Training That Makes a Difference Isn’t Off-the-Shelf

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Mar 19, 2019

In my work helping businesses modernize workplace education, often times I’ve been called in well after a new learning initiative has begun – yet nothing much has been accomplished. The problem is usually that the team responsible for training was the last to be consulted about how to develop and implement a program that actually gets results. That’s because in most organizations the learning group is built to respond to requests for training — to be reactive and not proactive.

For example, they’re suddenly asked to procure an off-the-shelf program that can provide effective customer experience training – as if such a program is as commoditized as table salt. So they secure a vendor, and training is delivered to thousands of employees. But what actually happens? Employees ignore the training because it isn’t helpful. And six months later, the C-level folks who wanted to improve customer experience are sitting in a conference room, grimacing and glaring at a net promoter score that’s still hovering between 5 and 6.

I’ve seen this happen over and over; you can imagine the money that’s wasted in these initiatives. Why? Because there’s a big difference between training that is available “off the shelf” and serves a need that’s well understood – such as learning how to use the calendar in Microsoft Outlook – and the type of education that’s needed to truly transform how people work. If a company wants to improve customer experience they need to understand that this is a broad and complex undertaking. It impacts people differently, depending on their roles, strengths and weaknesses, and prior knowledge. In other words, education at work requires context for the employees it serves; context is made up of people, places, events, tools, and more.

Unfortunately, the majority of training is a generic set of prescriptions right off the shelf. So, unless that set of prescriptions can provide knowledge that’s easily understood and broadly applicable, using off-the-shelf training places the burden squarely on the employee to sort through all the information, synthesize the useful bits, and adapt it to his or her reality. Is that how people should be spending their time?

Driving outcomes that truly help businesses make major shifts (such as improving customer experience) necessitates education opportunities across teams and functions that acknowledge the unique and shifting challenges that employees face every day. While some learning principles can stay the same from delivery to delivery, designs should adjust for and incorporate the complex realities that employees face, so that they are allowed to practice and create within real constraints.

When I work with stakeholders to modernize the way employees are educated, the experiences we create include three core points:

  1. the business outcome (in this case, improved customer experience
  2. the person the learning is created for (the specific role), and
  3. the business’s end customer.

The business outcome

Let’s stick with the example of “improved customer experience.” This is a complex goal with different meanings from company to company. A large software company may want better ratings for all of their apps and new subscription models, while a cable provider may want more people reporting that their issue was resolved after hanging up the phone with customer support. Both want their customers to be delighted, but the business outcomes that drive that delight are vastly different. A company must define the business outcome before it can determine what kind of education is needed.

The specific role

Different roles drive different parts of customer experience. A sales workforce engages with customers differently than a team of technical specialists does. Find out what challenges people face in their roles on a day-to-day basis and how that affects their ability to help customers. Then design, build, and deliver the learning experience.

The end customer

Where are customers coming from when they look for new products or services? Are they business people? Are they shopping at retail stores? Are they older, younger, do they span decades? While this information is often readily available, we often don’t see any documented connection of this customer information to the activities, project, and outcomes that employees are responsible for driving.

What’s the net result of this role-based approach to workplace education? My company, Oxygen, has built scalable onboarding programs in multiple Fortune 100 businesses for thousands of sellers. We’ve also educated over 50,000 customer-facing service professionals to drive early call resolution and effortless experience.

Triangulating among business outcome, people’s roles, and customers isn’t easy to do. Buying off-the-shelf training is very easy. My view is that it’s the employees who need to be served to be successful in their role – and if that requires up front work on the part of the learning function, then that is time well invested in the education of people, for success in their roles.

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