By Jennifer J. Salopek
For many reasons, your cusÂtomers complain â€" some of those reasons might be valid, some ridiculous â€" but how your employees handle those comÂplaints can make the difference beÂtween your convenience store and the one down the street. Your competitive advantage lies in properly training employees to handle those complaints â€" and in creating training that emÂployees want to take, rather than have to take.
BPâ€™s ampm convenience stores enÂcountered this scenario after the comÂpany moved to a franchisee model in 2008. The new ownership structure meant that most training for nonÂ-managerial employees was just a sugÂgestion, but a consistent â€" and correct â€" process for handling food comÂplaints was crucial to the franchisorâ€™s goal of improving customer service.
The complaint hotline wasnâ€™t yieldÂing any signiï¬?cant data, so ampm began making "mystery calls" to stores to see how store personnel responded. "The results for following the correct proceÂdure were lower than we wanted," said Dan Balzer, training technology manÂager for retail learning and developÂment at BP America.
To develop training that would comÂmunicate detailed, consistent proceÂdures to workers in the 1,200 stores â€" and training that they would want to take â€" Balzer and consultant KathÂleen Fortney of Centrax Corporation sought to create truly engaging online training. After all, the stakes were poÂtentially high: Food accounts for 15 percent of sales (not including fuel) in ampm stores.
"There can be severe consequences to food [safety] issues, so the new training was a proactive move on our part," said Balzer.
A new computer-based training program was specifically designed to be appealing. Realistic, three-dimenÂsional store replicas, including prodÂucts and fixtures, communicated brand and merchandising standards while providing an immersive enviÂronment that drew in learners. "We really focused on our target audience, and designed the program with a game-like appearance," explained Fortney.
The instructional design methodÂology uses a narrative structure: SceÂnarios branch to pass/fail paths that allow learners to make wrong choices, then rectify them. Special attention was paid to the complexity of the sceÂnarios and the animation of the charÂacters. Although Balzer admits that the course is one of the most expenÂsive he has ever created, he repurÂposed many existing assets from a larger online curriculum, resulting in some savings.
ampm uses its own iGate software system to push the course to back-office computers in stores via the InÂternet; it is then downloaded for play offline. To reinforce the training, the team created a card that outlines the procedure for handling customer food complaints and a sticker to put on the phone or cash register; these remind store workers of proper steps at a glance.
The course was rolled out one marÂket at a time in 2009. ampm franchise business consultants introduced it to stores; some even created local incenÂtive programs for completing the training and demonstrating mastery of the steps. ampm followed up with mystery calls four to six weeks later to assess the programâ€™s effect.
The concepts also spread within a store: "We found that if anyone in the location completed the course, the performance of the entire store inÂcreased," said Fortney.
By early 2010, the course had been rolled out to all 1,200 ampm stores.
Balzer reports that learner reaction has been very positive, and that manÂagers are excited about the self-paced, computer-based course that frees them to do other things.
"Although we neither mandate this training nor track its completion, managers indicate that they find the course to be high-quality, engaging and appropriate," said Balzer. "They viewed its provision as a valuable serÂvice."
Balzer does track observance of the proper procedure during the mystery calls. That number topped 50 percent in the first year of the training course deployment and has now reached 75 percent. This success is proof that enÂgaging learning, designed for the learner, can help convenience stores promote the adoption of a business process even without direct control of the performers.
ÂJennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer in McLean, Virginia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.