Why training trumps new workplace technology

CIO's may be keen to rollout new technology into the workplace, but it's useless if nobody knows how to use it. Here's some tips on how to train your staff to ensure they gain the most out of the tech investment.

Once upon a time it may have been enough for a CIO to simply develop the company's IT infrastructure. He or she would devise a strategy, design an architecture to support the company objectives and implement the applications before handing it over to the business to get down to work. He or she would then watch as people complained bitterly about the difficulty of using the system, its inability to do what they required, or as the company failed to take full advantage of their new IT investment.  

Today, it's widely recognised that no matter how much time and energy you spend developing infrastructure, you'll need to put even more sweat into ensuring that your people make good use of it.  As a guide, consider a two-to-one investment ratio of people versus technology. For every dollar you spend purchasing a new technology, spend two on the people who'll use it. This is especially true when developing an infrastructure to support points of contact between customers and your organisation. 

Owning the customer moment

In many organisations, responsibility for creating a positive customer connection is relegated to customer service or the contact centre, but the smart companies understand customer moments can occur at any time and may involve any employee. The challenge for the CIO is to provide a suitable technology environment that facilitates connection, wherever and however it may occur, rather than alienating the customer. If the customer has to wait, repeat themselves or talk to multiple agents in pursuit of a single answer, you’ve got problems.

You can solve this by developing employee skills so that they intuitively wield your technology. This may mean training people from non-technical departments on the technical aspects of your system, or training IT staff on the departmental use of the platforms. The aforementioned two-to-one ratio involves more than training, however. It’s a holistic process that starts with identifying your customer and employee pain points, and ends with perfectly marrying the technology to your employees. The end-goal should be to enable your people to engage with customers as easily as neighbours in a small town.

When investing in your people’s mastery of your technology, here are a few areas to consider:

Socialise it.  Social media is indispensable to customer service, so it’s logical to make it part of technology training. Social media enables people to connect in real-time, crowd-source ideas, and share lessons learned. It can also create a sense of camaraderie and alert you to employee frustrations. 

Train your “true believers” first. Build momentum by starting with the people or departments that are most likely to quickly grasp the platform’s functionality and value. 

Demonstrate how the technology will solve their problems. If training doesn’t take place within the context of making their pain points less painful, good luck driving engagement! (This assumes that the users' needs were taken into account when selecting the technology -- if this isn’t the case, you may be in for a rough ride.) 

Teach to the learner’s needs. People learn in different ways and have extremely varied levels of comfort with technology. It's sometimes hard for IT to recognise, but there are highly intelligent and gifted people out there who still can’t figure out email. So be sure your training program takes into account learning style as well as tech acumen.

Provide ongoing support. Training should be a process, not an event. Ideally this doesn’t mean sending people off to seminars, but rather giving them bite-sized chunks of learning that they can digest periodically without interrupting workflow. As people learn differently, offer a variety of sources -- online forums, video tutorials, webinars, an IM help desk. Also, making your team available for one-on-one instruction may serve a dual purpose of not only helping employees ramp up, but also giving IT staff a chance to connect personally with people in other departments and gain an understanding of their day-to-day challenges. 

Make it a game. According to Lucas Mearian, “That innate ability to solve problems, which comes with the promise of a gaming-style reward of greater social status, will become a standard for solving complex problems that even the greatest supercomputers could not hope to achieve.” We’re not trying to out-solve supercomputers -- just improve customer engagement -- but the same holds true when it comes to helping employees master what hopefully isn’t terribly complicated technology. Using game dynamics to drive adoption means leveraging what has motivated Homo sapiens since the dawn of time -- self interest and self-aggrandisement. Creating a system of rewards for engagement can win over those who otherwise may resist change to the last breath. Keep it simple though -- more Angry Birds, less Dungeons & Dragons.

Lastly, protect your people from vendor-produced training manuals at all cost. These are usually confusing, and will create resentment toward you. Rather than being distracted by irrelevancies, what you want is training that focuses on your employees’ needs, so that they can better create that all-important customer connection. 

Every employee, from the database admin to the CEO, can have a direct impact on the customer experience.  It's the CIO's role to facilitate this by providing an infrastructure that breaks down information silos, and by equipping people with the information and systems knowledge that will enable them to recognise and act on every customer engagement opportunity.

Eric Berridge is the co-founder and principal at Bluewolf.