When it comes to staff training, gone are the days of a programme tied to technical specification and commission-driven contracts.
The consultative approach has changed the way mobile networks, vendors, dealers and retailers teach their staff how to sell.
‘There’s been a big change with training,’ Vodafone head of retail John Shaw tells Mobile. ‘If you go back five or six years, retail was a very sales-focused culture that didn’t understand the value of great service.
‘It used to be about selling boxes but we had to adapt how we train people and focus on how to behave with customers, rather than just selling loads. It’s a recognition that retail is changing. If you use retail as a space to sell things it’s a very expensive part of your business, but if it’s a focal point of customer interaction you become a very accessible brand.’
Spot the difference
Customer conversations no longer centre on product, as services such as roaming become more important. Carphone Warehouse has made a major shift away from training staff on particular device features, and instead focusing on everyday use cases.
Caroline Angell, director of talent and development for Dixons Carphone, tells Mobile that as both staff and consumers become more familiar with smartphones outside of work, there is less need to focus on the handset during training.
‘Current phones are typically very familiar to people now and especially to our colleagues,’ she says. ‘Staff work for us because they have an interest in mobile so we only really need to explain the key features and benefits. Instead, we focus on understanding our customer needs, supporting them in getting the right package, amount of data, call and text usage, and using your phone abroad.’
The high street retailer now puts a greater focus on software – in particular operating systems – to give its staff a point of difference: ‘We now include much more information about the different operating systems and focus on how customers use their phones day to day.’
Samsung has adopted a similar approach, shifting focus away from the technical specs of a device and onto consumer experience. Liz McAuliffe, training manager UK and Ireland, tells Mobile that Samsung targets its training at empowering staff, using hands-on demonstrations to do so.
‘We have moved away from focusing on the technical specifications of a device,’ she says, ‘and now focus on how our devices add value to the consumer’s life. Our approach to training is to empower the staff with the knowledge that they need to be able to relay a confident demonstration to consumers that highlights how they can use their phone to meet their needs. We use Samsung Backstage to host video demonstrations so that staff are able to refresh their knowledge around this at any time they wish.'
Moving away from product
From a manufacturer perspective, there has been a shift in some parts of the market away from product, with a greater focus being put on brand. This change is described by a trainer from one well-known brand: ‘It’s been a shift from talking about product to talking about brand, as we haven’t had many releases. The main focus has been refreshing our image – it’s a balance between talking about our heritage but also about showing what we’re doing differently.’
For Vodafone, it isn’t just about the handset in the same way it has been in the past. ‘We train our guys to never start with the product,’ says Shaw. ‘We do things the other way around and tell our staff to start with the customer and see what they plan to use it for. Device knowledge is still really important, but only when you’ve established what the customer needs.’
Vodafone trains its staff to deal with everything from product questions to business services and troubleshooting. This, Shaw claims, gives it the edge over rivals in the market.
‘We stand out as offering the most varied experience in store,’ he says. ‘Our people are trained to deal with everything and that’s where the industry needs to move too. If you just have people there to sell, customers will become wary and you don’t want them to feel nervous.
‘We train the teams to deal with Vodafone customers irrespective of what customers they are and whether it is a service query, business enterprise, SMB or consumer. That’s very different from our competition – if you went into a rival store with a customer service issue they’d give you a phone number, we’re the opposite.’
Digging into the detail
From a manufacturer perspective, Alcatel has opted to play to its strengths and make training all about the handset. As it becomes harder to find a point of differentiation, Paterson explains that the business is actively looking for features that rivals may not have picked up on.
The manufacturer has spent the past four months developing its Tech Team, which goes out into the channel to train networks and retailers about the Alcatel brand.
‘They find a point on a product,’ he says. ‘It may not be a unique point but we may be the only ones who talk about it. A good example is the wide-angle selfie camera. We give the guys and girls in the team a device and let them play with it to see what they come up with.’
