This may sound like the premise of yet another article on the benefits of online learning or integrated solutions. Actually, it is a quote from “Best Face Forward,” a new book by Jeffrey Rayport and Bernie Jaworski that focuses on the burgeoning revolution in the way that companies provide goods and services. “That same array of devices and networks,” they observe, “makes it possible for companies to relate to customers and interact with markets in radically new ways.”
Perhaps Rayport and Jaworski also are describing a parallel universe—one where the transfer of knowledge and information is the driver. Are we witnessing two converging aspects of the same universe, with both aspects—customer- and employee-facing—finding sustainable competitive solutions in the same set of universal truths?
“Best Face Forward” argues that the winning formula in business requires a revolution in customer interface, with “front-office reengineering” around people-dominant, machine-dominant and hybrid methodologies. Sound familiar? CLOs today use the same trinity: online, face-to-face and blended learning. And increasingly, the best blend of various kinds of learning experience is formulated by the learner, not the trainer.
In both models, it is the patron who is uniquely qualified to pass judgment on best experience and whose behavior determines corporate success. A client recently told me that if his company’s online learning offering did not grab the salesperson within 30 seconds, it’s over. Rayport and Jaworski would agree: The competitive edge will go to the company that provides the best customer experience.
Of course, customers are different, and “best” means different things to different people. The same applies with learners. The degree of true personalization afforded the individual worker will leverage both time-to-task and worker satisfaction, just as the quality of the interface and the degree to which I am “in charge” of my association (live or machine) with online providers of goods and services will determine my overall experience and willingness to return. I don’t hate dealing with machines; I hate dealing with poorly engineered machines.
I mention this because it is sometimes difficult for corporate strategists to identify with the learners’ needs. But it isn’t difficult to envision your last experience with, say, your local cable company: “Your wait time for a customer representative is now…” (new voice) “10” (original voice) “…minutes.” I often tell the story of the platoon surrounded by the enemy, calling in for help. The voice on the radio responds, “Roger that. Have you guys considered signing up for a camouflage course?” Funny? Maybe, but that’s what many organizations do to our knowledge workers.
It strikes me that Rayport and Jaworski are on to something, not just in the marketing area, but in every direction that the 21st century enterprise can proceed. Solutions that begin with the corporate vision and strategy and then flow into both the workplace and the marketplace can have a laser-like impact on all of the company’s publics—both internal and external.
There are a number of solutions now sprouting that seek to unify e-learning, knowledge management, human interaction, digital content, tools, and inside and outside subject matter within an omnipresent core taxonomy and personal profile.
Perhaps waiting just around the corner is the convergence not only of the various elements of learning and knowledge, but of all the manifestations of corporate DNA. In this version of convergence, vision, strategy, knowledge, information, execution, delivery, customer experience and feedback are all seen as points on a continuum. Imagine the wealth of management information that will flow from such an integrated system. The good news is that there is nothing preventing us from putting our “best face forward” right now. We only need to think differently about how we apply the people, tools and technologies that we already have. A sustainable competitive solution is within reach.
Jonathon Levy (www.jonathonlevy.com) is senior learning strategist at Monitor Company Group and former vice president for online learning solutions at Harvard Business School Publishing. E-mail Jonathon with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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