Recently on vacation, I went fly-fishing for the first time. For those who have seen the movie “A River Runs Through It”, I can tell you it’s as peaceful and zen-like in person as it is on the big screen. It was a guided trip and – needless to say – I enjoyed it. Afterwards I asked the guide how much it would cost to outfit me to get started fly-fishing on my own. He told me anywhere from $500-1,000. Not pocket change, but I was intrigued enough to visit two the local outfitters. Both are national chains who specialize in outdoor and sports gear.
In the first store, I wandered around myself at first and was overwhelmed by the choices. I honestly could not even tell which gear was for fly-fishing (if you haven’t guessed, I’m not about to host my own outdoor show). After about fifteen minutes, I found a store associate and asked if they sold fly-fishing gear and where it would be. I added somewhat proudly, “I just went fly-fishing for the first time and really liked it, though I have no idea what I need to get started.” He smiled and very kindly pointed me to a wall along the edge of the store. It was right where he said it’d be but I still had no idea what I was looking at. After another few minutes of staring stupidly, I looked around and – seeing that the associate had disappeared – I left the store.
In the second store, I did the same exact thing. I found the fly-fishing gear but I could have been looking at surgical tools it was so foreign to me. I found a store associate and delivered my same speech. “Oh really,” he said, “Where did you go?” I told him West Virginia and though he had never been there (or even fly-fished I later found out) he walked me back to the spot where the gear was. Once there, he asked me several questions and – realizing we both were fly-fishing novices – he went and found a fellow employee who was more knowledgeable about fly-fishing and the gear. About an hour later, I walked out with a starter kit and $660 less in my bank account.
Before leaving, I sought out the first associate (after turning me over to the more knowledgeable person, he had moved on) and thanked him. Being in the training biz, I was curious so I asked how he learned to handle customers so adeptly like he did me (even though he didn’t “make the sale”, if it wasn’t for him, the store would have lost my $600+ just like the first store did). He shrugged and said the company had training that he attended. I asked him was it sales training or maybe customer service training, and he said he honestly didn’t know. He just knew that every so often he would get trained and the message was clear and consistent – to ask questions to find out about the customer and their needs, and then either help them or find a co-worker who can. Smart, I thought, given the variety and volume of gear in these monster stores, no one associate could possible be an expert in all areas.
As I said, I make my living though training; I have for over 15 years, and even I question the effectiveness of some training, but – when done right – the impact of a formal, comprehensive, strategically-sound and holistic training program is undeniable – and measurable. Just do the math, I spent over six-hundred dollars in little over an hour. I’m sure not everyone does but even if it’s a fraction of that, multiple it by how many customers per day, in how many stores, and the return on an investment in training can be staggering.
Do some organizations waste money on training? There’s no question they do. Part of the reason, in my opinion, is the training department gets side-tracked and loses focus on what is the true focus of the organization (which also makes it more difficult to calculate the ROI). What the associate in the second store did was smart and simple. It helped his store and his company make more money – and that is (you may have heard about this concept) the “bottom line.” Get your training department focused back on the bottom line, design a strategy, and execute (not sure how? contact us) and you’ll never have anyone question the necessity of training again.