Keeping it in the family
When it comes to b2b, the training focuses more on building business skills rather than technical knowledge. While dealers such as Olive launched their own training academy, others have opted to bring in external trainers to up-skill staff when necessary.
Aerial Comms prefers to train the majority of staff itself, but also partners with O2 and Samsung, which come in and run workshops to bring employees up to speed. Sales director Dave Stephens explains that having these reputable external partners boosts trust in the business.
‘One of the senior team members recently became an O2 “Digital Advisor”, which means that they received training directly from O2 and can now assist the sales & marketing departments in all things digital. For our customers, it means that Aerial can provide better technical advice and support in relation to the network and its services.’
Vodafone partner Onecom also runs an in-house training facility, which offers induction and continued development for staff. CEO Darren Ridge says: ‘We have to put a percentage of staff through our programme and Vodafone provides the technical training. Now that Vodafone has announced a complete change in its partner programme, there’s been a big emphasis from it to get more involved in the training side.’
From a vendor side, Samsung’s b2b training combines device features with business use case, with McAuliffe naming security as a key area that sets the business apart from rival manufacturers.
‘B2b training focuses more on “Why Samsung for Business”. While we still train staff on the features of our devices, we focus more on how these features are aligned to meet business needs and requirements. Our security features such as KNOX are a primary focus, and we talk about how this sets us apart from other manufacturers,’ she says.
Training with tech
For Dixons Carphone, the big change in training has come from incorporating technology into its programmes. The high street brand uses online modules and communities to continue to support its staff after their induction period, which is held off site at a residential three-day workshop.
‘We have taken full advantage of using technology in our learning modules and have definitely seen a shift here in recent years,’ says Angell. ‘We encourage user generated learning and online communities to support knowledge sharing and support too. We still kick off our staff’s life with us in a central venue so we can immerse them into our brand and ways of working. Feedback from staff is they find this really engaging before going into their stores where they can continue their learning on the shop floor and also with lots of support online.’
For Vodafone, off-site training is also a key part of its programme, designed to introduce newcomers to what Shaw describes as the ‘very daunting’ world of telecoms.
‘We do a lot of off-site training because when you do in-store training the reality is that if the store is busy or short staffed they may not spend the time that they need learning,’ he says.
‘When anyone joins Vodafone we set up a training plan and that includes an induction away from their store with a full training programme and then spending 12 weeks on the shop floor with a buddy. The world of telco is a very daunting place so it’s vital they have the support they need and learn to be natural and warm with customers while looking at a complicated screen.’
Dixons Carphone’s Angell explains that one area where incorporating technology comes in handy is in maintaining a consistent level of training across all of its stores and staff members – a big challenge for the high street brand.
‘Being able to share out content and knowledge at speed to thousands of colleagues across the country in an engaging and memorable way has it challenges,’ she says, ‘but we do it well, utilising our learning technology and having well-embedded cascade processes in store.’
One way in which Samsung manages to maintain training across a large region is through social media. One trainer explains that using channels such as WhatsApp and Snapchat enables them to stay in contact with staff and answer queries.
‘What we’ve seen is an increase in our use of social media so we can stay in contact with more staff on a daily basis,’ the trainer says. ‘Every day I’m using Google Duo, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram to keep in touch, answer questions and share information. Not only does this allow one trainer to have a much more frequent presence even across a larger region, it also furthers the “always on” approach that I think a lot of trainers have.’
Samsung has taken training to the next level by combining it with virtual reality. The manufacturer tells Mobile that it has adapted its approach to make use of its Gear VR headsets in aiding staff development and boosting engagement.
‘The market has changed considerably over the years,’ says McAuliffe, ‘what with the growing popularity of wearables, smart watches and virtual reality headsets. Because of these introductions to the market, we have had to adapt our training approach to highlight Samsung’s convergence story, and demonstrate how our devices work together to make day-to-day life easier for consumers. We are now able to deliver our training in an even more engaging manner by using the innovation within our devices – the Gear VR in particular makes for a truly immersive training experience!
