Scenario-based learning programs can equip new and seasoned employees to more effectively help their citizen customers.
Written by Doug Taylor, senior director of training
Published on The Public Manager
Most people who enter public service do so because of their desire to improve people’s lives. Whether it be through healthcare, travel, taxes, or some other life event, citizens constantly engage with their government. Unfortunately, citizens may not always get the exceptional service they expect and deserve. This reality has driven a heightened interest in improving the citizen experience.
Indeed, U.S. citizens have higher customer service expectations than ever before, thanks to the rise of fast, simple online experiences in the commercial space. Yet, for a variety of reasons, the federal government has not kept pace with the private sector. As a result, the lack of attention to the citizen experience (or CX) is adversely affecting citizens’ view of government.
Clearly, change needs to happen. And while it may not be easy, it is possible. In fact, following three years of steady erosion ending in an all-time low score, citizen satisfaction with the U.S. federal government rebounded in 2016, increasing 6.4 percent to 68.0 on a 0 to 100 scale. This is the highest ACSI government satisfaction score since 2012, according to the ACSI Federal Government Report 2016. Providing the right training for the public service workforce is a critical piece in moving the needle even further.
Meeting the Needs of Digital Learners
Learning has changed as a result of mobile technology and easy access to information through Google and YouTube. People are less likely to take in large amounts of information and wait to apply it later. Instead, today’s learner wants to access information based on a current need and then apply it immediately.
In the digital age, people have the information they need at their fingertips. Every day, we observe how people use their phones to access information during conversations and meetings. It’s easy for a group discussing a topic to address questions and find answers to keep conversations moving forward. In only a moment, a group can capture the information it needs to apply to the problem or challenge.
In addition to expecting quick and easy access to the information they need, today’s learners demand engaging, interactive training. Video games, apps, and virtual reality exemplify how technology has become much more interactive. Learners are used to interacting with technology, not passively receiving it. Learners bring this expectation into the classroom with them. If learners are not engaged, they quickly become bored.
Scenario-based training can help learners engage with the content in the training component of your citizen experience strategy. The question or challenge the scenario poses requires learners to access information and then provides them with the opportunity to apply the information immediately to that scenario.
For example, you could use scenario-based training to teach a new employee how to respond to a Medicare beneficiary’s question about his healthcare benefits. Traditional training would involve teaching the new hire about Medicare policy. The new hire would not apply this knowledge to real-life situations until she graduated from the classroom portion of the training.
Scenario-based training involves presenting the new hire with a typical question from a beneficiary and providing her with reference materials where she can find the answer. The new hire then uses these reference materials to locate the answer to the beneficiary’s question. In the process of finding the answer, she also is learning about Medicare policy. More important, she is learning how to use their reference materials. This approach not only engages learners with the content, it also teaches them critical-thinking skills required to solve citizen problems that new hire training may not cover explicitly.
Improving New Hire Training
Effective new hire training will be critical to improving the citizen experience. When new employees join the organization, they are anxious to learn what is expected of them and how to succeed in their new roles. New employees look to their training to learn what the organization values and how they can fit into its culture. When the citizen experience is a prominent topic in new hire training, employees quickly understand the importance of providing exceptional service in every interaction. That cultural value stays with the new employees long after graduation from the new hire program.
When training uses realistic scenarios, new hires see what improving the citizen experience looks like in their day-to-day activities. To make employees’ roles in the citizen experience tangible, take real questions that citizens ask and have participants provide realistic answers based on actual policy and process. This relatable training exercise ingrains in employees knowledge of the situation for future reference.
When new hires in training apply information to situations they will face on the job, they learn how this information is relevant to the citizens they will be serving and what challenges they will encounter applying it. Trainers are able to provide real-time coaching that might not be possible on the job, and participants get a chance for a “redo” that they wouldn’t get with actual customers.
An example of this process in action is the “hot seat” scenario for call center agents that replicates situations they will encounter on the job. The trainer asks the new hire a question, and the new hire must use his resources to find the answer for the trainer.
When we measured the performance of new hires after realistic scenarios were added to our new hire curriculum, we found that their customer satisfaction scores were higher than for new hires whose curriculum did not include these scenarios. The time required for new hires to reach full proficiency on the job also was shorter after we added these scenarios.
Refreshing Employee Knowledge on the Job
E-learning modules are an effective and efficient way to provide refresher training to employees. Employees can take these modules at their own pace and refer back to them if needed. E-learning also removes the logistical complexity of scheduling classroom training.
The use of avatars helps make e-learning scenarios realistic. The avatar, along with the use of audio, makes the training feel more personal. Typically, the avatar presents an issue or question that a citizen may have. The learner is then presented with a series of options on how to proceed and asked to choose the best option for moving forward.
Learners receive feedback based on the option they chose. This feedback includes insight into how the citizen was likely to react to the response, as well as potential risks of providing inaccurate information or guidance. Learners then have an opportunity to try a different approach based on the feedback.
We gave employees who took scenario-based e-learning refresher modules a post-training survey asking how useful the training was in improving their service skills. The results showed that employees felt that the scenario-based modules were more effective than those with traditional multiple-choice questions.
In addition to refresher training, employees need access to a strong knowledge repository. This also is the foundation for a scenario-based learning strategy. To determine how to assist the customer, learners must use their resources to find the policies, procedures, and guidelines that explain how to resolve the issue. This information must be easy to find and understand when employees need it and be in the format they need it in. Ideally, it will be in an online repository such as an intranet site, SharePoint site, or wiki. Employees can then use this online repository much like they use Google and YouTube to find information.
Improving the citizen experience became a cross-agency priority in 2015. In agencies across government, this focus continues to be a critical part of building trust in the institution of government. Your agency’s path to greater success begins with improving every direct and indirect interaction citizens have with the government. Today’s citizens want to choose their path to public services using a variety of technologies, and government employees seeking to upgrade their skills so they can meet those citizens’ needs are no different.
Scenario-based training has been proven to be more effective in improving employees’ skills than some more traditional approaches. It also addresses the changing needs and preferences of today’s digital learner. No doubt, it should be a central component of your training strategy to support the citizen experience.