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Derek Blackburn

Sidona Group


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A customer-driven L&D strategy


Derek Blackburn, manager of the award-winning Sidona group, looks at how customer research can be used to construct a compelling business case for training and gain greater buy-in to embrace and support training at all levels.

As training budgets come under pressure, and fewer employees are expected to deliver more, having highly-skilled and trained people that add real value to the organisation becomes imperative. Your ability to protect continued investment in training and demonstrate bottom-line business benefits is critical in these tough trading conditions.
Here's a suggestion to help influence the doubters - use your customers to provide input to your training needs analysis, strategy, design and measurement of success.
Undertaking in-depth telephone customer interviews enables you to identify:
  • What were their expectations at the different stages of their interaction with your company
  • What they valued most from each of these stages
  • Customer perceptions of people's strengths and areas for development in skills, attitude and behaviour
  • What their perception of your competitors is compared to the experience you deliver
  • How they feel about your organisation, why they feel this way and how this has impacted on their loyalty towards your organisation
This gives you powerful information to:
  • Design a training programme that equips the delegates with the knowledge and skills to meet the specified needs of the customers
  • Identify the behaviours that customers want to see and experience when interacting with you so you can focus the training on developing those behaviours
  • Identify changes to processes that the organisation could make so that those processes became more efficient, customer-focussed and valued by customers
  • Enable delegates to see the power of customer feedback and became more open to asking for feedback in the interactions they have with customers. This promotes continual improvement across the organisation
  • Show delegates how the learning outcomes for the training have been arrived at. They can also see how their job would become easier and their customers would be happier and the business would benefit if they implemented the skills learned in the training
  • Gain senior management buy-in to the training because your customers have been involved in the design of it
It is important to measure the impact of the training on customer perceptions, their buying habits and their loyalty alongside other business performance measures. The results we have seen have been impressive!  Clients have experienced measurements of success such as:
  • An increase in customers trusting the organisation to deliver their needs
  • An increase in customers feeling valued after positive interactions with the company
  • Customers seeing improvements in; the relationships with company employees, better communications, greater understanding of their expectations and a more pro-active approach to meeting their needs
  • A perception that the company trains and looks after its staff well
  • Increases in repeat sales, new business, new partnerships and noticeable improvement in profitability
  • Credibility for the HR department in adding significant value to the business!
To create a customer-driven L&D strategy I suggest the following steps:

Undertake customer research

Does your customer survey ask for feedback on the skills and behaviours of your employees? You need to know how your customers are feeling about the experience your organisation delivers and where expectations are not being met. If you do not have this knowledge within the organisation, you need to gather some in-depth data on customer perceptions which can be easily obtained with telephone interviews or focus groups by an independent source very cost-effectively.

Share the learning

Communicate with the business in order to gain leadership buy-in. Identify those behaviours customers expect to see that you are not currently displaying consistently enough and then build a business case around why and how training will improve these behaviours and benefit your organisation.

Develop a learning strategy that demonstrates benefits to learners, customers and the business

You now need to match learning outcomes with customer outcomes that will deliver a better customer experience that results in revenue, customer growth and loyalty. This joined up approach will help you secure the investment for training.

Undertake post training customer research

You need to validate that customers have noticed an improvement in the experience they have received from you. You also need to look for real hard financial measures that demonstrate the return on investment. In the current economic climate with fierce competition and tight budgets and the need for customer retention greater than ever before, if you can incorporate some customer research into your training strategy, design and evaluation you will have a compelling business case.


By demonstrating a significant benefit to employees, customers and business performance your L&D proposal is sure to gain approval.
Derek Blackburn is managing director of the Sidona Group. Sidona Group specialises in enabling companies to enhance their customer experience resulting in improved customer acquisition, increased profitability and customer loyalty. Sidona Group was recently honoured at the National Training Awards 2010 for their outstanding contribution and commitment to in-depth customer research and customer management training

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Derek Blackburn


Read more from Derek Blackburn

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