October 21, 2008

Customers in Class When learning professionals talk about training, they are typically referring to teaching staff how to perform a task or improve intangible skills. But for organizations that maintain a regular customer base, training also refers to teaching customers how to use a new product. After all, if customers sour on a product because they do not know how to use it properly, they are less likely to buy from the same source a second time. And in a world powered by complex technology services, companies can no longer afford to deliver a heavy sales pitch, collect payment and walk away after the sale. That’s why companies now spend more money on training their customers than they do employees, according to recent research conducted by Training Industry and Expertus. Perhaps because it is closely tied with the sales operation, customer training is a neglected topic in the learning field. Such training is typically handled by the sales staff because they always want to be the first and sole point of contact between the company and their customers. The purpose of such training is to ensure customer loyalty, reduce follow-up service calls and limit liability. While organizations in the survey were split over whether they run the training operation as a profit center or a cost center, analysts believe the primary goal of customer training is to keep the customer base, not turn a profit from training sessions. Ill-prepared employees make mistakes which can require time to correct or money to repair. When customers are ill-prepared to use a product they purchased the price can be heavier. As Doug Harward, CEO of Training Industry asserts, companies seek to reduce liability by spending the time necessary to train customers how to use the latest gadget or software suite. The alternative, a lost customer or a lawsuit, is simply too costly. Teaching “customers” does not necessary mean an individual who purchased a single product through a retail outlet. In technology and heavy manufacturing, such as automobiles, it means outlets that buy in large quantities and sell to individual consumers. Computer hardware and software manufacturers spend enormous amounts training their channel partners, the individuals who sell their products to consumers. It's just one more example of how training's base is widening to encompass newer segements of the market that were not previously considered "training" recipients.
The Other Kind of Office Politics With Election Day one week away, it’s hard not to feel the contagion of political fervor pervading the air. But how far is this enthusiasm allowed to extend into the workplace, if at all? One might be surprised to hear that almost two-thirds of organizations have no written or unwritten policies on political activities in the workplace, according to a recent survey of 450 employers by the Society of Human Resource Management. Of the 35 percent of organizations who do have policies on political activities, the following restrictions were in place: 71 percent prohibit use of company assets in support of any political party or candidate 68 percent do not allow employees to devote work hours to any political party or campaign 68 percent do not allow any political activities on company premises 66 percent prohibit employees from using their position to pressure vendors, suppliers, or other staff to make contributions to or show support for any candidate or political party. “Employers who elect to go without official policies on political activities in the workplace are making a mistake,” says Lon O’Neil, president and CEO of SHRM. “Clear guidelines help HR professionals handle employee relations problems that can arise around election time or stop them before they occur.” What is your organization’s policy on employee political involvement? For further reading material, try HR Magazine’s October cover story, “Politics in the Office.”

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The T+D blog covers training, learning, business, and technology topics as well as relevant content from ASTD (the American Society for Training and Development) publications and services.

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