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

The Advantage of the Podcast in Education

The greatest technology I have used is the podcast.  In today’s society, podcasts are the newest, greatest thing, and most importantly, free.  iPod was the word of the year in 2005 and most students have some device that plays mp3s or mp4s, whether it is a cell phone, computer, or mp3/mp4 player.  The lesson plan I created for podcasts includes developing student-produced podcasts as both a teaching tool as well as an assessment tool.

Creating podcasts gives students the opportunity to also develop skills using computers, software such as PowerPoint, Excel, movie editing, and other industry specific software, as well as a variety of hardware, along with Internet and RSS feeds.  This constructivist approach allows students the flexibility to use their own creativity as well as motivate the students to produce quality podcasts due to the fact that the podcasts are then showcased worldwide on iTunes.

This activity although designed to enhance the learning of science labs, can be adapted for any subject matter.  I have found that when students learn that they will have to teach what they learn, it motivates them to pay more attention to detail and can provide excitement in the classroom when students can create their own product.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000

Technology Can Help Training

When comparing computer use in grade school to that in high school, grade school programs are much more behaviorist in their use and effect.  Whether the computers are used for English, math, science, or social studies, computer-based training is generally designed to supply immediate feed back.  Most training programs will give feed back at the end of each assignment or at the end of each question.  If students are successful, they are rewarded by being permitted to enter the next level; if the students are unsuccessful, they are required to repeat the level they are current trying to complete.

Computer-based training programs are designed purposely this way to offer students learning methods that instructors are not capable of providing in the classroom.  For example, it is not practical to expect a trainer to assess a quiz immediately after each student has completed their work, but with computer-based training programs students have the opportunity to receive immediate feed back, while supplying the training department with valuable information to help shape their training programs and instructional design process by assessing the students’ growth, using this Kirkpatrick Level 2 Evaluation.  These computer based and web based training programs are critical in student growth and development.

By Higher Power Training: Providing Instructional Design and Training Services since 2000

Advantage of Hybrid Classes

Hybrid courses are courses that combine face-to-face classroom time with online learning activities that are designed to complement each other.

Hybrid courses contain three key points:

(1) Web-based learning activities are introduced to complement face-to-face work.

(2) “seat-time” is reduced, though not eliminated altogether.

(3) the Web-based and face-to-face components of the course are designed to interact pedagogically to take advantage of the best features of each. (Hybrid Courses)

Hybrid classes are designed for students that are looking to combine in-line classes with on-line activities.  They also provide students that have a full schedule with family, work, and other classes with the ability to take additional classes by eliminating travel time and on-campus time.  They also provide students that prefer an on-line environment with the opportunity to take advantage of some face-to-face interaction.  Where are hybrid classes offered?  How are they perceived by teachers and students?  Are they superior to traditional classes?

Hybrid classes are offered across the country at various universities including: the University of Central Florida, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, and Bakersfield College.  Although these schools offer hybrid courses, the subject are very diverse, supporting an idea that most courses can be designed as a hybrid course.  The University of Central Florida offers more than one hundred hybrid courses to help assist with the overpopulation of the institution; some of those classes include: U.S. Space History, Assembling Digital Media, and Composition I.  The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee offers a number of different classes including: Advanced Nursing Practice Interventions, Cross-Culture Study of Religion, Survey American Literature, and Management Analysis.  The University of Arizona also offers a variety of classes such as Instructional Leadership.  Bakersfield College offers hybrid courses in multiple levels of mathematics.  Brigham Young University also offers hybrid courses, however their course structure differs from the other universities mentioned. At BYU, “Hybridization occurs when on-campus educators adopt distance education technologies and practices, and when distance education organizations adopt/adapt campus-based educational practices.”(Hybrid Learning)   With so many opportunities to experience a hybrid class, how are they perceived by the teachers and students?

