End User Training: Lessons Learned from Recent Enterprise-Wide Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Deployments

Authored by Joseph B. Grady and Daniel T. Murphy

Finally, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel. As 2003 progresses, we are beginning to see companies reinvest in the enterprise IT projects that they had put on hold in recent years. This time, rather than a trickling of investments in CRM point solutions that will be stitched together later, we are seeing a great many companies building CRM blueprints that are truly enterprise-wide, extending across multiple business units, multiple geographies, with execution planned across multiple years.

Many of the enterprise-wide projects that are being contemplated today have complex integration points that would not have been considered three years ago. The trend toward larger, more complex, and longer term CRM projects is likely to continue, as the economy continues to recover, and as more companies begin to spend again. The ripple effect of this trend is profound. Everything seems to be changing. We are seeing changes in the way we organize projects, changes in the way we do design, development and testing, and especially in the way we train end users. This white paper is intended to describe some of the changes we are starting to see in the area of CRM end-user training.

CRM and Learning Transformations in Parallel

We were recently working on an enterprise-wide, global CRM deployment for a large manufacturing organization. The company needed to develop and deliver over 75 hours of training across dozens of audiences scattered throughout the world. For reasons of logistics and budget, it was agreed that we would rely almost exclusively on web-based training (WBT). We developed over twenty self-paced web-delivered courses.

In the months before we began this CRM transformation effort, the company constructed an online corporate university. Using a well-known learning management system (LMS) platform, the company put in place a solid backbone technology that would provide a robust set of learning capabilities. This company intended that, eventually, all company courses, both instructor-led and self-paced, would be contained in one location. The company’s course material library and all job aids would be available online. Employees would have the ability to enroll and complete web-based courses online, while management would have the ability to track employee course completion and satisfaction.

There are many large companies out there who have invested in LMS technology, but the LMS has yet to be institutionalized within the organization. These companies have built the learning backbone, but their employees haven’t had a real reason to immerse themselves in the new learning technology. Our client decided early in the project that all of their new CRM end-user courses would be delivered using the company’s new LMS. This was a huge challenge for this large, high-tech manufacturing organization. Delivering an entire training program via the online medium was something that had not yet been done successfully at this company.

We watched the sales and service representatives go through an experience that was wholly transformational. They were given new CRM technologies. They were given new processes. And they were given a new learning platform to learn about those new technologies and processes. Our client carefully considered the costs and logistics of a traditional training program to support a worldwide CRM implementation, and they opted for a distributed learning program, leveraging the LMS that they already had in place. They made their LMS the “only show in town” for learning about the new processes and technologies – and they truly created a learning transformation in their organization. Our recommendation to companies on the verge of a large enterprise-wide CRM deployment – If you do not already have an LMS to lean on, strongly consider implementing an LMS before or in-concert with CRM.

Simulation Software

The coming of age of simulation software is perhaps the biggest change in IT training in the last two years. This is the coolest stuff since sliced bread. There are several products out there. IBM’s Simulation Producer, in our objective opinion, is the most advanced. Gone are the days when an instructional developer builds course content, and then revises it again, and again, and again, every time the application or process changes, all the way through user-acceptance testing. Gone are the online courses with static screen bitmaps and callout box instructions. The new simulation tools provide a rich ‘picking’ and ‘clicking’ experience that makes the learner feel like they are using the real application. Simulation software allows the instructional developers to create the courses faster. The learner experience is highly realistic, and we have found that we can actually deploy without a training environment or sandbox. The best simulation software uses low-bandwidth applets that allow end-users to complete training across ordinary phone lines.

On our most recent enterprise-wide CRM training deployment, we used the new generation IBM Simulation Producer software to build our entire suite of courses. We worked faster than ever before. We were able to wait until very late in the development lifecycle before we began training development. We delivered courses that set a new standard for realism. Web-based courses with simulation applets, deployed on learning management systems are the wave of the future, period. Our advice – Make the investment, and reap the benefits in speed of execution and cost reduction.

To Train or Not-to-Train

Again, technology deployment is getting faster all the time. An enterprise-wide CRM deployment that would have taken two years in 1999 is now being forced into six months. Even government projects are getting quicker, and along the way, many corners are being cut. Requirements definition is done more quickly, and is sometimes only cursory effort. Development is done on a nearly round the clock basis with cheap labor imported from overseas. There is less unit testing, less integration testing, less user acceptance testing, and less end-user training. To keep up with the hectic pace of change, we have seen a trend toward accelerated and less rigorous training analysis. This is not a trend that we need to follow in the training space.

Now, more than ever, instructional developers should rigorously apply a number of analysis tools to ensure first, that all the new business processes affected are being addressed; and second, that the training program will sufficiently prepare the organization for the post-transformation world. One of the most useful tools in the kitbag should be a ‘train or not-to-train’ filter. This filter will help instructional designers to make the decision on a process-by-process basis, as well as point them in the direction of the proper instructional media.

