Home Depot: The Customer Experience

This is the first blog of a new series called “Who Needs Training?”.  This series is designed to provide the consumer’s prospective on the need for staff and management training, based on personal experiences with businesses. We have all encountered both excellent and poor customer service; those experiences are critical to the success of any business. By approaching these experiences in Human Performance Technology, we can identify those who need training and professional development, while appreciating others who have been trained effectively, and apply those behaviors and practices in the workplace. This is by no means a complete Human Performance Technology analysis, but rather feedback from a customer’s view point.

My wife has an amazing green thumb and enjoys caring for her small garden.  Unfortunately, so do the bugs. Her solution was to purchase more bugs – specifically, lady bugs, that are suppose to protect her tomato plants. So today, on October 15, 2012, at approximately 4:30 p.m., I accompanied my wife to Home Depot in search of these protective lady bugs.  I, myself, know nothing about gardening or bugs, so the practical thing to do, is to seek a little more information in the Gardening Section of Home Depot. To my surprise, the customer service experience was terrible. Because of the time of the day, the store was fairly empty so finding employee assistance was very easy, however, their helpfulness ended with their accessibility.  As we approached the cashier in the Garden Section, it seemed as if we startled him, as it appeared that he was either hiding or avoiding doing any work.  When asked if they sold lady bugs, his only response was that he does not normally work in the Garden Section and we should find someone else to ask!

I am a practical individual and I understand that it’s unrealistic to expect staff members to know where every item in the store is located; however, in basic customer service training, all staff should have learned and developed the “soft-skills” necessary to assist customers and their needs. Calling for additional help, taking a moment to reference a directory of product inventory, or responding with a simple phrase such as “I am not sure, let me find out for you” is the difference between good and poor customer service.

My initial response was that this particular staff member was lazy or simply a poor employee, however, as we approached a second staff member, working in the Garden Section, he provided a similar response, and again offered us no additional assistance.  He had indicated that he was new in the Garden Section and thought that the lady bugs were a seasonal item, but was uncertain. Based on this second encounter, and the inability to find any additional staff members trained to assist us in the Garden Section, we left the store with a negative experience rather than our lady bugs.

A classic model used in Human Performance Technology is included below and will be used to analyze the customer experience throughout this blog series.

The Person

The Environment

Skills and Knowledge

Data or Information

Capacity

Tools and Setting

Motives

Incentives

When reviewing the customer experience at Home Depot, we will first address “the person”. Both staff members we interacted with in the Garden Section lacked any knowledge about the Garden Section. Regarding capacity, both individuals appeared to have the ability to possess the skills required to complete the tasks they were presented, however, we can only assume that they have not been trained to develop such skills and knowledge and/or lacked the motivation to provide simple customer service.

From an environmental aspect, neither staff member referred to any reference or resource to answer our question, which leads me to believe that supportive material is not provided to staff members, which is reflective of poor management, failing to provide an environment for staff to succeed. Reflective of the similar responses we were given by multiple staff members, I can conclude that these staff members have not been trained in customer service skills, therefore setting these employees up for failure by not providing the tools necessary to satisfy each customer’s needs. If argued, that these staff members are trained and prepared with everything they need to succeed, then it would appear that there is a lack of incentives for employees, as both these individuals lacked any desire to go above and beyond to find the answer to a relatively simple question regarding product inventory.

To consistently quantify and simplify the customer service experience from a Human Performance Technology approach throughout this blog series, we will refer back to the HPT model and give an “X” for each failed section. Since the model is developed in three sections, the worst score a business can receive is “XXX”, while the best score would be no “X”s. In my opinion, I have scored the Home Depot experience as follows:

Home Depot Experience (10/15/12)

    The Person & The Environment
X Skills and Knowledge & Data or Information
X Capacity & Tools and Setting
X Motives & Incentives

Human Performance Technology Grade: XXX

If you are interested in learning how to maximize Human Performance Technology for your business, please contact Higher Power Training

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M-Learning (Thesis Volume 5.1: Summary and Conclusion)

The Ocean Institute seeked to develop a model for integrating technology effectively into the classroom.  Teachers desperately need assistance in how to integrate technology into the classroom, while students need to be continuously challenged and motivated in the classroom.  Podcasts speak the language of the students, and with structure and direction, this popular technology can be a huge asset to both students and teachers.  Technology fluency, mentoring skills and leadership qualities are traits that will help students succeed in high school, college, and the workplace.  These traits were developed with the podcast program.  The five-year vision would showcase a large digital library of archived podcasts created by students that can be used as a valuable resource for students in the future.

