Welcome to the edge, a Skillsoft podcast for learners and leaders alike. In every episode, we engage in candid thought-provoking conversations on the topic of learning and growth in the workplace. And I couldn't be more excited to launch our second season of the edge so much has changed since we ended season one. And by the way, all of the episodes are available on skillsoft.com. I highly encourage you to go back and check them out. But in the past few months, many of us have entered new phases of the pandemic. In some regions, the silver linings are in clear sight, loved ones are reuniting. Economies are opening and companies are considering what the future of work should look like. But in other regions, conditions are still severe, and the battle is ongoing. And we stand by our Skillsoft team members, our customers, and our partners who are living that battle here at Skillsoft.
We've been experiencing quite a bit of change as a company in June. We achieved a milestone event in the company's history, combining Skillsoft, global knowledge and Churchill capital Corp to, to become one of the industry's largest corporate digital learning providers focused on the enterprise. As the new Skillsoft, we are more committed than ever to helping organizations build a future fit workforce, skilled and ready for the jobs of tomorrow. And guess what? We commenced trading on the New York stock exchange under the ticker symbols K I L. And it was an absolute thrill to stand next to our new leadership team, including CEO, Jeff Tarr, who rang the opening bell in celebration. So, as we kick off season two of the edge, I would say that change is foremost on the mind because today we are talking all about transformation, specifically how organizations can transform the customer experience by empowering their workforce to transform themselves.
Now, let me explain. When you think about innovation specifically for a corporate function, like the contact center, the focus often turns to what technologies the company is using to better serve customers. Now, look, that is essential digital transformation and the use of technology is everything in today's economy. But what about the transformation of people I'm talking about the customer service representatives who pick up the phone, answer the emails, engage in live chat sessions. How do we deliver innovation to the human side of customer service? So that a customer's interaction with a service representative is defined by qualities like empathy, personalization, and proactive problem solving, you know, those power skills that I love to talk about. Well, I'll sum it up in a words here. The key to innovation lies in new skills, new knowledge and new mindsets. And this is where our guest today absolutely shines. He is a thought leader in the field of learning and talent development. He has created, managed and achieved results with a unique program that empowers customer service employees to consistently go above and beyond their roles. And when it comes to learning and development, he is a believer in the power of culture and measurement, and specifically where those two areas intersect. I am so excited to welcome our very first guest of the edges. Second season Ben Sieke, director of talent development and learning for Delta dental. Ben, welcome. Thank you for joining us on the edge,
Michelle. Thank you so much for having me. I'm LA long-time listener first-time guests. So, I'm excited to get to spend some time with you here.
Okay. That's a first for me. Thank you. I love that. Now look, Ben. I am sure, that in my opening, I only scratched the surface when it comes to talking about you and the job that you do. So why don't we start with you sharing a little bit about yourself, your company, and your role at Delta dental.
I'm a career learning and development professional. Um, and so I've spent a little time working in other parts of HR, but I'm really passionate about learning. That's what I love to do. I've been at Delta dental for a little over two years, and I had the great privilege before Delta dental to work with some great learning organizations and some iconic brands, um, including WeightWatchers guitar center and M U F G the bank of Tokyo. And then, yeah, for fun. I, you know, COVID put a little bit of a damper on this, but it's coming back. I played drums in a nineties cover band. So, I was a pro drummer earlier in my life before I found learning and development. So, um, it's great to be able to scratch that itch and, and have a hobby that I love outside of work.
I am totally coming to see you perform. So, you have to tell me, and then we're going to give our listeners the schedule so that anyone who wants to come see Ben play the drums. You have an open invitation. It's a lot of fun. So, so why don't we, why don't we move on to, um, learning and development. Although I'd love to hear more about your band. I want to talk about your learning and development program, because it is incredibly innovative from what I understand. Look, you work for an organization that has a really important mission protecting the oral health of individuals, families, businesses, employees. And by the way, you're protecting this very mouth here, just so you know, um, and you have incredible reach, 80 million smiles and counting, and a major part of ensuring your members are indeed smiling is providing superior customer service. So, tell us, how are you harnessing the power of learning to give your customer service employees, the skills and knowledge they need to go above and beyond?
