Workers want training that can be packed into a few hours but that is still rich with information. Their employers want it to be inexpensive. That’s where Brown Bag Training tries to provide a compromise. The company offers a series of e-courses to teach soft skills to help desk pros, call center agents, and other workers handling customer service issues. Let’s take a look at what the company has to offer. You can then use this information to compare with other training options or to find out whether Brown Bag training can provide what your help desk pros need.

What’s different about Brown Bag?
Brown Bag tries to differentiate itself from the zillions of other soft skills e-learning options by offering shorter, cheaper classes. Brown Bag posts its prices on its Web site, while many competitors quote a price depending on the student’s employer, the number of courses taken, or if co-workers are also enrolling.

Brown Bag classes cost $95 each and last between 30 and 45 minutes. Corporations—or energetic learners—may purchase a 10-pack, 20-pack, or 100-pack of courses at an incrementally discounted rate.

According to Frank Rich, who founded Brown Bag and now serves as its vice president of sales and marketing, eight classes will be offered beginning in July 2003 and more will be added later. For those who may be new to e-learning, a live instructor provides some interaction through question-and-answer sessions, quizzes, and tests.

Course titles include:

  • 10 Tips for Writing Quality E-mail
  • Dealing with Difficult Customers
  • Effective Listening Skills
  • Organizing Your E-mail
  • Customer Service 101
  • Speak the Speech: Improving Your Vocal Telephone Skills
  • Motivating Your Team
  • Useful Questioning Skills

Beta customers’ experience
A beta testing of Brown Bag’s courses was done earlier this year with 60 employees from 20 companies. Steve Ocello, project manager at Endicott Interconnect Inc., and Norm Burton, director of technology at DriveTime, were two of the chosen testers.

Ocello works in his company’s microelectronics division. He took Brown Bag’s Effective Listening Skills and Dealing with Difficult Customers courses. Before joining Endicott, Ocello managed three IBM sites in New York, and was frustrated with the money spent on providing training to customers. He said he was happy with the online training because it meant that he didn’t need to leave Endicott, NY.

Norm Burton and five of his technicians completed the Effective Listening Skills and Dealing with Difficult Customers courses. Their company, DriveTime, is headquartered in Phoenix and hosts 76 independent auto dealers nationwide. Burton said most workers who spend a lot of time on the phone have two challenges: getting the time available for training and brushing up on soft phone skills.

“Brown Bag training is a very effective, efficient way of delivering soft skills training to my folks that minimizes their time away from the phone,” Burton said. “It gave them bite-sized training and it allowed them to still spend time at the desk [to monitor calls and queues].”

Online alternatives for soft skills training
Most U.S. universities offer e-learning options to enrolled students. There are also institutions offering short-term learning opportunities that cover written and verbal communication, organization, and other holistic approaches to working within a company.

Perhaps the closest comparison to Brown Bag is InfoSource Inc., based in Winter Park, FL. Classes in its How To Master series are bought online in the areas of soft skills, as well as applications and technical skills. Prices were not immediately available and required entering geographic or industry data to reach the appropriate account executive. Course titles include Building Strong Customer Relationships, Dealing with Difficult Customers, and Telephone Skills for Quality Customer Service.

Other companies offering similar training include Columbia Interactive and SkillSoft. Columbia Interactive e-courses are organized into seven different subject areas, but some are applicable to any line of work, such as Commercialization, which teaches managers how to “turn new products into hot sellers.” Managing Multiple Projects, another e-course, helps workers juggle time-sensitive tasks.

SkillSoft offers more than 70 courses including Overview to Effective Business Communication, which lasts for three hours, and Frontline Call Center Skills, a four-part simulation for call center agents. According to its sales department, SkillSoft sells to companies and government agencies in bulk, so course pricing depends on the number of students and tailoring involved.

Have taken online soft skills training?

Have learned to “deal with difficult people” or write better e-mails through an online course? Tell us about your experience or post a comment below.