The Ocean Institute hosts 90,000 students and 40,000 public visitors per year with certain expected outcomes:

1)      Best Buy, Ocean Institute, and Orange County high schools will establish a successful and ongoing working partnership.

2)      1,200 middle and high school students will produce educational podcasts for the general public.

3)      90,000 students’ experience at the Ocean Institute will be enhanced with use of podcasts on field trips.

4)      40,000 public visitors will be educated by student-produced podcasts at the Ocean Institute.

5)      Teachers will be more comfortable with using new technology in their classrooms.

6)      Teachers and students will have access to Ocean Institute podcasts to enhance classroom curriculum.

Ultimately, some of the biggest roadblocks teachers face in today’s classroom includes budget constraints, motivating students, and integrating students.  The hope is that the Ocean Institute Podcast Program has been developed in a manner that would eliminate these roadblocks and provide both students and teachers with a program that they could build on.

By Higher Power Training

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 4.3: Project Evaluation – Discussion)

Although the data analysis is limited at this point, the assumption is that the primitive data collected is a reflection of continued feedback.  Some of the key data identified is the enormous improvement of results from pre-test to post-test.  Although this data is positive and believed to be a true reflection of academic growth through the program; the addition of data collected by standardized testing can potentially confirm the success of students who participate in the program.  The student surveys confirmed the program’s success in providing motivation for students through hands-on activities and exotic animals.  An unforeseen result was the opportunity for students to see the ocean for the first time.  The podcasts produced also accomplished their objective as Ocean Institute visitors welcomed them and found them both educational and critical to the overall experience of the exhibits.  This feedback is a reflection that the students not only understood the information they learned but were capable of producing podcasts that could be appreciated by their peers and adults.  Although the teachers have not been formally surveyed, unofficially, many of the teachers have made comments about both the delivery method as well as instructional design.  The feedback concerning the delivery has been positive; by presenting the information via a website, teachers have encouraged their students to study the program at home as well as in the classroom.  Teachers have also been in favor of the instructional design; many teachers feel that the content allows the teachers to perform as a facilitator rather than an actual teacher, which has placed less pressure on them and has required less prep time.  Other teachers have commented that the program provides enough flexibility for pro-active teachers to modify components where they feel necessary to accommodate their class.  The biggest concern expressed by many of the teachers was how the program addressed state standards.  This concern was confronted throughout the instructional design process and has impacted the classes selected to participate in the program; is should be also noted that by modifying the field trip component, this program can fit any set of state standards desired.

When integrating technology into curriculum, especially when curriculum is presented by the aide of technology, it is important that the technology enhances the program rather than distracts from the lesson plans.  The OIPP website, consisted of online flash videos, graphic animations, downloadable PDF files, and online testing.  To formally evaluate the delivery, the C.R.A.P. method by Williams and Tollet was used to assess the OIPP website:

Contrast:  The blue colors used throughout the site represented the marine theme of the program; the darker blues were used to enhance the lighter blue text.  Fellow Master’s student, Scott Bania understood the concept and had this comment, “The site itself has a great “look and feel” and reflects the theme of oceanography.”  Against the dark background, the links were easily identified with the color red or white; the left navigation bar used red dotted lines to highlight the links while the top navigation bar used a white rollover font; red font was used for links buried in the content of the page.  Large red font was also used to aide in identifying the title of each page.  The header was also very distinguishable with the black background which complemented the blue background within the content area; the black background also allowed the colorful OIPP logo to standout in the header.

Repetition:  The clarity and similarity between pages was very consistent.  The location of navigation buttons remained consistent while content was always located in the center of each page.  The layout of the online curriculum was also similar to the PDF downloadable versions of the curriculum.  Flash tutorials also remained consistent and allowed students to navigate through the site ensuring they did not miss any vital information.

Alignment:  Navigation bars were placed on the left and top of the screen and were clearly identified by rollover images.  The pages that included a video tutorial were well balanced with content text located beneath the video; this avoided distractions for the students at they watched the tutorials.  All content was centered whenever possible; some pages such as the podcast sample page were a bit obscure in alignment due to the unbalanced content to be shared on the page.

