From shopworkers to delivery drivers, restaurant and hospitality staff, frontline workers keep businesses running. They are the direct link between a business and its customers, putting a name and a face to the brand. They also make up 80% of our global workforce, according to a report by Microsoft.
It stands to reason, then, that properly training customer-facing employees should be a priority. Shep Hyken, customer experience speaker and consultant, explains: “Training is the most important thing you do. You could have 1000 employees and one of them is not properly trained. And if I happen to get that person that day doesn’t matter – I think the entire company is like that.”
The training challenge
Yet many organisations are failing to meet the training and development needs of frontline workers, leaving a disconnect between the challenges that businesses face and the steps to solve them.
A recent survey of 300 retail and hospitality business leaders by training experts eduMe found that despite 93% of leaders reporting significant time training frontline staff, 83% were not confident of employees’ ability to interact with customers.
Why? According to the report, training for frontline employees is inefficient, outdated and time-consuming. It found that 92% of retail and hospitality leaders still don’t use modern training systems, relying on classroom-based, face-to-face training. Just 8% combined mobile learning with in-person training, despite many believing that training which is quicker to complete would improve learning outcomes.
“A fundamental challenge in frontline worker training is accessibility,” says Jacob Waern, founder and CEO at eduMe.
“How do you deliver training to people? Office workers can be trained through their computer or in person, but that doesn’t work if you’re out delivering parcels or you’re one of the cleaning staff at a hotel. Frontline workers typically don’t have a lot of spare time, so training needs to be on tap. You want to remove as much friction as possible,” he adds.
Shifting focus and taking action
While there is still a gap between intention and reality, Waern has seen a shift in organisations’ training priorities post-pandemic. “There can be a discrepancy between what a company thinks it is providing in terms of its learning and what employees receive. Learning leaders say their focus has moved. They’ve taken care of deskbound employees, now it’s time to help the deskless workers,” he says.
For frontline workers, this often means improving technical skills through specific, bite-sized learning. “Training for deskless workers is about helping them understand how something works. It’s about learning an applicable skill through short, micro-learning programmes. For big companies, those applicable skills are key. Get those right and you can progress onto other types of development,” argues Waern.
Developing frontline workers is vital not just for the everyday functioning of the business but for retaining talent. Waern also points to the relationship between training and retaining talent. “Many countries have historically low unemployment, which means that labour shortages can make it difficult to hire for frontline positions. But when people are engaged and empowered to develop, they are much more likely to stay – and that’s a key focus for employers,” Waern adds.
This is borne out by eduMe’s retail and hospitality report, which found that two-thirds (66%) of leaders in the industry reported employee turnover as their biggest challenge. Staff shortages and retention were felt as a pain five times more than any other negative issue, including digital transformation, no-shows and even loss prevention.
LinkedIn’s Employee Well-Being Report shows that opportunities to learn and grow are the number one driver of a positive work culture. Technological advances and evolving job roles mean that 44% of workers’ core skills are expected to change in the next five years, so many employees understand the need for continuous learning.
Bringing the right training to the employee
The key to reaching frontline workers is embedding training into the systems and communication tools they already use as part of their job, instead of taking them out of work or asking them to download new platforms or tools. Organisations should also consider the kind of learning materials frontline employees will find appealing and how to tailor them to the individual.
This is the approach eduMe takes with its learning programmes, which offer training through interactive, short-form content. This is delivered to individuals when it is most relevant and beneficial to them through existing technology integrations that fit into employees’ workflows.
Waern gives the example of eduMe’s partnership with ride-hailing app Uber, which uses the microlearning platform to onboard and develop drivers in markets globally.
Tapping into the app’s rating system, drivers with consistently lower customer ratings may receive a message on the Uber driver’s app suggesting they improve their customer service and providing a link to learning content. “It’s about providing a seamless experience, so the driver doesn’t even register that they’re switching platforms. They stay in the Uber environment and get what they need there,” says Waern. The new Uber training approach resulted in increased productivity, better driver ratings and improved driver satisfaction.
Unsurprisingly, gig economy companies such as Uber have been the trailblazers of this new type of tech-enabled, frictionless learning for frontline workers. Waern believes, however, that all employers are moving towards a more personalised, accessible style of training.
For example, one pet care retailer brought convenient training to employees by strategically placing QR codes throughout the store. When scanned, these link to relevant content through an integration with Workday, making knowledge easily and immediately accessible to retail staff and letting them choose which learning materials were delivered to them and when. As a result, more employees completed the training, those that completed it did so faster and there was strong satisfaction reported with the simple, social media-like guide format.
But the retail and hospitality industry in particular still has a way to go. The eduMe report found that many retail and hospitality leaders are missing opportunities to make training more accessible. The majority (89%) of retail and hospitality leaders reported that their frontline has access to a human resources information system (HRIS) daily, but for 62% of those organisations, the training sits completely outside this existing digital flow. This disconnect needn’t exist. For example, with the option to embed training in existing systems such as Workday and Teams, eduMe can help organisations upskill the right employees at the right time.
It can be easy for businesses to lose sight of training when they are facing challenging times, but understanding the different needs of frontline workers and breaking down barriers to training accessibility is a vital first step. Waern advises businesses to think about setting people up for success from the very start with a pre-boarding and onboarding programme. “Then, remember it’s not a once-and-done. Continuous support through training is key to developing frontline workers.”
By providing engaging, consumer-grade training delivered through the tools your frontline already uses, eduMe can help to improve employee engagement, productivity, and retention. Find out more at edume.com