At The Children’s Place Retail Stores Inc., the most important aspect is keeping customers happy. A leading specialty retailer of children’s merchandise for newborns to 10-year-olds, the company designs, manufactures and sells clothing and toys in 808 The Children’s Place stores and 316 Disney Stores in North America, as well as online.
The company’s mission to keep its customers happy has led the organization to invest heavily in new-hire orientation training, and The Children’s Place has formed partnerships with multiple vendors in order to offer its 13,000 sales associates, managers and corporate employees off-the-shelf and customized learning and development options.
“We’ve partnered with people like Oddcast, Franklin Covey, Ken Blanchard and several other companies have provided services for the training that we do,” said Leslie McCleary, director of training and development, The Children’s Place. “We don’t have wide-area networks in our stores, so we license a course from a vendor. With Oddcast we took content, burned it on a CD, and then we sent it out to our stores.”
The Children’s Place introduced e-learning into its development offerings about five years ago, and McCleary said that this has helped to provide a consistent level of training to everyone throughout the company’s distributed workforce. E-learning also enabled the organization to track learning efforts and create reports of training results for senior management. In recent years the company has actively begun to implement a blended learning approach complete with customized e-learning modules, role-playing activities and coaching. “We base our training on interviews from our subject-matter experts. We take the information from them and then give our people true-life scenarios to work with,” McCleary said.
For instance, the organization’s new-hire orientation program focuses on the sales associate but is required for every employee. Formerly a paper-based process, the program now includes multiple training elements including a scavenger hunt to help associates learn about the layout and products of the store, safety training, activities to learn how to interact with other associates on the selling floor and PLACE Card credit-card training, which includes a customized, highly interactive simulation and mastery assessment.
“We really try to work toward a blended approach because sitting down in front of a computer and going through a course is part of the learning process,” McCleary said. “But then you have to take what you’ve learned and apply that to our environment. Once they complete the PLACE Card learning on the computer, associates would then find a learning partner or a management person, and we provide them with specific scenarios that they have to role play. It’s taking what they’ve learned, interacting with an expert and showing that they understand the learning and are able to apply it. They’re much more confident when they go up to a customer and introduce them to a PLACE Card.”
Course customization has been a critical success factor for the new-hire orientation training. Soliciting SMEs for different types of questions based on real-life retail encounters enabled the company to create training that was appropriate for any audience and applicable to a wide variety of customers.
“We talk to the person who handles that credit card here in our corporate office to understand, ‘What are some objections that people actually respond with when they’re offered the PLACE Card?’ We actually use those. Also, the customization part has made it much easier for us because we provide our management team with management implementation guides that give them the scenarios and instructions on how to conduct them,” McCleary explained. “Attached to the completion of the e-learning, it prints out congratulations to the learner, and again you participate in some interaction with your management person. This gives the management person an opportunity to understand where the learner is in being able to retain and then apply the learning. If they see that someone is having trouble executing in a role play, they can coach and provide them with feedback, and with e-learning, at any time you can have learners go back if they don’t understand a certain part.”
Each customized e-learning piece has a mastery or quiz at the end, and associates must earn at least 80 percent to become certified. “That certification is much like the certification we give our register training for new associates,” McCleary said. “Once they complete it and pass their mastery, a certificate prints out. They have a piece of paper that says you are now a certified cashier, but it doesn’t happen until the manager signs off on it. They go through different scenarios and exercises to show the manager that they know how to work the register.
“The feedback has been really great,” McCleary said. “The new hires are ready faster. We took a 12-hour training program down to four hours. Reducing the training time gave us a significant payroll savings, and our management teams love the fact that there is a format and a delivery that allows training to be consistent, and that there is a lot of interaction.”
Kellye Whitney, firstname.lastname@example.org
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