Absolutely. First, I should clarify. Or if you asked before about me and about the company and about the function. So, Delta dental is it's an awesome organization, a very interesting organization. It's actually Delta dental. The brand that consumers recognize is quite a few different organizations and many Delta dental's cover like a single state or two states. The enterprise that I'm a part of is the kind of the, the big dog. So, we have a 15 state service area, including the district of Columbia, it's Delta, dental of California, Delta, dental of Pennsylvania, Delta, dental of New York, the Delta dental insurance company, and a bunch of affiliated companies that all work together as one enterprise. So out of that 80 million people that Delta dental serves, we're 38 million of them across those, those 15 states and DC, right? So we've got a huge, huge chunk of that. If we're not the largest private dental insurer in the world where we're up there somewhere, right?
To your point about reach and to your question about how we serve our customers, right? Because when you think about customer service, first of all right, you know, there's a bunch of different interaction points. The big one is our contact center, and that's where customers are calling in to get a range of questions, answered to work through a challenge. They might have another interesting piece of our business is what, what is a customer, right? Because you as an individual, certainly are a customer, right? We, we ensure you and we take care of your teeth through our providers, but our providers are also customers of ours, right? They're getting our network, they're calling in for service, your, you schedule your appointment, they'll go on the website, or they'll call us and just make sure that Michelle's covered and that whatever procedure you're going to have you're covered for.
And then of course, right, Skillsoft as a group, right, as someone that's insuring all the employees is also a customer. So, we have all kinds of folks that we're interacting with in different ways. And our contact center is probably the most like visible interaction point for our, the individual members and for our providers, the dentists and other specialists out there. And in the past, a lot of the focus of the contact center was, was really being lean and being efficient. And there was a piece of that that was creating a good customer service experience. But a lot of that even was defined in terms of, you know, first call resolution. And how quickly can we resolve the call? This assumption that like, you know, speed is important. You're calling in it's this transactional thing. We want it to address your issue or your concern. We want to do that as quickly and as efficiently as we can, the opportunity was recognized to really step back and say, well, a couple of things, right?
Not to say, people are looking to spend, you know, an on the phone talking with us, but I think this is true for most of us in any sort of a customer service interaction, speed and efficiency are important things, but that's far from the only important thing we're looking for as consumers, we want to get our questions answered. We want to be taken care of. We want to feel, and we want to feel like the person that we're talking to cares about us. So that's a piece of it and recognizing as well, that because of the nature of our product, and I think this is probably true for most insurance companies, people aren't really thinking about us or about what the product is until they go to use it. You know, that you have dental insurance, you probably not spending that much time thinking about all the different things that, that covers until you have to go use it until you run into a dental health issue or until it's time for your cleaning or those kinds of things.
And so, you know, when people are calling in, they're calling in, usually because they need to know the answer to a question that they don't know the answer to, or because they've run into an issue, but also there's, there are unasked questions that some of our customers might not realize that they had a, you know, a great example is maybe there's an exclusion period for a certain kind of service, so, right. We cover you for this thing, but maybe you can't do that thing in the first 90 days or 30 days after you have the policy. Right. And so if you were to call in and say, am I covered for this thing? The answer might be yes, but we want our folks to go above and beyond and ask, when are you planning to do that? And then ask questions like, you know, do you have a provider, right?
Can we help you find somebody that's within our network to do that service? Right. So to, to try to, to think beyond just the question that you're calling in with, and just make sure that by the time we let you go, you've got everything answered, knowing that we needed to make that culture shift it, really stepping back and asking, how do we do that? We knew that learning and development was going to be a huge role in that because our emphasis, when training staff hadn't been on some of those customer service skills, it had been on others, but not so much on things like, um, empathy and asking really good thoughtful questions and right, doing that perspective, taking to really try to put yourself in the shoes of our customer, that's calling in and really thinking through what is all the stuff they might need to know or think about or talk about.
So that they're fully prepared for that I should mention, right. You, you asked before a little bit about my team. So, we've, we have 33 people in our learning and development team here at Delta dental of California. And, um, that includes an in-house instructional design team that builds a lot of our custom programs. And so, we built out this program in close partnership with the contact center leadership and working with contact center agents to really kind of create this couture learning experience, something that is for Delta dental, by Delta dental, that's meant to take great care of our customers. And what's been really cool about, and you'll, you'll appreciate this as well. It's a blended program that includes some assets from our Percipio library, right. You know, we rolled this thing out, um, last July and we integrated it into our new hire program. So whenever someone comes into the contact center as a new hire, this is a part of how we skill them up.
