Blog Post

Want to Build A Better Training Strategy? Ask Your Customers.

Julie Winkle Giulioni

Author, Speaker and Consultant Specializing in HR, Leadership and Career Development

Establishing training and learning priorities is frequently treated as an art. But recent research from Human Capital Management illuminates the science behind this essential leadership function - and the most valuable data comes from customers, both internal and external. In Best Practice: Microlearning Helps Employees Re-Learn Concepts Quickly,the authors report that best-in-class companies are 43% more likely than all others to use customer feedback to determine employee learning needs and priorities. So what can we do to find the intersection of art and science?

Customer-focused training drivers

Shifting to a focus on the customer gives organizations and leaders a new lens and rich repository of data so they can build a more effective training strategy.

For instance, rather than relying exclusively on competency models and standard catalogue offerings, frontline employee learning can be powerfully informed by things like:

Customer surveys - the formal request for feedback many organizations make after a point of service then collect into regular reports

Customer compliments and complaints - the informal and organic sharing of customer experiences that may or may not be summarized and shared with employees

Frequently asked questions - what customers don't know, fail to understand, or can't find reveals the gaps in the product itself or the service surrounding it

Product failures - a product shortfall should be a wake-up call, inspiring training or re-training to improve performance

Recurring service issues and/or requests - the same wake-up call applies to service shortfalls or gaps

Consider your internal customers

These data sources focus on the external customers' experiences - but the same idea applies to internal customers: those within the organization, up- and down-stream, who rely on the output of other employees to do their jobs. Their feedback must be gathered, analyzed and acted upon too.

And then there are leaders, whose "customers" should include the employees who report to them. Leadership training priorities must also be based upon customer (employee) feedback, which is available as:

Internal employee engagement survey data

Attrition and retention rates

Exit interview insights

Career development and progression

Frontline employee performance gaps

Are you asking the right questions?

While data sources and data-gathering vehicles typically exist in organizations, they don't always offer the actionable information that's needed to develop feedback-driven training priorities. Internal engagement surveys do not necessarily focus on what leaders can control. External customer research is frequently light on the specifics required for frontline employee improvement.

Do your surveys of internal customers, external customers and/or employees gather the information needed to drive training priorities? If not, it's time to make a change. The quality and usefulness of the data generated is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions asked.

Rating scales are effective at collecting responses; but game-changing and priority-driving insights are generally found in responses to curious, open-ended questions like:

What else could the service provider have done to enhance your experience?


What do you need your manager to do more/less of to help you perform better?

Maximize training and learning programs with customer feedback

An organization's or a leader's learning strategy has the power to make or break the business, but only when the focus of the training moves beyond the attitude of nice-to-do to need-to-do. And this means adopting a feedback-driven approach to establishing and executing training priorities. By listening to your internal and external customers, as well as your employees, you can create a training strategy that benefits your business, your employees and your customers.

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