If you go to a store today, there’s a big chance you’ll return with a story to tell your friends instead of purchasing anything.
First of all, a shop assistant might be hard to find. And when they approach you, you sort of wish they hadn’t because when you ask about products, they seem to know even less than you do. So, you find yourself in an awkward position explaining what it is you want to buy, why you need it, where it might be on the shelf, how it presumably looks, and so on.
“Sorry,” the shop assistant says, “this is my first day.”
And that’s the more fortunate scenario. Other assistants can be indifferent and rude.
“Tofu is poison, you know,” they might say to a vegan, “you’d better get some meat.”
This is all the result of The Great Resignation, a massive quitting of employees, which hit frontline organizations especially hard. Groceries, shopping malls, gas stations, and other businesses now have few experienced professionals and more new hires learning through trial and error.
Needless to say, this comes at a great cost to businesses. So, what to do about the shortage of skilled workforce and achieving robust frontline training?
What is frontline training?
Frontline training refers to training programs or courses designed for employees who are the first point of contact with customers or clients.
Frontline employees directly represent a company and play a key role in creating a positive customer experience. They need appropriate training that equips them with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their job effectively.
Frontline training can cover customer service, sales, communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution. The goal of frontline training is to prepare frontline employees to handle customer interactions and provide a quality service that supports an organization's goals and objectives.
Why is frontline training important?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4.5 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021. Many of them were frontline workers. You might think, "this was an anomaly and will pass."
But if you look at numbers from previous years, you'll see that this is a long-term trend that's been increasing for a decade. So you can't expect it to end any time soon. What you can do is adapt to keep your business stable and thriving.
The Great Resignation's biggest threat to frontline businesses is unqualified staff interacting with customers. Their lack of competence leads to various undesired outcomes, such as lower revenue, poor brand image, and – in the most unfortunate cases – even lawsuits.
In the past, a team consisted of employees who had worked for a company for a long time. They had already made all the rookie mistakes, learned from them, and kept their performance at a decent level.
But now, the new hires predominate. Even if they have previous frontline work experience, they still need time to settle in a new place. That’s where frontline training comes into play. It provides employees with all the information they need to get to work immediately, avoid common mistakes, and be productive.
Automated training makes companies relatively independent of turnover and helps seamlessly onboard new employees. Maintaining quality performance during turnover and identifying and developing loyal employees ensures business stability and growth.
Online vs. offline frontline training
Training is essential and worth the investment. But what format works best – traditional in-person sessions or online courses? Each one has its pros and cons. Let’s start with the traditional format.
All frontline companies offer some degree of offline training. It can be minimal – like a brief presentation of the workplace and employee's duties – or a more advanced approach with expert workshops, attestations, and a mentoring system.
Here’s what frontline companies value in this format:
- Hands-on practice: Trainers use real store shelves to show new hires how to arrange products efficiently.
- High learner engagement: Training involves a lot of face-to-face interaction, which often engages learners.
- Individual attention: Helps spot someone falling behind and needing extra help. Employees can easily contact the trainer and ask specific questions. This makes the training much more relevant and productive.
- Fewer distractions: A coach and co-workers supervise the training to remove distractions. This type of training is the most expensive, inflexible, and usually less effective.
Let’s also look at some of offline training’s pros and cons.
Cost and time
Travel alone will cost a fortune when you have departments across the country. Not to mention the expenses for training materials, a trainer's salary, renting premises (if you conduct sessions in a specialized place), and so on.
Time is also a big issue. Getting everyone together, getting a trainer, collecting employees' papers after certification, and evaluating them take weeks and months.
Despite the importance of offline frontline training, it's not always possible for employees to attend all meetings. They may have other commitments or obligations that prevent them from participating, such as work-related tasks, personal appointments, or health problems.
In some cases, employees may also be on shifts during the scheduled training session, making it difficult for them to attend. This can result in employees missing out on valuable training and not being able to catch up later, which can negatively impact their performance and the overall effectiveness of the training program.
It can also impact business metrics like customer satisfaction and employee engagement, as employees who haven't received the right training may not be able to provide the quality service that customers expect.
Low knowledge retention
Online learning helps learners retain knowledge better. It’s harder to replicate offline training and learn at a consistent pace. Offline training also heavily depends on a trainer – not always easy to hire.
Some organizations have a single training manual for 50-100 people. It's almost impossible to rework something. You may not photograph or copy the manual. It remains confidential and not very open to interpretation.
Online training platforms offer virtual courses that employees can take at any time from any device. It's that simple. All training data is protected and easily accessible. It's much less effort than offline training (think creating and maintaining a single manual for 100 employees!).
Here are some benefits online training offers.
This format saves you tons of money compared to traditional training and pays back every penny invested. With in-person training, organizations need to pay for a trainer for each session, which can quickly add up, especially if the training is being offered to many employees.
On the other hand, online training is a one-time investment as companies can pay for the course once and use it indefinitely. You can train new or even existing employees who need a refresher at no extra cost.
Additionally, online training eliminates travel and accommodation costs that can be significant for organizations, especially when training is delivered at multiple locations.
The flexibility of online training is another key benefit over traditional face-to-face training. With online learning platforms, employees can take the course whenever it suits them, making it easier for them to fit the training into their busy schedules.
This is especially beneficial for companies with employees who work non-conventional hours or have a demanding workload. Employees can access the training when they have the time and energy to focus. Additionally, online training eliminates the need for employees to take time off to attend training, which can increase productivity and reduce absenteeism.
