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And by offering a centralized, web-based learning system distributed and controlled from headquarters, along with instructor-led training and supplementary materials, retailers can avoid the historically common problem of learning silos that have plagued retail chains with pockets of inconsistent localized training, Arevolo says.
Customers learn, too
Before web-based systems, when most training was based on paper manuals supplemented by some computer-based training applications, separate departments within the same retail organization would often wind up with different versions of corporate manuals and training software, he adds. That’s because it was difficult for headquarters to track which departments had updated materials and because differing technology infrastructures across departments resulted in many departments having their own version of training applications.
And without centralized web access to e-learning systems, retail executives were unable to instantly monitor how departments and individuals were proceeding in taking and completing training courses, Arevolo says.
In a nod to the trend toward web 2.0, where retailers get more interactive with consumers on the Internet, it can even make sense for a retailer to extend deployment of e-learning applications to customers. An instructional program on how to operate a computer printer, for instance, could be present on a retailer’s web site for consumers as well as for employees. In that way, the retailer can benefit from feedback from both groups on the effectiveness of a training session. “A customer could share valuable information on a product, such as that it takes only three demonstration steps rather than five to learn its operation,” Arevolo says.
Reaching outside the walls
The learning continues with effective training programs in multiple ways, says Cingular’s Bowles. In the years since deploying its SumTotal e-learning system, Cingular learned the hard way that delivering training courses to each store’s POS terminals was not the most efficient way to reach employees when they needed the training. “Most of the time employees couldn’t do their training courses until the store shut down,” he says. “So we evolved to the point where we had a PC in each store dedicated to e-learning.”
But that only meets the needs of Cingular’s own employees, who access their e-learning courses on the retailer’s corporate intranet. With many of its sales processed by salespeople who work for retail partners, including several national consumer electronics chains, Cingular also offers a hosted application from SumTotal that lets outside agents access the same courses by signing on over the public Internet.
In pre-e-learning days, distributing and tracking training materials for such a widely distributed field of salespeople was difficult, Bowles says. And verifying that training was completed to satisfactory levels was nearly impossible, he adds.
“We’ve had a quantum leap in recent years in the information requirements of employees, and in management having a verifiable way to check that everyone has gone through required training,” Bowles says. “You couldn’t do that before web-based learning systems. Now it’s an expectation.”
How Nordica expects to win over the ‘kid on the floor’
Although Nordica is a venerable name in ski boots going back to the 1940s, its recent foray into the higher stakes and high-tech world of skis is less well known. And with a lot of technology and marketing invested in boots and some 48 different versions of skis-a single ski-and-boots package can retail for well over $1,000-its goal of winning customers often comes down to how well its products are known by the local sales associate, or “kid on the floor,” at some 1,500 ski shops throughout the U.S.
“Even with all of our research-and-development and marketing, if we don’t have the support of the kid on the floor our stuff doesn’t sell,” says Tyler Kipp, promotions and marketing coordinator for Nordica U.S.A., part of Tecnica Group. He refers to the sales associates as KOTFs-code for brash young skiers passionate about their sport, but often not around the store long enough to attend training sessions conducted nationwide by a thinly spread team of nine Nordica reps.
But in an industry where the competition introduces flashy new styles and technology almost every year, Nordica is taking the training up a notch this year with an online training and employee incentive program delivered over the web into each of its retail locations. Working with web designers Cascade Web Development Inc., Nordica launched last month its Nsider Lounge, a web site that uses multiple forms of media to deliver training along with entertainment and a rewards program geared toward KOTFs.
“The idea is to make every KOTF as knowledgeable as possible, and to make sure every employee in every store is on the same page in explaining and selling Nordica products,” Kipp says.
The online Nsider Lounge shows computer-generated and video demonstrations of Nordica’s inner technology-the new XBS “free-floating” plate design, for example, that improves the flexibility and turning ability of skis while locking boots in place, and the new Gransport rear-entry boot, designed to be easier to put on than conventional boots. But to provide incentives for KOTFs to return frequently for product updates and selling tips, Nordica is providing a section where they can tally the points they earn for each sale-one for a each pair of boots, two for each pair of skis-that can be redeemed for merchandise. The site also entices visitors with the posting of action videos by hot-dog skiers and snowboarders.
“It’s very important to keep the KOTFs coming back to the site,” Kipp says. With so many models of boots and skis, Nordica says it’s virtually impossible for training reps to demonstrate features and selling techniques for all of them. Moreover, some store managers may overlook certain products, such as the Gransport, which may not appeal to experienced skiers.
But by enticing sales associates into online sessions, Nordica can get more products top of mind in store personnel, which can push more sales as well as persuade managers to order additional items, Kipp says.