Maintaining a competitive edge often requires employee training. But training opportunities don’t stop with employees. Extending training to others can bring a range of benefits, from increased revenue and efficiency to better marketing and branding.
Who can you train, in addition to employees? Consider customers, dealers, partners and even the media. Of course, your perfect audience depends on your budget and goals. But the following examples will provide inspiration.
Training Your Customers
Customers and prospects are often more receptive to learning opportunities than they are to sales pitches. This learning relationship can build the trust necessary for sales, but increased revenue is only one benefit of customer training. It can also greatly reduce costs.
Insurance agencies have long understood this. One claim can cost millions of dollars, making the cost of prevention seem small by comparison. That’s why many car insurance companies offer discounts to those who complete driver education.
State Farm has taken this a step further by creating its own teen driving website. Designed to supplement state licensing programs, TeenDriving.StateFarm.com has several free online learning tools. “My Road Trip” offers logs, tutorial videos and tip sheets for helping teens maximize practice drives. “Road Aware,” an online driving simulation, teaches teens to spot road hazards.
State Farm even offers an iPhone app. “Driver Feedback” tracks three of the riskiest driving behaviors: hard acceleration, hard deceleration and hard swerves. The app then scores users on each behavior, and lets them share results via email and SMS.
Preventing claims is only one benefit of customer training. Training programs can also reduce costs by lowering product returns and tech support calls. You can use them to introduce new products, extend product reach and increase customer loyalty. Fee-based training can even create new revenue streams.
Training Your Community Members
Many businesses and organizations collaborate with multiple groups. This is true of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association (PCPA), a professional organization that advances the interests of police departments and other law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth.
In the past, officers had to travel long distances for their continuing education courses. But declining government funding forced PCPA to explore more efficient options. This led to the creation of PA Virtual Training Network (PAVTN). The online program allows multiple agencies to share curriculum, develop classes and update training materials on the fly.
Once registered on PAVTN.net, officers can take e-learning courses. Topics range from the latest laws and court decisions to booking and fingerprinting procedures. The courses blend video, narration and interaction. To simplify recordkeeping, a learning management system records the time and date of course completion.
Approximately 4,800 officers signed up for PAVTN.net in its first six months. More than 96 percent said they would recommend the program to colleagues. Similar government groups have created training programs to boost compliance with regulations. But this training isn’t limited to the public sector. Others can also use online learning to make training more accessible and cost efficient.
Training Dealers and Distributors
For businesses relying on dealers to sell their products and services, getting up-to-date training and presentation materials into the hands of dealers can be difficult. To combat this, New Holland Agriculture created a downloadable training application called STST, for “shoulder to shoulder tool.” New Holland dealers can install the application on their laptop or computer, and then use it to review product features, competitive advantages and technical specs with customers. STST’s content management system allows New Holland staff to update materials via the Internet. A built-in feedback tool lets dealers provide suggestions, sales tips and competitive intelligence.
To encourage use of the new tool, New Holland entered those who downloaded STST into a drawing for a free laptop. It also created an online teaser video and virtual tour. Since its North American release, STST has been translated into seven languages. The application is also being adapted for smartphones and tablets.
STST streamlined the distribution of sales materials. It also provided valuable training, and supported the sales process with an engaging tool that facilitated conversations with customers. This style of training is especially effective for businesses with large product lines and detailed technical specs. But a consumer product goods company may find success in a similar program that trains retail employees how to better merchandise and sell its products. Thanks to technology, the opportunities are endless.
New Opportunities, New Challenges
Extending training outside the organization comes with unique challenges. For many businesses, funding is the biggest hurdle. Which department will finance the training? How much will a learning solution cost? Who will develop it? How will the cost be recouped?
Building awareness of the training and tracking its success can also be challenging. Employees already have a built-in community at the workplace. But external audiences need incentives to invest their time and report the results. This may require additional marketing dollars, or even the creation of an online community.
When strategically planned and executed, these challenges will seem small when compared to the benefits. Over time, extending training outside the organization can build your brand, reduce expenses and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty. How will your organization bring these opportunities to life?
Luke Kempski is president of JPL, a marketing, communications and learning solutions agency based in Harrisburg, Pa. For over 20 years, Luke and JPL have helped organizations plan and implement technology-based learning solutions for external and sales applications. You can follow him on Twitter at @LukeKempski. You can find out more about JPL at http://www.JPLcreative.com or http://learningsolutions.jplcreative.com/.
Written for TrainingIndustry.com