And then we've been working through our incumbent population. What's been really cool to see is that during that time we've seen significant lifts in our net promoter score, NPS our customer satisfaction scores, and not just are we seeing those overall in how our customers are rating the service they're getting through the contact center, but when we've really dug in and done, um, through some partnership with our customer experience group here, when we dug in and did cohort analysis and looked at the before and after for our learners, we saw significant lifts for our employees across the board that showed that before they take the training, they're performing at one level after they go through the training, they're performing at a higher level. And that's such a cool thing to not be able to say, oh, you know, we built this awesome program. We love it, our clients happy. That's great. But to see the results is, is really where the magic is.
Absolutely. And look, you know, it's interesting because I think everybody thinks, well, we can teach these jobs specific kind of hard durable skills, but power skills. That's something that's really difficult. What you've done essentially is said, we had to make a culture shift. We need people to really embody these power skills of empathy and personalization and communication. The things that maybe again, you wouldn't necessarily tie to contact center metrics because you know that they are going to result in a positive impact. And I would imagine that the brand itself, you've seen a lift in terms of how people view Delta dental. Can you talk a little bit to that?
Absolutely. And you're exactly right. You know, we, we're a premium brand, right. You know, of all the places you could go out and get dental insurance. Um, we see ourselves and we, we think our customers see us as being kind of the upper echelon. And with that comes this expectation that you're going to get high quality service when you call in as well. So when we again think about net promoter score, that's where we feel like we're seeing that, that come back and say, this is improving our brand. After they interact with one of our contact center agents, they're more likely to recommend us to someone else and it could be a peer. And we also have a direct to consumer business too. So as an individual, you could call in and buy dental insurance from us. And so that, that net promoter score really matters. So there's that piece of it. And then again, just feeling like the service that we're providing is enough, is in alignment with our brand, right. We want to be able to say, you know, we've got the best providers out there. We've got, you know, and along with that, we've got the best service. So when you call in, when you need to know something, when you have a, we're also going to take care of you better than anyone else,
I love that. And, you know, as I listened to you talk, and I'm smiling because, you know, I'm thinking about my teeth as we're talking, but you're talking about metrics and ensuring that they are tied to meaningful outcomes for individuals like myself, but also for companies and providers. And I can hear that you're really passionate about this. So not only learning and development, but also it feels like you care a lot about how and what you measure too. And here at Skillsoft, we talked to a lot of L and D leaders who I think face challenges when it comes to measurement specifically like going beyond the activity and consumption how much content was consumed. Right. But focusing more on the value, the return. So talk to us a little bit about your approach to measurement and how you report on it. How do you report on the efficacy, the effectiveness of your programs?
So I'll say this you're, you're totally right, Michelle. Like this is something I'm really passionate about. I could, if we, if we had like six hours, we could really nerd out on this. Right. Um, and you know, it's something that evolves over time, right? Like, we're, we have, we've made sure that a lot as a function over the last year or two, um, but there's still a lot of work to do. And there's places where, you know, we, we launched a situational leadership two last year in partnership with the Ken Blanchard companies and we commissioned an impact study for that. Right. Cause it was a big investment on the organization's part. And we wanted to make sure that we were really rigorous in telling the story of what happened. So we've got that on one end of the spectrum. And then the other end of the spectrum, we have programs that we measure really just to level one or to level two and on the Kirkpatrick model.
Right? So there's, there's a whole bunch of different approaches that we're taking. And as a part of kind of maturing how we do measurement and evaluation here, we're kind of taking a long-term approach. And here's the reason why, so to your point about learning leaders, struggling with this, it, it is a struggle and it's for a couple of different reasons. First, there's something weird about the training business, where, um, people often don't ask what they got for the investment. Um, and hey often do, right. Don't get me. It's not like it's just silence on it, but there's a lot of organizations that feel like, and they're right about this to a certain extent, but this doesn't mean that you can measure it, that they have the sense that, well, we have to be investing in the development of our people, right? This is part of our cost of doing business.