Proximity:  The layout provided enough separation between navigation, text, and video tutorials to place an emphasis on all aspects without being overwhelming to the viewer.  Navigation buttons were clearly identifiable and easy to click.  Content, whether video or text, were centered and emphasized by being towards the top of the site.

Aspects not addressed within C.R.A.P. included graphic design, flash animations and other aesthetics that contributed to the site looking very professional.  The flash design used in the introduction helped to build anticipation and set the theme for the technology rich program.  The music selected also maintained a technology feel and was designed for the middle school and high school audience.  The graphic design throughout the site was limited so that it would not conflict with the educational components to the site.  The only true graphic design was represented within the logo design; the design was integration between iPods and the Ocean Institute Podcast Program.  Other aesthetics included rollover images and text as well as appropriately designed video tutorials.

Even more important than the professionalism of the site is the functionality of the site.  To evaluate this site, a formal web usability analysis as described by Jacob Neilson was performed.  The first element addressed was the flash intro; the advantage of using the flash was to present a professionally designed site, however flash intros can take a long time to load and flash players must be downloaded onto your computer.  Ultimately, the target audience for this site all had high powered computers with broadband Internet connection, thus eliminating common disadvantages related to flash intros.  To enter the site, a red label on the top of the screen was easily identifiable.  On the main site, all navigation buttons were easily located and enhanced with the rollover images.  The text of the navigation buttons were also clear and concise and provided specific directions for the viewer.  The content provided throughout the site also aided in navigation through the site as to ensure that all necessary content was provided to the students.  Fellow Master’s student, Jeannine Taylor had this to say about the navigation and layout of the site, “It was very easy to navigate through and it was very clear what was expected of the learner… The bells and whistles are definitely there, but they are not on every page, just where they are needed for introductory and instructional purposes.”  With the aide of C.R.A.P. and Jacob Neilson’s web usability, this site was designed successfully.

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 2.8: Review of the Literature)

Student-produced multimedia provides students with the opportunity to learn about technology, express themselves through creativity, and showcase their work to a larger audience.  Student-produced multimedia provides teachers with an efficient way to integrate technology into an established curriculum, design inquiry-based lesson plans, and assess student learning without having to use traditional tests.  One type of student-produced multimedia is digital storytelling, which incorporates images, audio, video, text, and image effects.  When creating a digital story, students develop the skills necessary to research, playwright, design, produce, and educate (Chung, 2007).  Digital storytelling integrates the arts, education, local communities, technology, and storytelling.  According to Chung (2007), students develop and apply multi-literacy skills, aesthetic sensitivities, and critical faculties to address greater issues of importance to a larger audience.  Digital storytelling is applicable for all school subjects, but as Chung (2007) points out, many schools in America have ample funds for maintaining a computer lab while funds for art supplies are either minimal or non-existent.  The implementation of digital storytelling offers art educators another avenue to implement an innovative and relevant art program for the technology-savvy digital generation (Chung, 2007).

One sample of podcasting in elementary schools comes from Jamestown Elementary: To align the podcasts with the curriculum, the teachers created handouts to help students produce their individual segments about a historical person or event from the Jamestown settlement.  The students could create their segments in different ways – as ‘am interview, a report, a poem, a word play, a skit, a Did you Know segment, or any other creative way to of communicating what you know and have learned’ (Long, 2007).  Producing podcasts can help students identify their strengths and help them to showcase their talents while working together in groups to produce a product that can be viewed worldwide.  By producing podcasts in groups, the creative writers record poetry, stories, or skits; the artists provide drawings or photography; musicians produce songs; and the technicians piece it all together (Long, 2007).

Digital storytelling is an example of a constructivist approach, which puts interactive technologies in the hands of student producers.  According to Brown (2007) when students are given creative freedom to construct with multimedia tools in an activity that is personally meaningful, they exhibit high levels of motivation and task engagement, develop skills through directed and needs driven episodes, exhibit higher order thinking, and individual differences are valued, accentuated, and expressed through interface design.  One approach to designing student produced multimedia for web based classrooms is to use competency-based learning (CBL), which is self-directed, individual, and a mastery learning method allowing students to achieve predetermined competency standards with the master knowledge and skills that they have learned (Chang, 2007).  According to Chang, since web learning has recently gained much attention in college, CBL on the Web has a certain level of demand and feasibility.