Hybrid classes have many positive benefits for both teachers and students.  Hybrid classes offer teachers new teaching opportunities.  For instance, teachers can develop the lesson plans to utilize the strengths of both on-line and in-class teaching strategies to be more effective in achieving the class objectives and goals.  These courses thus provide solutions to problems that were difficult to fix with the limitations of traditional in-class or on-line classes.  Teachers also have the opportunity to connect to their students more in a hybrid class than they do in an on-line class, while students are more responsible for their participation and work than they typically are in an in-class course.  “The integration of out-of-class activities with in-class activities allows more effective use of traditional class time.”(UW-M)  Discussions that spread over both on-line class time and in-class time can be much more effective for two reasons.  The first is that students can spend more time reflecting on the discussion topic, research the topic, and collect their thoughts.  The other advantage is that students who are less likely to participate in an in-class discussion can still share their ideas via on-line.  “Faculty believe that their students learn more in the hybrid format than they do in traditional class sections.  They report that students write better papers, performed better on exams, produced higher quality projects, and were capable of more meaningful discussions on course material when reflecting online.”(Hybrid Courses)  Another benefit is the organizational process of a hybrid class.  Quizzes, grading, surveys can all be automated, while threaded discussions, course documents, announcements, and grades are easily accessible for students.  Although there are many positives offered in a hybrid class, new technologies and teaching approaches are likely to have their challenges as well.

There are a few challenges that hybrid courses present to teachers.  The first is the redesign of a course; course objectives and goals may change, teachers will have to redesign their lesson plans to effectively integrate in-class lessons with on-line activities, and most importantly, teachers must be comfortable with all technology necessary to provide an effective on-line component.  The biggest challenge a teacher will face once the class is established is managing the two different environments learning without overwhelming themselves or their students.  Students on the other hand will be forced to learn new technologies which can make a course more difficult to achieve the goals and objectives if students are spending more time troubleshooting technology rather than on the on-line activities.  After weighing the positives and negatives of hybrid classes, how do they compare to traditional in-class courses and on-line courses.

When hybrid courses are properly designed utilizing the benefits of both on-line and in-class components, the hybrid courses become superior to both on-line and in-class courses.  Students have a greater time flexibility and convenience by working on-line.  Students will have the opportunity to interact and participate with classmates and their teacher in the environment they are most comfortable with.  Students will have 24/7 access to course work and on-line resources while having face-to-face time to assist with any difficulties students are having on-line.  In-class time will also provide classmates and teachers the opportunity build stronger connections than an on-line class will.

Based on the information gathered, hybrid classes on an effective alternative to the traditional in-class or on-line courses.

Hybrid classes are highly recommended due to the number of benefits for teachers, students and universities.  Teachers “may find improved attendance in the reduced classroom portions of the course, while their face-to-face teaching techniques are expanded and discussion responses by students are generally more thoughtful when written than when given extemporaneously.”(Hybrid Learning)  Students benefit by “increased time flexibility – including reduced commuting and parking time & opportunities for employment.  Students also have access to pre-recorded lectures and course materials for review if needed.”(Hybrid Learning)  These lectures are typically better quality and easier to comprehend because they are done in shorter modules.  Universities also benefit by “increased enrollment without increasing classroom space. Schools can offer “paired” courses on one day (block scheduling) allowing commuters & part time students the opportunity to take 2 classes with only one on-campus visit.”(Hybrid Learning)   Hybrid classes take advantage of technology and successfully integrate it into education improving learning across the country.

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 References:

Arizona State University. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://asuonline.asu.edu/FacultySupport/Hybrid.cfm.

Bakersfield College. Accessed April 15, 2007 from www.bakersfieldcollege.edu/distance_learning/hybrid.asp.

Brigham Young University. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://home.byu.edu/webapp/home/index.jsp

 Hybrid Courses. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://www4.uwm.edu/ltc/hybrid/.

 Hybrid Learning. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://media.njit.edu/hybrid/defined.php.

University of Central Florida. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://www.ucf.edu/.

University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Accessed April 15, 2007 from http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/LTC/hybridcourses.html