Starbucks is doing something right. In addition to brewing a good cup of java, the coffee chain has become an industry standard for excellent product knowledge and service, as well as employee satisfaction. How do they do it?
Perhaps it’s because Starbucks is one of the few Fortune 500 companies that spends more on employee training than on advertising. All baristas complete a certification program and are given tools to help with on-the-job knowledge, including the Coffee Passport and the Green Apron Book, both of which contain concise information about different drinks and tuck discreetly into the barista’s apron pocket. There are also incentives to increase product knowledge, such as assigning highly proficient employees the task of being learning coaches for new hires.
As Starbucks has shown, employee product knowledge lays the foundation for good business—it enhances a sense of trust with clients or customers, increases sales, and keeps employees engaged in their work. Yet, increasing employee knowledge is one of the top learning and development challenges facing organizations today. Here are five ways your company can boost product knowledge.
Use familiar platforms.
Learning can only happen when the learner is comfortable with the tools provided—so while a high-tech, virtual-reality system might sound like fun, it’s likely to add confusion to the onboarding process, which needs to be consistently effective for all new hires. Find a platform that everyone is familiar with, from PowerPoint to Facebook, and build from there. Having to double-train employees both on product knowledge and platform know-how is a recipe for frustration.
Make it mobile.
Employees will appreciate the opportunity to take learning into their own hands (literally) by accessing training on their mobile devices. This grants a sense of autonomy to the learning process—plus, implementing training on a familiar device has a better chance of integrating new knowledge into the employee’s everyday life.
Make learning experiential.
No training booklet or online module is going to authentically translate product knowledge completely. Employees need to have access to the product itself and experience it actively—whether that means brewing and drinking their own lattes or taking the company’s top-line vacuum cleaner to their own home and using it for a weekend cleaning spree. Making the product applicable to their own lives will also impart a sense of connection between the employee and the product, which is crucial for both sales and engagement.
Next time you’re at Starbucks, check to see if any of the employees are wearing a black apron. This is the prestigious mark of a Coffee Master, a barista who has displayed extraordinary product knowledge and customer service. The apron is hard-won after a manager’s recommendation and certification process, which begins with a journal that says “You are chosen” and includes an in-person coffee taste-test. The incentive to earn a black apron drives many baristas to up their knowledge on their own accord, making training an integrated part of every shift.
One way of incentivizing learning is to gamify the process. Incorporating badges, quests, and challenges into learning can motivate employees to work harder to increase product knowledge (and have fun while doing so). Employees who make the connection between “work” and “fun” are far more likely to put sincere effort into upholding company standards and doing their best work.
While Starbucks’ success may seem like a lofty goal to shoot for, the truth is that their core principle of investing in learning, rather than advertising, is a profitable benchmark that any organization can follow. It involves shifting corporate culture and priorities from the center, and putting the incentive to learn and grow in the employees’ hands.
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