‘Using this, and the introduction of our 360 camera, we are able to create innovative content and deliver training in an engaging, immersive way. Delivering knowledge in this manner has been received positively and has shown an increase in brand advocacy and knowledge retention. We appreciate that store staff have a varied level of understanding, so we adapt our training and support to the individual needs of the staff through face-to-face visits, regular communications and our online portal Samsung Backstage.’
However, as mobile evolves beyond smartphones, Samsung has hit a major challenge when it comes to training. The rise of virtual reality is an unfamiliar territory for staff, who need training not only on how to use this tech but also how to sell it.
McAuliffe explains: ‘As we increase our product portfolio, staff need to retain more information than ever before. There are also new innovations coming to the market such as 360 cameras and virtual reality headsets that staff may have had no previous experience with.
‘We combat this with a phased approach to training, to ensure that staff are able to retain the information. Delivering 360 content via a VR experience, the staff are able to experience the products and gain a deeper understanding of it. It’s this experience that allows them to discuss the devices with their consumers confidently.’
Industry players are moving away from the more traditional methods of recruitment, seeking out particular qualities over vast retail experience. When O2 launched its Stores of the Future earlier this year, the network made a concerted effort not to hire staff from a retail background. Instead, the brand opted for those passionate in particular areas, such as music or photography.
For Alcatel it’s all about communication. Paterson explains that the industry is at the stage where consumers are very familiar with the technical aspects of a smartphone, and more time needs to be spent communicating handset features.
‘Consumers don’t care about technical knowledge. All of us in the industry need to spend more time in making what these products can actually do more understandable. Our guys and girls will pick up things up quickly so we don’t need to spend a lot of time on the technical aspects. We can always teach them about handsets – we really wanted to find people that could communicate well, build a relationship and show off the brand.’
Paterson’s comments were echoed by Excalibur CEO James Phipps who believes that staff with too much technical knowledge can be more of a hindrance than a help.
‘We try not to take people from the industry,’ he says. ‘Too much knowledge over-complicates things. We have technical experts but customers don’t normally want to know the ins and outs of everything, they just want the best advice. So our training is about giving staff that technical knowledge. If you’ve got a natural tech geek but they can’t communicate with the customer then the technical part is pretty useless.’
Phipps explains that recruitment is a massive challenge in the industry and says the business has ramped up investment into that area. One way the dealer has done this is by setting up the Excalibur Business School, which uses a mixture of apprenticeships, workshops and work experience to up-skill staff and attract new employees.
However, for some manufacturers, hiring those without a technical mind or interest can cause problems at a training level. A trainer at one major brand says that it has become far harder to motivate new starters because fewer have the same passion for technology.
‘I’ve found staff to be less interested in technology than they maybe were previously,’ the trainer says. ‘Because they are less passionate about handsets and devices, it can be more challenging to ensure they retain all the key points of our training and the spec of the phones. I’ve found the most important thing is to convey your passion to the staff because it is contagious and it really helps to motivate them.’
A new kind of employee
A shift in demographic is also playing a role in changing recruitment, especially with the influx of millennials into the market. However, for Vodafone’s Shaw, the network is moving away from a mobile phone shop that was previously filled with young staff.
‘If you walked into the store five years ago you would see a very young set of people, but we’re changing that and looking for more mixed ages, and that’s good. A lot of young people can be quite daunting. As everyone is getting more comfortable with smartphones it’s less of a scary frontier so we’re having lots of different people look to come and work with us.’
He explains that a key challenge is how to retain staff. ‘When you do spend a lot of time training someone and getting them up to speed how do you maintain that relationship and make them stay?’ he says. ‘We have a formal graduate training scheme and we’re not short of people, but how do we keep the staff we’ve trained? We’ve spent a lot of time making sure comms in the front line is very different.’