Thursday, August 2, 2007

Focus On The Frontlines
Heats Up For Retail Giants

By Andrew Gaffney

The frontlines of the retail industry appeared on the front pages this month, spotlighting the movement by major retailers to strengthen their associates that are closest to the customer. The associate training program Home Depot was profiled in the August edition of Training magazine (http://www.managesmarter.com/).

Home Depot is counting on its increased investment in associate training as a key part of its turnaround plan. The article, which examines the $600 million Home Depot is investing in learning and development, spotlights the chain’s use of e-learning tools as well as more traditional means, such as road shows, to train its more than 364,000 associates.

The interactive portion of the training is centered around a 15-minute program the retailer calls Rapid Web-Based Training, an e-learning format that delivers video, PowerPoint presentations to simulate customer interactions. While delivering these kind of interactive tools to associates has been problematic in the past, the home improvement giant plans to schedule these brief training sessions before and after associate shifts.

Given the “how-to” focus of its stores, Home Depot also has to address the additional challenge of making sure its associates are versed on products and projects. To tackle this task, Home Depot has assembled a team of 50 training content developers and has 520 trainers on staff to deliver the content.

Retail Reality: Home Depot’s new CEO Frank Blake seems
genuinely committed to strengthening the chain’s frontline, especially since the retailer’s service was put through the ringer on the blogosphere earlier this year.

However, being a Home Depot shopper myself I have yet to see any of the changes taking effect in the aisles. The “orange vests” are still difficult to find and often clueless to answer your question.

Even more frustrating, when I tried to steer a question towards one associate on a recent trip, he informed he “was on his way home.” It was around 5:40 pm, which I interpreted to mean that he was 20 minutes away from quitting time and was not interested in getting involved in my problems.

The challenge for Home Depot goes well beyond the need for greater product and knowledge, they need a dramatic cultural shift that reaches down to the associate level There is also a Retail Leadership Development Program in the works for store managers and
department supervisors, which hopefully instill a customer-centric attitude at the store level.

1 comment:

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