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How to structure a telephone role play session

A great telephone role-play session should have three distinct parts: an introduction, a main theme and finally a summary with a call to action. Here’s an example of how one of our customers structures his telephone role play sessions to get the best from his delegates.  Feel free to use it as a blueprint or tweak it for your own telephone training sessions.

The introduction will let participants know what will happen and what’s involved to engender buy-in and to put them at ease.

The main theme will be the actual role-play practice and feedback on a specified topic to improve telephone skills and performance. Role-plays are best organised and facilitated using the tried and tested framework for skills training and development, known as EDICC:

        • Explanation
        • Demonstration
        • Imitation & Feedback (Role-play)
        • Coaching
        • Consolidation

The Imitation (or role-play) part of EDICC should incorporate the BOOSTER principles of constructive feedback and a painless and effective feedback process after each role-play.

Lastly, the summary and call to action is a chance to explore what happened, what they learned and how they will apply this in the workplace.

So let’s take a look at this 3-part session in more detail.

 

How to structure a telephone role play session

 

How to structure a telephone role play session: The Introduction

The best role-play sessions are set-up and introduced in a way that really engages participants, engenders their buy-in and puts them at ease – after all, role-playing can be a nerve racking experience. So you’ll need to do the following:

      • Describe the topic being covered, and the objectives and benefits of the session – the most effective role-play sessions focus on closing performance gaps the participants already know exist. In this situation it’s relatively easy to help participants recognise the benefits of role-play
      • Explore the benefits of role-play in a very enthusiastic and positive way; reinforce that the practice sessions will be conducted in a safe environment away from customers, where mistakes can be made and will be expected, meaning instant feedback can be given, and participants can learn from the experience and, ultimately improve performance
      • Confirm the old adage that “practice makes perfect” and the fact that to get the most out role-play you just need to throw yourself into it.

As part of the introduction, the trainer should introduce PhoneCoach kit and the benefits of using it – if you are going to use this role-play equipment.   If you don’t, then we strongly recommend you find some means of your group being able to role-play in pairs and record them all and instantly feed those calls back to them.

So, if using PhoneCoach explain that:

        • It works just like a normal telephone system making the role-plays very realistic
        • Everyone is on the phone at once so no worrying about everyone listening to their roleplay, or waiting your turn
        • It enables you to immediately listen to recorded calls in pairs over handset, so you get instant feedback on the things you did well and those things that could be improved
        • It enables you to listen as a group and share the role-played calls using the loudspeaker
        • You will do a demonstration of how it is used in pairs

 

It’s important to agree the principles of constructive feedback to be used after each role-play, using the mnemonic ‘BOOSTER’, which emphasises that constructive feedback must be:

        • Balanced- focusing on the positives of performance as much as the negatives coming from the role-play
        • Observed- based on what actually happened during the role-play
        • Objective – an account of what happened without judgement
        • Specific – focused on the subject of the role-play, the skill being improved
        • Timely – given as soon after the role-play as possible, so the experience is still fresh in the mind
        • Empathetic – taking into consideration how nerve racking role-play can be, especially the initial ones in a session
        • Recorded – where possible, written down so participants can take it away to continue to use it in the future to improve performance.

Lastly, the trainer should outline the feedback process, which avoids argument and confrontation.

One option is for the pairs to listen back to their calls together and discuss how it went, perhaps using a feedback checklist.   Then later the group can listen to each others calls via the loudspeaker to learn from each other. How you feed back depends on the group and the time involved.   Very often a trainer picks out one or two of the calls to play over the loudspeaker so the group learn, but it is time consuming to listen to all the calls and debrief and after the first one or two calls have been dissected and learnt from, it is usually enough for the group to learn and then go into another practice role-play.

The feedback session should then take the following route:

        • First word = caller on how they felt it went – it’s only polite to give them first say
        • Vow of silence on caller – so constructive feedback can be given unchallenged
        • BOOSTER feedback from call receiver – on what went well and not quite so well
        • Keep/Change summary from call receiver – what the caller should keep and do differently on the next call
        • Last word and keep/change summary from caller – what they will actually keep for the next call and what they will do differently.

 

How to structure a telephone role play session: Main Theme – Role-Play Practice

The participants will need an understanding of what they are looking to improve through their role-play before they undertake it, so you’ll need to introduce them to the topic being covered – this could be a generic look at telephone skills or, more effectively, a specific telephone performance gap, identified from observations or customer feedback.

      • Explore and confirm the benefits for improving performance in the specified area
      • Overview or run through the specified topic, so delegates understand what it is specifically they are looking at – you could use one of the series of checklists provided by PhoneCoach or produce your own in-house to do this. Either way, the checklist should confirm what good performance looks and sounds like.

