Learners teach each other how to handle difficult calls at CIGNA Insurance Call Center

(A guest article by Monica Snyder and Nancy Voutsinas, call center coaches who put together a 2 hour module for customer representatives on handling difficult calls.)

Customer representatives usually have secret fears about the worst type of call they might possibly receive. We decided that a fun way to relieve that anxiety would be to have them participate in an active learning program.

Prior to the class, we decorated a partitioned classroom with two very different themes. One side of the classroom was decorated to represent the 'Worst Call Nightmare.' This side of the room was dimly lit, and decorated with bats, dark clouds, lightning bolts, and an open coffin, along with eerie music playing. The other side was very bright and airy, decorated with flowers, sunshine, colorful streamers and kites, along with cheerful 'Here Comes the Sun' music playing.

We led learners into the dark side first. We told them to write down the two most dreaded phone calls they might receive. We gave them a little time to do this, and then they all read their fears aloud to the whole class. Then they threw these fears into the coffin. The top was placed on the coffin. We assured learners that with the help of their teammates and the Call Coaches, their worst nightmares would remain dead and buried.

Then we opened the partition and the class entered the light side of the room, while happy music played and sunshine streamed in the window. People were paired together and given an hour to resolve each other's fears. And, with aid from the Call Coaches, they designed reference cards to use when faced with those fearful situations on the job. When the hour had passed, participants shared their solutions with the entire class.

The object of this exercise was for reps to see that everyone has some sort of fear about the telephone calls they will receive. Asking reps to resolve their own nightmares was a way of helping them build the tools needed do their jobs. Having worked through their fears, as well as being armed with reference cards, the reps expressed relief in feeling that they could handle difficult calls successfully. A weight had been lifted from their shoulders. And they had a good time doing it.

Editor's Note: One of the strengths of this program is that the learners virtually generate all of the content while Nancy and Monica merely provide the framework.


Using a theme of dark and light, the trainers decorated
each side of the classroom accordingly. Learners spent
the first half of the program in the dark side identifying
their fears about difficult calls and the last half in the
light as they learned to build confidence in handling
these calls.

(September/October 1998 issue)