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

Advertisements

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

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 2.7: 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 2.6: Review of the Literature)

One of the biggest keys for a successful online educational program is the web page usability; without a properly designed website, the greatest instructional designed programs will fail to reach its potential.  The Internet contains links to virtually hundreds of definitions for usability.  Jakob Nielsen, called “the guru of Web page usability” by The New York Times, defines usability as, “a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use.  The word “usability” also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.”(Nielsen)  He goes to state that usability is defined by five quality components:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks the first time they encounter the design?
  • Efficiency: Once users have learned the design, how quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: When users return to the design after a period of not using it, how easily can they reestablish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make, how severe are these errors, and how easily can they recover from the errors?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “usability testing is the process by which the human-computer interaction characteristics of a system are measured, and weaknesses are identified for correction. Such testing can range from rigorously structured to highly informal, from quite expensive to virtually free, and from time-consuming to quick. While the amount of improvement is related to the effort invested in usability testing, all of these approaches lead to better systems.”(Conrad & Levi)  Ultimately, if students have the ability to work through the website or software with greater ease, more likely students will reap the benefits of program.  As Martyn Sloman states, communication is the key to the successful integration of e-learning.  Sloman identifies five principles that should be addressed in an e-learning program:

  1. Recognize the limitations of the population being targeted.
  2. Relevance drives out resistance.
  3. Most learning requires an intermediary to advise and direct the learner.
  4. E-learning should be linked with instructor – led courses when possible.
  5. Support and automate.

As technology advances, methods for learning are transforming from E-learning to M-learning (mobile learning).  “Desktop solutions that require presence at a static screen are less tolerated by many young people.  Young people on the move expect not to be tied down with static equipment and e-learning that does not respond to this may be limited in future” (Cunningham, 2007).

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 1.5: Delimitations/Definitions)

Delimitations

Working with the resources of a nationally recognized educational facility aided in implementing such a systemic informal educational program into classrooms.  Obvious limitations were addressed and minimized to allow the program to reach is fullest potential; limitations included the willingness of participating schools and teachers, financial support to operate a technology savvy program, and time necessary to complete the program successfully.  The Ocean Institute has a well established reputation in the local educational community; however convincing schools and teachers to participate in an experimental program was very difficult.  This issue was addressed by contacting and working with the Orange County Stellar Technology High Schools; these schools are funded to participate or develop such experimental programs. The participation of these schools provided enough students, teachers, and feedback to move forward with a pilot program.  In this era of restricted budgets, finances must also be address.  Although these schools receive funds to cover many of the elements required by a program like this one, including computers and the software; there were many other elements that required financial support including the field trip costs such as buses and substitute teachers, professional development, iPods, and Ocean Institute staffing.  To reconcile this problem, a small grant was rewarded to the Ocean Institute allowing the program to move forward; this grant provided the support to rent buses, pay substitute teachers, purchase a limited quantity of iPods, pay Ocean Institute staff, and provide professional develop for participating teachers.  In recognizing constant need for financial support in such a program, a strong relationship must be developed between the grant funder and the Ocean Institute.  The third critical limitation was designating the necessary time required for such a program.  Time constraints occurred with professional development training, program feed back from all participants, and the classroom time necessary to complete the podcasts.  Field trips have become limited in schools not only due to budget constraints but also the high demand on standardized testing; to ask teachers to spend approximately 32 hours of classroom time to participate in a pilot program was difficult.  Fortunately, enough teachers stepped forward in eagerness to participate.  Although limitations for this program had little hindrance on the overall design and outcome of the program, the data analysis and proven success is of the essence if this program is to continue beyond this pilot program.

Definitions

For purposes of this project, the following words are defined:

  • IPods:  Portable media players produced by Apple that play specific digital media formats including mp3 and mp4.
  • Mp3:  One digital media format used by digitally created audio files.  These files are recognized by iTunes and QuickTime player.  They can be downloaded played on iPods.
  • Mp4:  One digital media format used by digitally created video files.  These files are recognized by iTunes and QuickTime player.  They can be downloaded played on iPods.
  • Podcasts:  Media files, most commonly found in mp3 or mp4 formats that are distributed over the Internet for playback on personal computers and portable media players.  Podcasting refers to the distribution of media files by syndication feeds through which new files are automatically downloaded to subscribers, but media files downloaded manually from the Internet are also generally referred to as podcasts (Copley, 2007).
  • Informal Learning:  Generally refers to learning that occurs outside the traditional, formal school realm.  These sites range from museums and science centers to casual areas that some might not even notice for their potential as educational venues (McComas, 2006).
  • Ocean Institute Visitors:  The Ocean Institute is a closed campus informal education center serving more than 90,000 students a year.  On the weekends the Ocean Institute opens its doors to the general public much like an open house, providing exhibits, instructional programs, and marine animals to visitors.