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Keeping Up with the E-Times


Speed to market is critical in any consumer business. However, a dense, expensive paper-based training system was working against Blockbuster as it pursued and introduced new projects. By adding a new e-learning training strategy, the retailer set the stage to prepare employees for the company’s new endeavors.

Dallas-based Blockbuster reported $5.5 billion in total revenues in 2006 and operates more than 8,000 stores throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia. The chain, which has approximately 50,000 associates, had no trouble providing employees with the knowledge they needed to run the business and cater to customer needs.

Keeping its future goals in sight, however, the chain realized it needed to improve its training to ensure operational consistency and still ensure that employees could learn sustainable skills quickly and economically.

“Before, employees went into a room for hours to read a series of training books that didn’t have realistic examples,” said Jamie Webb, the retailer’s director of HR development services.

“It was hard for them to visualize what actually happens in our stores,” he said. “It didn’t give them much hands-on practice and when it came time to put what they read into play, they struggled.”

In 2004, Blockbuster turned to an interactive e-training solution powered by Sylvania, Ohio-based Root Learning. The program, which officially launched in January 2005, runs on PCs in the break area or back office of a store. The program teaches a range of skills, such as how to scan and check out DVDs, to how to complete inventory checks and membership sign-ups.

Each session, which is about 15 minutes in length, was designed for a range of employees, from customer-service representatives to district managers. Block-buster and Root Learning jointly produced the classes.

The companies also produced job aids, coach’s guides, and skill- and knowledge-base assessments to ensure that learning continues following the e-learning experience.

Blockbuster’s modules also home in on lacking areas of customer service. The company created these sessions by incorporating feedback from customers and employees.

“As we built each piece, it was tested with a user group to be sure it not only delivered the intended content, but also provided the learning experience that was critical to our success,” Webb said. “We were concerned about assessing content, but we also looked for gaps in the performance that followed the module, and we focused on how the learners felt emotionally.”

Proof positive: These assessments proved that the modules provide stronger employee-confidence levels faster than its previous paper-based system.

“Previously, trainees would often forget certain skill sets by the time the learning process ended,” Webb said.

Now, employees go directly to the front lines upon completing each level. Trainees are also assigned a seasoned and knowledgeable “training buddy” that walks their new co-worker through tasks. After they practice at store level, trainees go back to the computer to test their knowledge, Webb said.

“We want to test every skill and find out what our employees know and what they don’t know,” he said. “Even if they answer incorrectly, that’s important information for us. We want to make sure they learn it.”

The solution allows the retailer the ability to track and monitor progress.

The system is also paramount as Blockbuster rapidly changes its environment. For example, when Blockbuster implemented its Total Access online movie-rental offer, the e-solution immediately helped the company learn more about the program.

“Rather than print out paper for employees to read every time there is a change in our stores, now we just push a button,” Webb said. “Before it would take about three to four months, and now it takes about 45 days. Avoiding paper is also much cheaper.”

Blockbuster has seen a number of additional benefits since the modules have rolled out. It has achieved its lowest level of customer “walkout” rates and its highest level of customer satisfaction, according to biweekly customer polls.

The e-modules also offer significant cost-savings, compared to paper-based training materials. More specifically, the program has added more than $1 million annually to the bottom line based on savings in maintenance, production and shipping.

“Now, our e-training solution is much more engaging and it really fits the business we are in today,” Webb said. “It saves a lot of company money, time and energy because we can focus on employee-specific needs. We can re-teach what they don’t know and avoid spending extra time on skills they do know.”

Employee response has also been positive. “New employees always say how they wish they had a similar training program at their previous job,” Webb said. “We are more up with the times by presenting an electronic way to teach how to do their job. This allows them to learn in a fun and effective way, while getting them out on the floor as soon as possible.”

In an effort to further merge its in-store and online business, the company hopes to pursue a movie-download feature in the future. The e-solution gives the company the flexibility to keep its employees up to speed.

Webb also said that the solution allows new hires to get more comfortable, make fewer mistakes and feel better about coming on board with the company.

“It takes a lot of the frustration away from starting a new job and it makes it that much more easy to impress your boss,” Webb said. “It benefits everyone.”

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