This flexibility also means that a larger proportion of employees are likely to complete the training because they can complete it at the most convenient time.
Online training gives you much more precision and control over the training process. A training platform shows exactly who did the training and how good it was.
Using this data, you can identify the reasons for the low productivity of a specific employee, departmental team, and the entire network. Offline training can hardly provide this data.
Some platforms allow people with visual and hearing impairments to change course player settings, make text larger, spoken comments louder and slower, and more. Offline training lacks these capabilities.
However, online training has some limitations.
Lack of human interaction
Virtual interactions aren’t comparable to face-to-face meetings in terms of human interaction. Even live video during webinars doesn't feel very interactive. Additionally, the online training is carried out individually. The best you can do is talk to a trainer.
However, this may not be a huge issue for frontline workers. They get enough human interaction at work and welcome the opportunity to have some alone time.
It's the 21st century, but people are still frustrated with new technologies. Software training is no exception. Consider intuitiveness when choosing software. It won't help your team grow if they don’t know how to use it.
Which approach is better?
You don't have to stick to a single learning approach. Blended learning combines the best offline and online training and compensates for their weaknesses. You can use offline training only when needed and supplement sessions with online learning activities.
For example, you can assign employees a quick knowledge check during a lecture to consolidate their knowledge. You can also deliver the theory online and perform the practical exercises offline. Only your imagination limits the variations.
The 4 most popular frontline training areas
The four most popular frontline training areas are sales, product, merchandising, and compliance. Let’s take a closer look at these.
1. Sales and customer service training
Nothing impacts frontline business profit more than sales prowess. How to approach a customer, what language to use, how to answer their questions – there are many things employees need to know to sell a product. Besides basic theories like sales techniques and human psychology, they need practice.
Offline sales training could include trainer role-playing to help learners try different sales strategies. The online training could also include role-play simulations. These are even more effective since offline sessions only happen once, while online role-plays are always present and can be repeated until someone passes a course.
2. Product training
Frontline workers need systematic, in-depth knowledge of your offerings and appropriate product training. Just having a general idea isn’t enough since customers need comprehensive support. And if they don't get it, they go somewhere else.
Employees should be ready to explain product components, differences between similar products, their use cases, and so on. A simple way to conduct product training is to create an interactive product catalog. It’s not only descriptive and informative but also easily accessible.
However, not all employees in frontline companies need to know the products so well. Some of them only need basic information. An online course followed by a test works perfectly in this case.
3. Merchandising training
Placing products on the appropriate shelves is an essential skill many frontline workers need. In supermarkets, they need to know where and how to store perishable products. In clothing stores, they should be able to fold shirts and trousers. That might be quite a challenge for some people.
Merchandising training covers all of these aspects. It can be held in person or online. For example, you can create an exercise for your team to practice presenting products. This exercise can be an interactive quiz requiring learners to arrange shelves according to business goals to increase a particular brand’s sales.
Consider adding feedback to the exercise, so employees can reflect on their responses. They’ll know why they made a mistake. This will help them develop their merchandising skills and avoid real-world errors.
These training activities not only fit perfectly with an onboarding program but also for regular confirmation and preparation for marketing campaigns such as Black Friday or the holiday season.
4. Compliance training
Noncompliance could result in heavy fines for your business. Therefore, your employees need to be aware of company policies and regulations and how to protect confidential information. This makes diversity and inclusion and training on sexual harassment in the workplace simply necessary.
One problem is that compliance training can come across as boring. Most employees take it as a formality, which makes it less effective. Some companies are now developing playful simulations of a bank robbery or a role-play using compliance training software to communicate with, say, a colleague behaving rudely to make the training more interactive.
Gamified frontline training empowers employees to act effectively in emergencies and learn through practice in a risk-free environment. This is a much more productive and engaging approach.
What software do you need to train frontline staff online?
If you train your team online, you need at least two tools: an authoring tool to create training content and a training platform to deliver it to learners and monitor their progress.
An authoring tool
Authoring tool is software to create training content. These tools vary in functionality and price but share some basic content development features. With an authoring tool, you can create:
- Online courses
- Interactive content
- Training videos
- Role-playing simulations
When choosing an authoring tool, consider the types of content you need for your training, how easy it is to use the tool, and whether it offers quality support.
A learning management system (LMS)
A learning management system (LMS) is a cloud-based training platform where you can store training content, assign it to learners, and track their results.
It gives you greater control over the training process and insight into competencies and skill levels. LMS also automates tedious processes like attestations, work reviews, and notifications of tasks and results.
Some platforms go beyond the standard training, offering social learning capabilities, online content authoring, intelligent training management, and more. LMS implementation helps you overcome training challenges and improve workflow and employee engagement.
Rise above the tides
Businesses always face challenges, but only resilient ones find ways to overcome them. With strong frontline training, you can minimize risk and maintain quality performance while saving money and time.
Frontline training equips employees with the skills and knowledge they need to perform their jobs effectively. Investing in quality frontline training can minimize the risks associated with poor performance and maintain high levels of customer satisfaction. Additionally, by leveraging the cost-saving and flexible nature of online training, you can offer training to the entire team without sacrificing valuable time and resources.
With strong frontline training, you build a workforce capable of meeting challenges and achieving success. Whether you're looking to improve customer service, increase sales, or just maintain high-performance levels, investing in frontline training is a step in the right direction.
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