Right. And obviously we expect that function to get some results and stuff like that. But I think that ties into the other piece of either people aren't asking, or to your point, they're asking those questions, like how many hours of learning was consumed or how many courses were completed, or those kinds of things, which are evidence of activity, but not necessarily of impact, right. People can spend a lot of time doing something and not have that there. And I'll say this, right? Like I'm, I'm a huge proponent of the Kirkpatrick model. There's a lot of great thought leaders out there around the measurement of learning. You know, I really think about it as this is it's, there's a piece of this. Yes. That is about justifying the investment and telling the story to others. And that piece is important. I view it personally as also being, and just as important, how you run a quality business, you know, I, I, there's a couple of mantras.
I didn't make these up either. Right. You've certainly heard them before you can't manage what you don't measure and what gets measured improves. And those two things I really take to heart because if, even if you're measuring some of the more basic things beyond just activity, but things like learner sentiment, it's, it's an expectation of mine that we're creating a great learner experience. And, and that's, that's sort of like the cost of admission, right? If you're a trainer and creating a great learning experience, if we're doing some content curation, we're working in Percipio, we're putting something together. I want that to be a great experience for the people that are consuming, that if we're not measuring, if we're not collecting that feedback and we're not measuring that, how do we even know if that's happening, let alone try to improve it. And then you start to get into, well, okay, if we're measuring this stuff, and now we're understanding our areas of strength and areas of opportunity, how do we get everybody on board with that?
I'm really proud this year, we instituted a performance school for a lot of the members on the learning team around learner sentiment. So part of their performance rating is tied back to their level one survey scores, uh, in particular, the trainers. And one of the things that we've seen is that the learner sentiment for our, um, instructor led training courses was quite high. Like we have some fantastic trainers here at Lee. Like I have an amazing team. Yeah. I actually brag about them for days. What we've seen though, is that despite how well they were performing last year, it got, it's gotten even better year to date. One of the questions that we ask to measure learner sentiment for instructor led courses is, you know, when you reflect on the training, how would you rate your instructor? Our learners, radar instructors, a 96 out of a hundred.
And it's huge. It's amazing. And it was last year, it was 90 something, right? It was lower, but it was still in the nineties, but I'm just such a huge believer in when you start measuring this stuff, when you start looking at it, when you start holding people accountable for it, that's where you really see what's the best we can do. And I don't ever think we'll get to a hundred, cause that's asking too much. Right. But, you know, I will say this, that, you know, it allows me as a learning leader to be really confident when I'm going and talking with my peers or with senior leaders, I can talk all day long about the great learner experience that we're creating. I know that we are because I have the data and the facts that show it. And I know exactly who's creating that.
So it also allows me to recognize the team because they they're doing a great job. And again, I know it, I don't have to be in all the classes to see what a great job the team is doing. And so I think, right, not just looking at it as, how do I tell that story to, to finance or whoever's funding my programs, but just as a leader, I got to know what's going on and measuring that. Especially if you have, as I do a relatively large team, you have to have consistent ways to measure that. Right. It can't just be anecdotal. It can't just be going and observing here and there, it needs to be, you know, collecting feedback, collecting data at scale.
That's, I mean, that's it right? Data don't lie. Right? And so it's a really great thing to have in your arsenal is to be able to say, this is how we're performing. This is how our team is doing for the good, for the bad here, areas of improvement. Again, the data is, is your friend, Ben,
This has been so great and we have so much ground yet to cover. So I think we should go for episode two and we'll use our time there to talk about the power of culture. And then we'll be able to post it on skillsoft.com and continue this amazing conversation that we've already begun. Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the edge podcast. And on behalf of Skillsoft, I'd like to thank you for being our customer and for the wonderful partnership we've built together to our listeners. Stay tuned for episode two of our series with Ben Sieke of Delta dental, we'll be talking all about the power of culture and it will be available soon as always on skillsoft.com and on behalf of the entire Skillsoft team, thank you for tuning into this. And every episode as we unleash our edge together, we encourage you to keep learning, keep growing and keep finding ways to go above and beyond. I'm Michelle BB. This is the edge be well.