The Case for Authentic Writing Training

Four reasons for using relevant e-mails and writing exercises when helping customer service agents improve their writing skills

  • NOTE: In this post, I am making the case for authentic writing training for customer service agents. But I believe these four reasons apply to writing training for all types of employees.

If you want your customer service agents to write high quality e-mail to customers, and you’re planning to invest time and money in writing skills training for your agents, be sure the training materials are relevant to the work they do and the training provider understands the writing demands of the agents’ job.

Reason 1: Relevant training materials and exercises enable agents to transfer skills from training to the job.
It’s not enough to have agents improve their writing skills in the confines of the training room. For the training to be worthwhile, agents must be able to apply the writing skills learned during the training to the job. Thus, the more similar the training materials are to the actual writing agents do, the better the transfer will be. For example, agents should practice grammar and punctuation skills by editing e-mail samples not project proposals or monthly reports. 

Reason 2: Customer service agents’ work requires a specific set of writing skills, ones which are not interchangeable with skills required of other employees.
Each job requires its own kind of writing. Auditors need to summarize findings, marketers need to persuade readers to buy, and human resources professionals need to explain benefits packages to employees. Customer service agents need a specific set of writing skills, too. They must be able to anticipate and answer customers’ questions, use a tone that builds rapport between the customer and company, and integrate canned answers into free-form text. A worthwhile, authentic training program will help agents develop the writing skills they will actually use, not just the “generic” writing skills any employee might need.

Reason 3: Relevant writing training reduces agents’ resistance.
Some agents may be resistant to training that helps them improve basic writing skills such as grammar and punctuation. They may feel that their employer lacks trust in them or that the training is unnecessary.  They may even be somewhat embarrassed that their writing skills need refreshing or worried that they’ll be dismissed from their job because their writing skills are poor. Providing training that’s relevant to their job, training that uses work-related e-mail examples rather than generic business writing examples or Composition 101 examples, can reduce their resistance. When they see that the writing skills they’ll learn during the training are directly related to the work they do every day, they become more open to learning.

Reason 4: Relevant training materials become a useful reference tool after the training is complete.
The training materials—notebook, handouts, exercises, etc.—will guide agents’ learning during the actual training, and, if they are relevant, these materials can be useful after the training. For example, many writing guides will contain a list of frequently misused or misspelled words. Such a list can be useful to agents one month after the training, or even six months after the training, if it is a list of work-related words.

What are your thoughts on the topic of authentic writing training? What kinds of learning experiences make writing training real for the work you do? Post here or e-mail me with your thoughts.

— Leslie O’Flahavan

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