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Convenience store chains have significant training challenges. Dispersed locations and high turnover make training difficult to deliver and track. At the same time, the imperative for great customer service and increasing government mandates are demanding better results than ever.
When evaluating your training, look first to the fundamentals. That means making it compelling, comprehensive, compliant and cost effective.
The first rule of teaching is to not be boring. To impart knowledge of any kind, you have to be able to grab and hold a person’s attention. You must be interesting.
That is not to say that you must be fun. It’s hard to imagine how you could make anti-money laundering training fun, and the attempt would probably lead to something ineffective and painful to watch. What’s the difference? Fun is a game or cartoon. It’s competitive or challenging. It makes you laugh. Fun is emotional and fleeting. Compelling, on the other hand, appeals to the mind. It evokes interest. It suggests action. That’s what you want, your employees to take action from your training.
How do you make convenience store training compelling? With stories and consequences. When I took the firefighting class that everyone in the Navy has to take, it started with a film of the horrific fire on the USS Forrestal during the Vietnam War that killed 134 sailors. Watching actual mistakes and their consequences underlined in a dramatic way the importance of paying attention to the material. I can’t think of a better way to emphasize what could have been a very dry topic.
Convenience stores have stories to tell as well. Sitting on a potential gas bomb with inattentive drivers darting around ignition sources, with people coming in and trying to purchase products they have no business buying, and criminals trying to further their ends with money orders, a convenience store is 24 hours of potential drama. Employees have to know their business. There are plenty of examples of loss of life and the business when procedures weren’t followed. This is the drama your employees will pay attention to. Use their attention to teach them what they need to know.
You should strive for your training program to deliver all of the knowledge required to run your business.
The more locations and employees you have, the more important this becomes. Small businesses can get by with few procedures and limited training because owners and top managers are in direct contact with those doing the work. Training and feedback is immediate and definitive. But as you grow, the message from leadership gets diluted as it filters through the company. Without understood standards, waste and inconsistency become the norm. At the basic level, training ensures that employees know what they’re supposed to be doing.
It would be great to offer a comprehensive curriculum, with everything from alcohol sales for associates to leadership skills for managers, but that’s too daunting a hurdle in the beginning. Start with the subjects you teach most often and work out from there.
Comprehensive also means that you have one system to deliver and track your training. Don’t have your employees jumping between DVDs, the web and training manuals to learn. Put it all in one place. It will be so much easier for your associates and managers, not to mention regulators who want you to be compliant.
Some of your training is not by choice. The goal in these cases is simple: do what you’re supposed to do and be able to prove it.
Knowing what to do is relatively easy. Most training mandates specify the topics to be covered. Actually doing the training and being able to prove it is the bigger part of the challenge. The weak link is usually time-pressed managers who breeze through the material and are overly helpful with quizzes and bungle the training record.
Don’t discover the holes in your system when a judge, jury or regulator is looking for your failures. They won’t be sympathetic to what you thought was happening but cannot prove. If your training relies on manual processes to track, you’re putting the business at risk. Tracking should be automatic -- this is the 21st century after all.
Every expense in a business has to justify its cost. There are always two sides of the equation: cost and benefit. If a particular expense doesn’t make sense, you have two ways to fix the situation -- lower the cost or increase the benefit.
For training, it has always been difficult to measure the benefit side of the equation. Does the training result in higher sales? Does it lead to better service, which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction, resulting in higher sales? Was it the training or improving economy that increased sales? There are just too many variables to produce reliable numbers.
The cost side of the equation is easier to get at. You probably have a good idea of what you’re spending on training, especially if you’re accounting for the time of the people involved in delivering your formal and on-the-job training. It’s this side of the equation that’s quickly changing. While we’ve been able to automate many business functions, training has been stubbornly resistant, requiring expensive face-to-face interactions and manual processes.
Now, training is becoming less expensive through automated delivery and tracking. New technologies make it easy to record a video and deliver it online without taking time away from managers. Tracking is automated, freeing up more time while producing a more reliable record. And everything is more consistent, ensuring that everyone gets the same message.
Training is the glue that holds together any growing business. By making sure that your training covers these fundamentals, you will be well on the way to ensuring that your stores meets the demands of customers and authorities.
Keith West is the founder and CEO of CompanyBright.com, a company that helps convenience store chains develop and deliver online training for their employees. He can be reached at [email protected] For more information, visit http://companybright.com/convenience-store-training.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.