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 2.7: Review of the Literature)

In the Era of Technology, when every person has access to the Internet, multimedia in the classroom has transformed from the traditional educational television stations and video tapes to interactive learning websites and instructional podcasts.  “Internet resources are offering multimedia communications as a way to bring history, literature, science, and other topics alive for visitors” (Lamb & Johnson 2007).  A podcast is a media file, either audio or video file, distributed over the Internet for playback on personal computers and portable media players.  The word podcast comes from combining iPod, trademarked by Apple, and broadcasting.  Since 2001 podcasts have been developed played on mp3 and mp4 players, computers, and now televisions with the aide of Apple T.V.  “Between September 28, 2004 and September 28, 2005 the number of web pages found by the Google search engine containing the term ‘podcasts’ increased from 24 hits to more than 100 million.  Consequently, the New Oxford American Dictionary chose ‘podcasting’ as its Word of the Year for 2005” (Copley, 2007).  According to Lamb and Johnson (2007) podcasters provide a variety of programming formats and content.

  1. Collaborative projects include those podcasts that have an interactive component.  Some websites invite listeners to participate in local and global projects.
  2. Current events are accessible by most news sources that are now producing podcasts, such as CNN.
  3. Many government documents have been translated into podcasts to provide students a different format to learn and understand well-known documents such as the Declaration of Independence.
  4. Interviews of experts in content area fields are also accessible via podcasts.  These podcasts can reinforce concepts, provide personal examples, and generate interest in current events.
  5. Controversial issues are also accessible via podcasts.  They can provide unique perspectives and thought-provoking discussions.
  6. Podcasts can also be created for language lessons and how-to projects specifically designed for instruction.
  7. Critical reviews of books, television, movies, and games are also accessible via podcasts.
  8. Podcasts can also be produced to provide virtual tours of museums and zoos.

For educational purposes, podcast integration can be developed in one of two ways; either teacher or SME produced podcasts designed to enhance classroom lectures, or student produced podcasts to demonstrate and assess students’ academic growth.  One scenario of podcast integration into higher education is as follows:

A physical education teacher directs her students to the class web site.  The web site contains a link to an audio file that the students can download and listen to at their leisure.  The teacher instructs her students to listen to the file in preparation for their next class.  The file contains information about the reduction of heart disease risk from increased physical activity.  The file concludes by asking the students questions that they should be able to answer after listening to the recording.  The next day, students arrive in class and immediately begin to engage in a discussion about the audio file and its contents.  The teacher was able to use minimal class time to instruct students on the topic to review information and to assess students’ assimilation of the content.  She was immediately free to move into higher-order teaching strategies and content applications (Mikat, Martinez, Jorstad, 2007).

In the higher level education, some universities are embracing the new technology to the point that they are distributing iPods to college students as a part of enrollment.  Drexel University’s School of Education distributed free iPods to their students in hopes to spark innovative uses of the technology.  Professors will record and post lectures online for students to download; students will record study-group sessions and interviews using microphone attachments handed out with the iPods (Read, 2005).  The Drexel program was modeled from the original Duke Giveaway program which passed out iPods to all incoming freshman in 2004.  Podcasts have been so popular in the higher education platform that Apple responded by launching iTunes U in 2006, a platform for universities to upload and access podcast resources of classes.  Although using podcasts is becoming a much wider accepted practice in higher education, K – 12 schools have shown more reluctance.  However, K – 12 schools have been exploring the process of integrating the production of podcasts into classroom curriculum as a motivation and assessment tool.

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 2.5: Review of the Literature)

Integrating technology and other multimedia into the classroom efficiently requires a number of tools to be in place.  Project TIES (Technology Integration Enhancing Science), a four-year Technology Literacy K-8 project, combines technology as a tool for teaching and learning with earth and environmental science education (Shane and Wojnowski, 2005).  This experimental program was implemented by two schools on the east coast with the goal to produce a successful, creative, and replicable model for inquiry and project based instruction that uses technology to integrate science and other curricula.  The keys to success were identified as professional development for teachers, easy accessibility to all technology needed by teachers and students, and patience when converting a traditional classroom curriculum into a technology-rich classroom curriculum.  The obstacles of such a program were quite common but minimal in this case: allocating teacher and classroom time for setting up equipment, finding a sufficient number of substitutes, and the occasionally steep learning curve when moving from a more traditional, text-based approach (Shane and Wojnowski, 2005).    Shane and Wojnowski (2005) have identified six significant components that are necessary for technology and multimedia to be an effective learning tool in the classroom:

