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Employee growth and the evolution of contact centre training - An interview with Kelly Jaynes, Ventrica’s Head of Quality & Learning and Development

Wed, June 26, 2024

Kelly Jaynes, Head of Learning and Development at Ventrica, brings over 25 years of experience in the contact centre industry to her role. Her journey from agent to training specialist then operational leader has given her a unique perspective on the importance of effective training.

In this interview, we talk to Kelly about her career path and how training methods have changed over the past quarter of a century. We also touch on Ventrica’s approach to career-long learning and development, and how AI-assisted training might evolve.

Can you walk us through your career journey in the contact centre industry?

I’ve been in the contact centre world for just over 25 years, working for in-house centres, white labelled centres, and BPOs. I started as an agent at Telewest, which was acquired by Virgin Media in 2007. I had no aspiration to make a career of it at that time. I joined because it was close to home.

What I discovered is that you make friends and contacts for life in this industry. I’m still in touch with many colleagues from those early days.

My first senior role was as a Training Manager at a BPO. I then moved into operational roles, becoming Head of Operations at a big insurance company where I was responsible for running a 200-seat contact centre. This role was lots of fun even though it was demanding, having to react quickly to global events like natural disasters, airline collapses, earthquakes, and, of course, COVID-19.

I joined Ventrica four years ago in an operational role, but when the opportunity arose to lead the Learning & Development function, an area where I have extensive experience, I jumped at it.

What inspired you to move into a training role early in your career?

When I started as an agent, I found the role quite challenging. There was a lot to learn with so many different products and upgrades. Billing was particularly difficult. My main thought when I moved into training was that I could help explain things to new starters in a way that would have benefited me when I was in their shoes. I firmly believe in the power of demonstration and practice. In my view, practice is better than theory, and you can never have too much of it.

At Ventrica, we recognise that there is a significant bridge for new starters to cross between the training environment and the ‘real world’ of live customer interactions. That’s why we focus on practical training, to make it as smooth a transition as possible between training and production environments.

How has training in contact centres evolved over the past 25 years?

It’s been quite remarkable really. When I started, we were giving inductions to groups using overhead projectors and acetates. We even had old John Cleese VHS cassettes to demonstrate customer service principles.

Fast forward to today, and we’re training both in-house and remote groups simultaneously using a blend of technologies, from PowerPoint to Learning Management Systems (LMS) and e-learning platforms.

We’re just launching our first AI-enhanced training programme for our Data Protection module. We know that e-learning can sometimes be a bit tedious, especially when done remotely, so we’ve focused on making it both valuable and engaging.

We’re using an app called Synthesia to create AI-generated Ventrica employees who explain how data protection affects various areas of our business. These AI avatars, representing different departments like IT, finance, and operations, present stories based on interviews with key personnel.

This is getting rolled out gradually, and it’s our C-Suite who will take the training first, so we can gather feedback and refine the approach. Needless to say, our goal is to leverage AI to enhance, not replace, our human-led training initiatives.

What role does training play in employee development at Ventrica?

Training is crucial in an employee’s journey. We teach lifelong skills that individuals can apply throughout their careers, whether they stay in contact centres or move to other industries. Moreover, we try to help them to learn skills they can apply in their personal lives as well.

On a practical level, onboarding training serves as an introduction to both Ventrica and the client the employee will be working for. It’s an opportunity to instill our values and explain who we are as a business, while also doing the same for the client’s brand.

The other purpose of training is to give our team members varied career paths and development opportunities. For example, our apprenticeship scheme is an integral part of our learning and development strategy. While it’s not suitable for everyone, we’ve seen great success, particularly with our team leaders. Many have completed their team leader apprenticeship, earning a recognised qualification that will benefit them throughout their careers. We’re now seeing many of these individuals progress to higher-level apprenticeships and accreditations.

Our current apprenticeships focus on customer service, team leadership, and operational management. This year, we’re expanding to include apprenticeships in HR, finance, training, and IT. We fund these through the apprenticeship levy, which is a mandatory investment for businesses of our size.