 

Demonstration:

You don’t have to do this, but you may like to do a phone call demonstration – pre-recorded to show the group what you are looking for.  

The phone call demonstration, which ideally should be pre-recorded using the PhoneCoach system (or a recording device) , is a key part of the session, because it provides participants with a model and clear picture of how they should be performing on the phone – it provides them with a clear image of what good performance looks and sounds like.  Think carefully about who should do the initial demonstration; try to avoid asking participants to provide initial demonstrations as the extroverts are likely to play to the gallery, while the more nervous ones are likely to freeze.

For example, it may be you and another trainer, or you and a manager, who do the role-play just to show them what you are looking for.

As the old adage goes: “If you know where you are going you are more likely to get there”, so it’s worth spending time to set the demonstration up during the session. Before the demonstration is provided, the participants need to be clear on what they need to do to get the most out of it. So you’ll need to:

      • Introduce the demonstration, ask the participants to listen carefully and make notes on what they hear
      • Ideally they should use the relevant checklist to assess the demonstration call, and identify and confirm key skills relating to the topic.

Hold a short post-demonstration review (using the checklist) of the key points relating to the topic (i.e. what you would like to see and what you want delegates to focus on when they role–play.

Imitation and Feedback (role-plays)

The effectiveness of role-playing is all about good organisation and making sure all participants have an opportunity to play the role of the ‘caller’, although, often playing the ‘call receiver’ can be just as insightful. Obviously if you are training up inbound agents you will be focussing on the call receivers role.

Ensuring the participants keep to the brief or scenario, stay “in role” during the role-play and use the agreed process and principles for constructive feedback are the keys to role-play success. Be mindful to do the following:

  • Provide a short verbal or preferably a written brief of the scenario you would like the participants to role-play – usually the same scenario they heard in the demonstration call, with enough information for the caller and call receiver to understand and be able to play their role
  • Avoid making the scenarios too long, but feel free to start by using a script, ensuring by the end of the session, participants move away from the script to make more natural calls.

When you are ready to begin the role plays, issue checklists, if the participants do not already have them, then organise the delegates into pairs and position them appropriately; situating pairs at opposite sides of the room facing away from each other so there is no eye contact (which you don’t get over the telephone) usually works very well. Better still, the PhoneCoach system allows participants to be in separate rooms, this makes the role-play even more realistic.

Reconfirm the benefits of role-play and the process and principles for constructive feedback, then give them time to:

      • complete their role-plays using the PhoneCoach system or whatever else you can work with
      • listen back to the recordings, either over the handset or via the loudspeaker, using the checklist to identify what went well and not quite so well
      • to receive constructive feedback from their colleague after each role-play using the agreed feedback process and principles of constructive feedback.

Coaching

As a trainer you’ll want to listen into calls or walk around the room to identify coaching points you would like to share with the whole group. You can provide individual coaching points drawn from the checklists throughout the session, for example, by joining individual pairs as they listen back to calls and deliver their feedback to each other. You can also listen into live calls as the participants role-play. This means you  can monitor progress (via the Trainers Headset), identify coaching points for the individuals concerned and provide instant feedback and instruction as the call unfolds .It is also beneficial to draw the group together to provide group coaching by discussing their role-play experiences; what went well, what went not so well, and what they will keep and change when they run the role-play again or make these calls in the workplace for real.

Consolidation

To help embed new or developed skills it is always helpful to add some consolidating activities both during and post session .For example, delegates should repeat role-plays,  so they can implement their keep and changes immediately, either using the same scenarios or adding new ones. You could also try using a ‘goldfish bowl’ activity – with one pair demonstrating a successful call to the rest of the group. Finally, you could observe participants making these calls and coach them back in the workplace.

 

How to structure a telephone role play session: Session Summary

The session summary should provide participants with an opportunity to reflect on their experience during the session, what they learned and how they will reap the benefits of learning and development back in the workplace. As well as summarising what was covered during the session, you’ll need to ask some key questions:

 

        • What happened during the role plays?
        • What did you learn?
        • What does that mean for you in your job?
        • What will you do differently in the workplace?

 

 

It might also be beneficial to provide time for the delegates to create an action plan relating to any further help, support and training that they might need and what they are going to do to ensure that what they have learned is applied effectively in the workplace.

So there you have it…plenty of food for thought, help and advice if you are planning to  develop telephone performance through role-play. The advice provided here has been drawn from many managers and trainers who run telephone training sessions.

Good luck and have fun!

 

For more details about the PhoneCoach kit, please drop me a line at mandy@phonecoach.com, or visit the website: www.phonecoach.com      

 

Resources

Use these checklists to plan your role play session and record feedback:

Checklist X Structure of a Telephone Role-Play Session

Checklist X BOOSTER Constructive Feedback

Checklist X Constructive Feedback Process

 

 

 

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