  1. The idea of building new understandings through active engagement in a variety of experiences over time, and doing so with others in supportive learning environments, is critical for effective professional development.
  2. The combination of new knowledge and behaviors as a result of professional development, combined with the needed equipment, will help to provide profound and lasting changes.
  3. Technology can be a powerful entity in classroom instruction when adequate resources are seamlessly incorporated into instructional approaches and strategies.
  4. Local school district budgets have to be modified to accommodate updates and repairs of project hardware and software.
  5. For many teachers, the idea of student-centered inquiry and project-based instruction is novel.
  6. The change from a traditional to a technology-based pedagogical approach is very dramatic and will be met with resistance in some classrooms.

Whether teachers are looking to integrate pre-produced multimedia such as videos or podcasts into their curriculum, or looking to transform from a traditional classroom to a more technology-rich classroom, there will be many obstacles that will have to be defeated.  These obstacles include identifying the appropriate content (Lamb and Johnson, 2007), providing the appropriate professional development for teachers (Shane and Wojnowski, 2005), identifying limitations to technology access (Brown, 2007), and emphasizing inquiry-based learning (Chung, 2007) while promoting self-directed learning (Chang, 2007).  For multimedia to enhance learning in the classroom efficiently, each of these barriers much be addressed and eliminated before students will achieve the desired success.

M-Learning (Thesis Volume 2.2: Review of the Literature)

I am a firm believer that although some students may fail under the constraints of formal education, those same students may continue to learn and succeed with the aid of alternative learning provided throughout our society.  Dr. Gardner states that “Human beings have tremendous capacities to learn and develop, as can easily be seen if one watches a child actively exploring his environment during the first years of life.” (Gardner, 2004, 249)  I am completely in agreement with Dr. Gardner but question the cause of limiting a person’s capacity for learning as they mature.  What in human nature, society, or education prevents children from continuing to learn at the same capacity as their first year of life?  In my opinion, the structure of education places the constraints of students’ ability to learn.  This opinion is backed by Dr. Gardner who points out that “educators should exploit the cognitive and affective powers of the five-year-old mind (an energetic, imaginative, and integrating kind of learner) and attempt to keep it alive in all of us.” (Gardner, 2004, 250)

Dr. Gardner proposes four reforms to assist in the improvement of the educational system.  The first deals with how students are assessed, the second is concerned with the quality of curriculum, the third addresses teacher practices in the classroom, and the final component is community support.  Although my opinions are somewhat mixed with Dr. Gardner’s critique of the educational system, my opinions are in complete agreement with Dr. Gardner’s educational reform.  Assessment is critical to any program, including the educational system.  Standardized testing is a poor evaluation due to the fact that it is only measuring the student’s ability to regurgitate information.  Building portfolios as mentioned by Dr. Gardner is a much truer evaluation of students’ ability because it would allow students to problem-solve, use creativity, and have a deeper understanding of the information presented in class.  As stated by Dr. Gardner, “unless the accompanying curriculum is of quality, the assessment has no use.”  (Gardner, 2004, 254)  Both the second and third reforms dealing with curriculum and teachers are related to one another.  Although Dr. Gardner does not go into great detail about improving the quality of the curriculum, he does note that professional development is critical for teachers to improve the quality of teacher practices in the classroom.  I am a firm believer that professional development is necessary for teachers to continue to improve in their professions as well as introduce new ideas, information, and technology that may help teachers improve the quality of learning in their classrooms.  The fourth and final reform addresses the need for community support.  Dr. Gardner calls for the local communities to be active in the schools.  I think this is very important when motivating students for the future as well as introducing real-world applications for information taught in the classroom.

With the need to improve education and trainings, many have turned to technology as an effective learning tool.  Simulations and video games are currently being utilized in school classrooms, businesses, military, museums, flight training, and NASA.  The potential benefits of video games and simulations include improved reading skills, logical thinking, observation skills, vocabulary development, problem solving, and strategy planning.  With such a diversified demand for simulations and educational video games, many software companies have recently risen to the challenges to offer programs to fit any need.