Where this scheme is hugely effective is in exposing our staff to different aspects of the business they might not otherwise encounter. They get structured opportunities for growth, and it helps create a clear career progression path from agent to team leader to operational manager.

How do you tailor your training approach for different client brands?

The key is understanding that each brand is unique. We tailor every aspect of training depending on the client. It’s our job to give each advisor an understanding of the client’s brand value, the tone of voice and vocabulary to use, the aesthetics, and the level of customer experience the client expects.

Each of our trainers specialises in certain areas and is passionate about what they’re teaching. For Charlotte Tilbury, we assign trainers who are passionate about makeup and the brand itself.

When we work with a new brand,. We immerse ourselves in their brand identity. We visit them, interact with their people and products, and develop tailored training and onboarding materials. While customer experience at a high level can have similar objectives – everyone wants good customer service – we focus on the unique elements of each brand. This includes emotive aspects of customer service, which we draw out from our clients.

Some brands have specific words they prefer (Charlotte Tilbury clients will recognise a very well-used adjective), but it’s mostly about capturing the emotional essence of the brand. For example, Tommee Tippee’s approach is very emotive, considering who their customers are and why they’re calling. Their calls are unscripted and conversational, with a tone that says, ‘We understand, we’ve got you.’ It’s our close partnerships with clients that help us truly understand and convey these nuances.

Can you tell us about Ventrica’s approach to quality assurance and how it ties into training?

QA falls under my remit. Our team leaders conduct quality monitoring, which serves multiple purposes. It helps develop our people, identifies opportunities for improvement, tracks performance metrics, and ensures we close the feedback loop with customers.

We have dedicated Quality Assurance Analysts who compile and analyse all this data. We’re currently transitioning to Power BI to get real-time reports rather than just backward-looking data. This allows us to identify trends and take proactive actions to address them.

We also conduct regular calibrations which is a combined effort between our QA function, team leaders, senior advisors, and clients. This allows us to listen to calls, review tickets, and have open discussions about what’s working and what needs improvement. The focus is not on what any individuals are doing right or wrong, but rather on refining our scorecards and processes to enhance both customer and employee experiences.

We’re exploring AI applications in this area too, such as Conversational Analytics and Sentiment Analysis. While AI is great for high-volume monitoring, we’re careful not to lose the human touch in understanding customer sentiment and emotional aspects of customer service, which are key to our strategy.

How has Ventrica adapted to remote learning, and what challenges have you faced?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to adapt quickly to remote work. Over the past two years, we’ve refined our learning approach to be future-proof for both remote and office-based scenarios. We train remote and in-office teams at the same time, and the key is engaging the entire audience, regardless of location. We maintain the same expectations for remote learners as we would in an office setting, encouraging eye contact and direct interaction through video calls.

We use tools like Microsoft Teams for breakout rooms and SharePoint for collaborative work. In our experience, remote training can be just as effective as in-person sessions when done right.

The biggest challenge has been replicating the systems training and buddy-up opportunities that naturally occur in an office environment. We’ve developed ways to address this remotely through practice sessions, skills workshops, call listening exercises, and group scenario work. Our goal is to ensure all trainees feel comfortable and well-prepared, regardless of their physical location, and I think we’re doing that.

What is the Million Makers project, and how does it benefit Ventrica employees?

Million Makers is a fundraising challenge organised by the Prince’s Trust, where businesses compete to raise money for the charity. Teams must present a business plan, Dragons Den style, and then they receive a seed investment of up to £1,500 from the Prince’s Trust. Their goal is to use that money to fund whatever activities are in their plan and grow it into a larger amount for the Trust.

For us, this project serves two purposes. First, it allows us to support a worthy cause. Secondly, it provides our employees with an incredible learning opportunity. Participants gain hands-on experience in areas like finance, project management, and entrepreneurship. They develop resilience and problem-solving skills.

Although it requires dedication and hard work, we think it’s an invaluable learning experience, like our apprenticeship schemes. We know these kinds of opportunities help with career advancement, as we see in our internal promotions, but they also equip you with lifelong skills. Knowing that the work we do contributes to making our people’s lives just that little bit better gives me great satisfaction.