On a recent project, we looked at every activity in every future-state business process. We passed each activity through a rigorous set of filters. We estimated the level of complexity of each activity. We discussed how often the activity would be done in the post-transformation business. And we looked carefully at the risk of an end-user not doing the activity correctly. We consulted with subject-matter-experts and asked ourselves some tough questions, like “With the new web-interface, is this activity really that difficult?” and “Will the sales representative really look unprofessional if they whip out a job aid to complete this activity in front of the customer?” On this project, we applied a bit more analytical rigor than we had typically used in the past.

In the end, we felt we had a training program that was truly the right size. Activities that didn’t require training weren’t trained. For activities that were complex and not done very often, we produced job aids, rather than courses, since it was not necessary for the end-users to commit these activities to memory. There were a few activities that only needed to be learned by a small handful of back office people. These people didn’t need a formal course with formal course materials and job aids. They just needed a business analyst or a developer to spend some time with them and show them how to do the new work. Simple!

To be like everyone else in the new speed-focused world of IT, we could have arbitrarily reduced our time spent on analysis and training development. Instead, we increased our level of rigor on analysis, and in the end, reduced our training development time significantly and in the right areas.

We Build It, You Make Them Come

The best training program in the world, whether it is a planned instructor-led event with Britney Spears singing at the opening night party, or whether it has the coolest web-based courses that have ever been developed on the planet, is useless if nobody shows up to learn. Just getting the word out that the courses are available isn’t enough. Sending out emails to the business unit leadership isn’t enough either. Let’s face facts. Let’s be brave and not use the word “incentivize”. In most organizations, sales representatives must be harassed to complete training.

On a project we completed in early 2003, we required that somebody’s performance evaluation be tied to course completion. In the end, we had an aspiring junior executive step up to this challenge. He did send email advertisements for the training program. But he also followed up with hundreds of phone calls to the end-users and their managers telling them which courses they needed to take and when they should take them. Ninety percent of the sales representatives completed their training on time!

In years past, nobody got in trouble when end-users didn’t show up for training, mostly because it was very hard to track who took the training. These days, things are different. If you build it, and nobody shows up, everyone will know that nobody showed up, and somebody will have some explaining to do. Be smart! Get a senior business owner to take responsibility for end-user training completion.

All Executives Onboard

Again, we believe, in this new world of speedy worldwide deployments of new process and technology, that web-based training is the way to go. Yet, the ripple effect of just one or two executive naysayers can cripple an enterprise-wide web-based training deployment.

On one recent project we had a handful of executives who said, right from the start, that “Web-based training will never work here.” Instead, they had a vision that they would rehire as subcontractors, dozens of trainers who had been laid off in previous years while the training department had been downsized nearly to nonexistence.

We worked hard with these executives from day one. We talked to them about their previous experiences to find out what went wrong. We talked to them to find out what they thought web-based training was. In some cases, we found that their understanding of computer-based training was based on their experiences from several years ago. We showed these executives how the new simulation software products provide a very realistic picking and clicking experience, and we showed them how they could track course completion and satisfaction for their employees. Most importantly, we showed them the cost savings in not deploying instructors around the world, the cost savings of not needing a training environment, and the risk that was mitigated by not relying on dozens of human instructors who would deliver the training differently from location-to-location and from day-to-day.

In the end, we had a handful of executive stakeholders demonstrate their strong support for the new way of learning. We drafted emails for them to cascade through their organizations, and we drafted talking points for them to use in their weekly staff meetings.

Think Waves and Habitual Learning!

The CRM technology that you are deploying today is most likely the first of many waves that you will be deploying to your sales and service employees and to your business partners and customers. The functionality that is deployed in each successive wave builds on the previous wave. If you aren’t thinking in terms of waves already, you better start now. With the accelerated rate at which CRM technology is being deployed, the end user community must be brought into a learning rhythm. Learning must become habitual.

On every new project, the first thing we emphasize to end-users is that their world will be changing. We emphasize that they will now be seeing new technology emerging all the time. We emphasize that the technology will be released in waves, every few months. We explain that some of the technology will improve their sales productivity. Some of the technology waves will improve management’s view into their activities. Some waves will deliver technology that will help them improve the service they deliver. Most importantly, we emphasize that each technology wave will have an associated training wave. With each wave, they will be expected to learn something new: a new process in November; a new software and process in December; new business controls in February; etc. We emphasize that, to be a high performer in the in the future organization, it will also be necessary to be a proactive and habitual learner.

In Summary

As the future of learning comes into a clearer focus, we expect to see Learning Management Systems become the focal point for learning, and the emphasis upon self-paced will continue to increase exponentially. Simulation software is the wave of the near future – Organizations cannot afford not to not make the investment in simulation software. Executives must get onboard and take ownership in a new world of learning, where training comes in waves, and end-users must yell “Surfs up!”

Copyright © 2006 by Joseph B. Grady and Daniel T. Murphy. All rights reserved.

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