop needs of its customers?

The Information Management Services (IMS) business at Rockwell Collins focuses on a broad range of service offerings for the aviation industry. One of its divisions, ARINC Managed Services (AMS), provides managed IT services for airport customers and other businesses. Several years ago, AMS established a service desk that not only supports its on-site technicians, who work with clients around the world, but also acts as a centralized call center that handles all of the company’s in-bound inquiries. It’s a big operation: The twelve-person service desk team operates 24×7×365, handling 40,000 calls and 30,000 emails, and processing over 100,000 tickets each year for over 3,000 customers in eighty-five countries around the world.

Incoming calls vary dramatically in type and scope: everything from basic sales inquiries to product-specific questions to more challenging problems that require first call resolution. The AMS service desk handles it all—it’s a key part of the company’s offering. And it’s the team’s expertise in call handling that enables it to provide customers with the varying degrees of support they require.

For the service desk team, things can get rather complex rather quickly. While the service desk has defined procedures for handling inquiries and written guidelines for dispatching and routing reported incidents, as the first point of contact for IMS’s products and services, team members need to be familiar with over 300 product and services. Additionally, the service desk team needs to be able to provide first level support (dispatching, routing, monitoring, and/or resolution) for approximately fifty IMS services.

A New Approach to Training

As the service desk manager, Linda Wetz needed a way to ensure the team members’ skills were kept up to date. The company offered training on new products and services, but that training was not sufficient to provide the service desk team with the vast amount of knowledge required to address the needs of its customers. She needed a way to ensure that the team learned about any changes and enhancements to services. She also wanted to make sure the team understood which tools and resources to use for various types of inquiries, and how those tools might change with enhancements.

With backgrounds in education, both Linda and her front line supervisor, Debra Murdock Dodson, agreed to try a new approach. They would “test” the team. The quizzes would educate the team on new service offerings, and the results would tell Linda and Debra how effective the quizzes were at keeping skills current.

Debra kicked off the program by developing quizzes based the defined procedures the team had already been working with. For example, each of the company’s clients has a service contract that contains a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA defines the types of services delivered and any related key performance metrics. All client contracts are documented, so some quiz questions referred to services, metrics, and terms in specific customers’ service contracts.

  • Once a quiz has been created, the team is given a set of guidelines: 
  • Team members are expected to complete the quiz on their own.
  • Resources can be used, which means that team members can look through existing documentation, search Google, review notes taken, etc.
  • No questions pertaining to the quiz will be answered before it has been submitted.
  • The quiz must be submitted via email.

Team members have three working days to complete the quiz, and once a quiz has been submitted, there are no retractions and/or resubmissions.

Scoring is a two-part calculation: each team member gets a score for the quiz based on a typical grading scale (0–100%), as well as a complied score (1–5). Completion time affects the compiled score: quizzes turned in during the allotted time receive the full base score of five points; for every day a quiz is late, the base point value goes down.

The compiled score awards points in three categories: promptness, logic, and accuracy. Promptness is critical in the service desk environment given that much of the work is time sensitive. The logic component was added to address critical thinking skills. For example, a particular client may have an SLA that, once a problem occurs, requires dispatch to an on-call technician after fifteen minutes. However, a team member may have answered the question with “escalate to on-call at thirty minutes.” The logic portion allows team members to demonstrate that they knew the proper action to take, but not the correct time frame. Finally, the accuracy score is simple: the answer is either right or wrong.

Because team members have to have extensive knowledge on a wide variety of topics, the types of quizzes and the format (true/false, fill in the blank, provide the steps, identify the type of service, etc.) vary. For all of the questions asked, the answers are clearly defined in the documented procedures used in the team’s everyday work.

Debra develops each monthly quiz, distributes it, and scores it. The results are then turned over to Linda for review with the team members.

Scores Impact Performance Reviews

To make the program meaningful, quiz scores are incorporated into each team member’s performance metrics. AMS uses a monthly scorecard to assess team member performance. Each scorecard has a section that evaluates various components of a team member’s performance, including process and job knowledge, which is based, in part, on their quiz results. Quizzes are also reviewed with team members during each monthly examination of their scorecards. This allows individual team members to have a candid conversation with management regarding any questions they may have had about the quiz.

To further incentivize them, quiz metrics are averaged quarterly, and the team member with the highest score receives a prize. The reward is typically a $25 gift card for something like breakfast, lunch, or even gas—team members can choose the rewards that are most beneficial to them. While the value is typically small, people are motivated by the recognition of being the quarterly winner, and this inspires them to be the best at particular tasks.

A Significant Investment

While the benefits have been significant, so has the investment in developing the program. Creating a customized testing curriculum may seem relatively straightforward, but, in reality, success depends on having the right personnel and the time to commit to the project.

Debra worked on the service desk for twelve years before being promoted to trainer/supervisor. Prior to that, she spent ten years working in the public school system. Debra’s background in education gave her insight into different learning styles, needs, and temperaments, which not only made her a very adaptable trainer but also the ideal person to develop the quiz program. Her expertise and her “can do” attitude were critical factors in getting the program off the ground.

Even with the right personnel, the program requires a considerable amount of time each month. Each quiz takes approximately two hours to develop and distribute. Additionally, it takes about thirty minutes to review and score each quiz. Debra invests an estimated 1.5 working days each month, and that’s on top of her workload as the front line supervisor.

Testing Promotes Learning and Teamwork

It’s been two years since we launched the quiz program, and while there was some pushback initially, the results—and benefits—have been remarkable.

As product and business needs change, the service desk team’s skills must be current so they can correctly handle customer needs and inquiries, and the quizzes play a key role in accomplishing that goal. Quizzes typically focus on the company’s latest products or services, and if a team member can’t readily recall the answer, this forces them to review the processes put in place for those products and services. And, typically, the more difficult the question, the more likely there is to be discussion after the quiz—and better retention of the answer.

Beyond keeping knowledge and skills sharp, the quizzes provide insight into the team’s comprehension of processes and procedures. They allow the management team to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of individual team members, which allows management to better understand where additional training may be needed.

Management can also task team members who have strengths in particular areas with helping others improve in those areas. This promotes camaraderie and teamwork, both of which are assets to any team.

Another unexpected benefit of the program has been the discussions that ensue after team members turn in their quizzes. The quizzes encourage conversations that enable team members to learn from—and help—one another. The quizzes also encourage friendly competition, as each team member strives to achieve the best score.

The tangible results of the program have certainly offset the time and personnel investment: fewer trouble tickets are sent back to team members for correction; team members are able to assist customers more quickly over the phone because they don’t have to look up the procedures or ask someone else how to handle a problem; and the team has become more cohesive overall. AMS team members even look forward to the next quiz. By any measure, this program has been a success.

 

Linda Wetz is the manager of the Rockwell Collins/ARINC service desk. In her nearly twenty-five-year career with ARINC, Linda has worked primarily in quality assurance and operations. She developed all of the processes and procedures used by the service desk in its daily operations, and she actively encourages her team to broaden their skillsets. Linda is a certified HDI Support Center Manager, and she is also certified in ITIL v3 (Foundation and Operational Support and Analysis) and ISO 20000 Foundations.

Debra Murdock Dodson is the front line supervisor for the ARINC service desk. She is the point of contact for a ten-person team across three shifts. Debra has been a part of the service desk for thirteen years, and she is certified in ISO 20000 Foundations.

Tag(s): staffing, workforce enablement, incentives, training, case study

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