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“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole,” said Harvard University professor Theodore Levitt.
Let’s face it, training falls into the same category as drills. You don’t want to train; you want the things training gives you. Training takes time, money and effort. You would rather go right to the fun stuff like serving customers and making money. But skipping training is like skipping baseball practice -- don’t practice and you’re not going to win the game.
What does winning look like for a convenience store chain? It’s not as clear cut as a baseball game, which has only two possible outcomes. In business, no matter how well you are doing, you can always have more sales, greater profits, happier customers, more motivated employees and so on. That’s why we train.
The American Society of Training and Development found that high investors in training have 57 percent greater net sales per employee. In convenience stores, this takes the form of teaching product knowledge and suggestive selling.
Suggestive selling can be very powerful. If a typical chain with 100 stores could get each of its associates to sell one extra item per day with a margin of $1, that would result in $146,000 per year of extra profit.
The problem is you can’t just tell your associates to sell more and expect it to happen. You have to explain why it’s important, teach them what a good suggestion is and how to make it without being a nuisance. That takes training.
Improved Morale & Retention
A 2011 study in the Annals of Surgery found that teams that had received training had better outcomes and morale. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; there are few things more dispiriting than being given a task without the tools or instructions on how to do it.
Nor should it come as a surprise that well-trained employees are more likely to stay. According to the American Society of Training and Development, 41 percent of employees at companies with inadequate training intend to leave within a year vs. 12 percent at companies that provide excellent training.
Increased Customer Satisfaction
Every 1-percent improvement in service climate delivers a 2-percent increase in revenue, so says education researcher Lyle Spencer. Customer service is a skill with established methods and procedures. Like any other skill, it can be taught.
Teaching your associates elements of customer service, such as patience, attentiveness, communication, persuasion and tenacity, will give your customers a better experience and increase your sales and loyalty.
Good operations are about efficiency, effectiveness and procedures. Good operations are almost invisible to your customers and employees; it's what is supposed to happen. Everything that should get done does, and no one thinks anything about it.
On the other hand, poor operations become evident to everyone. Customers and employees alike will notice dirty stores, out-of-stock items and tense customer relations.
Good operations come from organization and planning. Associates know what needs to be done and how to do it. That doesn’t happen without training. You have to teach your employees your chain’s way of doing things, or they’ll make it up and soon there will be no consistency or order and operations will break down.
Operations training has another hidden benefit. When your people know what to do, there will be fewer mistakes. Orders will be submitted on time, reports will be filed correctly, procedures will be followed and staff can concentrate on moving forward instead of tracking down and correcting errors.
Avoid Regulatory Problems
Not all of the training we do is to make things better. In the convenience store industry especially, there is a great deal of mandated training on topics such as underage sales, underground storage tanks, money laundering and hazard communications.
Even though giving this training is not your choice, you can’t give it short shrift. Quite the opposite, these are the topics to address first so that when authorities come knocking, you can easily prove you have met the requirements for each of your employees. There’s really no alternative and it will save you a lot of time and heartache in the long run.
Head Off Legal Problems
We live in a litigious society. Rare is the thing that goes wrong without someone wondering if they can make money off of it in court. You can’t stop every accident from happening. Despite your best efforts and intentions, sometimes things will go wrong. What you can do, though, is protect yourself.
Make good and reasonable efforts to prevent accidents and mitigate their effects by creating plans and procedures and training your employees in what they should do. That will show you are not guilty of neglect and in many jurisdictions, stop a lawsuit in its tracks.
The benefits of training can be difficult to quantify. Although most of us have a vague notion that training works, the results are so integral to operations that they don’t flow easily into a spreadsheet. Without those numbers or a well-thought-out justification, it’s easy to concentrate on things that seem more urgent. And yet, training does deliver results.
HR Magazine reported that companies in the top quarter of training expenditure average 24 percent higher profit margins than companies that spend less. But it’s not just the profits that training improves. Good training produces better morale, retention, operations and customer satisfaction, all of which contribute to the quality and value of your business, which ends up helping the bottom line. You also protect yourself from legal and regulatory problems by having good, well-documented training.
There has never been an easier time to get the benefits of a quality training program. New technologies that streamline the creation, delivery and tracking of training offer a big advantage to those who see the future and adopt it first.