Online training just the right blend for Coffee Club By Mike Toten on 11 August 2016 When you have 300 stores, mostly franchised, with 6000 employees around Australia, achieving high standards of customer service and employee engagement is a formidable challenge. DKL Focus Group, whose stores trade under the brand of The Coffee Club, moved all its training and development online and won the Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) HR Technology Award for its efforts. Its strategy was outlined at AHRI’s recent 2016 HR technology conference. The problem Requelle Simpson, DKL Group’s training specialist, noted the difficulties of dealing with a widely dispersed workforce, and added that franchisees tended to look inwards, focusing mainly on costs, consistency and “what’s in it for us”. Another major problem was an employee turnover rate of about 90%, which looks bad but is not unusual for this area of the hospitality industry. Many people seek initial employment with employers such as The Coffee Club, gain some basic experience and quickly move on. There was very little emphasis on career pathways, and training was provided face-to-face by the franchisees. Implementing the online strategy The Coffee Club management concluded that centralising training and development via an online platform was the best solution to the above problems. Simpson described its strategy as follows: All franchisees were interviewed to establish their current needs and practices. Access via smartphones, iPads, etc was to be the basis for access to platforms, information, training and general HR advice, so these details and connections had to be obtained. Recruitment, screening and onboarding processes, previously mostly done onsite by franchisees, were mostly moved online. A separate onboarding program was developed for new franchisees. Scalability of the information was required, due to widespread employment of local and international students and part-time and casual employees. A key requirement of the system was the ability to provide immediate and easily accessible results. The company operations manual was also moved online, with access to all content available via hyperlinks. HR webinars were used to move all stores online. The Coffee Club signed a compliance deed with the Fair Work Ombudsman. Features of training Training comprised three basic categories: Bronze – general and introductory material Silver – more specific, eg recipes for different types of coffee Gold – aimed at trainers and managers Various potential career pathways were built in – for example to become a manager, franchisee or business development manager. Various certificate and diploma courses were made available, which were linked to tenure of employment, eg after six, 12 or 18 months. All training is accredited with the Australian Qualifications Framework, for example in hospitality and food safety. These are supplied free to franchisees, and used as an attraction strategy. What’s coming next Simpson said The Coffee Club was now moving towards using gamification as a means of providing interactive and simulated learning. For example, visually showing employees which control to press on a specific machine is a more effective way to learn than printed instructions. Comments from customers are also being built into the learning programs. What didn’t work (at first) Although the strategy ultimately won an award, Simpson mentioned some initial setbacks that had to be overcome: the program was launched with insufficient trialling and feedback feedback needed to be timely and contextual competitions and incentives were too complicated at first e-learning modules were overloaded with information. In a hospitality/customer service industry, focus needs to be on behaviour, not knowledge or subject matter rewards were too generic. “Experience” types of rewards were eventually found to be the most effective. What did work The following factors contributed most to the success of the strategy: support office employees spending time with a wide variety of in-store learners streamlining and integrating the various processes making everything accessible via smartphones and iPads creating a safe learning environment – note that this occurs within a very practical “hands-on” type of business making the learning attractive to employees, eg more interactive a tiered accreditation learning program continuous review and evaluation “anything you can offer for free” demonstrating the benefits of learning, especially “what’s in it for me” The evaluation process included ratings by “mystery shoppers”. These ratings were correlated with the extent of training completion and business development review scores. It was also possible to use the ratings to demonstrate the financial benefits of training, eg its impact on store sales and profitability. Although the program has not been running for long, employee turnover rates have shown a significant decline, although it is still very high by overall standards. Further information about the HR technology conference is available from AHRI.