My L&D team recently helped our organization undergo a game-changing digital transformation. My company 7.ai reinvented our call center customer service solution into an artificial intelligence (AI)-based customer experience. This process wasn’t easy and our learning & development (L&D) team played a pivotal role in transitioning our workforce into a more automated and AI-based company.
Initially, our company offered call center services based in India and the Philippines, but since starting out in 2000, we have evolved into a customer experience software and services company headquartered in Silicon Valley. As we evolved, we shifted our focus towards the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance the customer experience across a variety of channels. In that process, we reinvented ourselves from 7.Customer to 7.ai.
Today, we offer one AI platform for both speech and digital to create a personalized, predictive, and effortless customer experience. 7 Chat, our new AI chatbot tool, filters incoming calls and handles routine customer requests while forwarding the more complex questions to our human agents to solve.
As the Director of Organization Transformation at 7.ai in the Philippines, I help prepare and train our 5000+ customer service agents and managers in the Philippines for critical change. In particular, we needed to prepare our company for a major digital transformation to enhance our customer experience.
Here are some of the steps we took to prepare our employees for the company’s digital transformation.
When employees think of transitioning into the world of automation, they are often afraid of losing their jobs to machines. Some of our customer service leaders were hesitant to embrace this change due to the same fear. This hesitation often trickled down to their teams, causing undue stress and anxiety across certain groups. Like any innovation, people can be resistant to change. The first thing we did was create a growth mindset so our employees would be open to change and focus on the upsides of automation and AI.
As we rolled out the new AI tool, our digital transformation training focused on several key steps:
Teach technical know-how. Train our customer service agents with the technical knowledge required to use the new AI tool. It was also essential to train agents when and when not to use the AI tool, depending on customer preferences.
Sell the benefits of the new AI tool. Sell our employees on how the AI tool will make their life easier by taking over mundane customer calls and repetitive tasks (like asking customers for their name and information)—freeing them to spend more quality time with customers who have more complex issues. Rather than worrying “I might lose my job,” we wanted them to think about how the AI tool could open new doors for them.
Create a growth mindset. Create a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset to ensure our agents are open to change and continuous learning. Over the past year, we continually emphasized the importance of adopting a growth mindset and “failing fast and learning faster.” We integrated the concepts of a growth mindset in a new “digital leadership” training program (more on this below).
Lean into Positive Psychology for soft skills training. Since our new AI tool handles all the simple customer requests, our customer service agents had to be trained in vital soft skills as well as stress management to tackle more complex customer calls. We leveraged the concepts of Positive Psychology to build critical emotional intelligence (EQ) competencies in our workforce (more on this below).
We started a “digital revolution” by launching our Digital Leader Profile program to train our customer service team leaders in 7 specific leadership traits that embody a growth mindset and reflect our vision of what a digital leader should be in today’s constantly changing world. We wanted our leaders to realize their world is not confined to the world they know. There are endless possibilities out there for those that are open to new ideas and make it their mission to learn continuously.
The 7 traits we focused on training our customer service team leaders include:
1. Lead beyond the edge. We encourage our leaders to go beyond the formal boundaries of authority and avoid the typical silos between teams or “it’s not under my turf” mentality. In the grand scheme, we’re all connected.
2. Network collaborators. We also train our team leaders to cultivate and leverage the network they build within the organization. It’s not just working with what you know, but becoming a proactive leader. In today’s constantly changing world, you’ll gain more if you share with others.
3. Communicate clearly and effectively. We train our team leaders to be available and accessible to their team while inspiring them with a vision of the future. We also coach our leaders to provide honest, supportive, genuine, and real-time feedback.
4. Encourage rapid experimentation. We want our leaders to espouse the concept of failing forward with their team or “failing fast and learning faster.” In the Philippines, however, we put a high importance on the culture of “saving face.” This makes it more challenging for us to change this mindset and embrace trying out new things with fear of “losing face” or being embarrassed if we fail. We rely on our team leaders to model a growth mindset and help create a safe environment that celebrates mistakes and allows people to learn from these setbacks.
5. Meaningful decision-makers. We train our team leaders to think like an entrepreneur and take risks.
6. Digitally fluent. We lean on our leaders to champion our new technologies and embrace learning our new AI tool. We want them to model proactive learning with the new tools and encourage their team to do the same.
7. Learns dynamically. We motivate our team leaders to learn and fail fast as well as adopt an open mind and a growth mindset. We encourage them to constantly learn with every interaction so they can gain insights and act on those insights.
The digital leader transformation journey is set up in a way that our leaders don’t just go through training workshops but activities are embedded in their day-to-day work so that reinforcement and retention are stronger. We use a blended training methodology, combining online and face-to-face training sessions enriched with coaching and mentoring. One of our other main strategies is to employ a top-down and bottom-up approach to educating the organization about our definition of digital leaders. Even our senior management team is tapped to create internal vlogs to help market the idea of digital leaders and we also have “digital masters” who serve as ambassadors to help inform the organization of this initiative. We are also aligning and updating systems and processes within various subgroups to support a more digital culture.
Positive Psychology is “the scientific study of the optimal human functioning” that aims to help humans thrive. Traditional psychology moves humans from a mental disorder to normal. Positive Psychology helps people move north of normal to thriving or flourishing. Based on scientific studies of how the brain functions and how we manage emotions, this new approach can help inform soft skills training in the workplace.
Stress and managing emotionally-charged moments such as escalated customer issues are a big challenge for our agents and leaders. As we move to the new AI tool, on the one hand, our agents will be freed from doing the mundane and repetitive calls. However, our agents will also need to increasingly focus on handling more complex calls. As a result, we needed to train them in more nuanced soft skills. We wanted our workforce to become more in tune with intricate and complicated conversations. We also wanted our agents to lean into key soft skills like empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ)—something humans are better at than robots.
For training emotional intelligence, we enhanced our existing learning modules by integrating Positive Psychology concepts such as understanding where emotions come from and how to manage them effectively. For example, when humans become stressed, the lizard or “fight or flight” brain kicks in. This brain is not rational and results in knee-jerk responses. We then train our employees to understand what’s happening to their brain and to summon the prefrontal cortex or cerebral part of their brain which excels at complex cognitive behavior and moderates social behavior.
Imagine situations where customers complain angrily about their bills. We teach our agents and leaders to apply Positive Psychology techniques like being self-aware of how your body is reacting to stress, mastering meditation and breathing exercises to reduce stress, and stepping away mentally from the scenario in your head for a moment before responding. These tactics can help them manage stressful situations and rein in their emotions.
To assess the impact of our efforts, we measured improvements in employee behavior by tracking feedback from supervisors to see if it changed 30 days after the training. We’re also implementing 360 reviews to see if team members observe behavior change as well. We are focused on fully implementing our digital leadership program using our customized profile and with the help of Positive Psychology concepts.
Our journey towards a more automated and digitized business is still a work in progress. While our L&D team has played a pivotal role in preparing our digital transformation to AI, we’re continuously working to improve and iterate our training programs so we’re ready for whatever comes next.
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