Builders' Merchants News
Information Technology: The value of online learning
Published:  09 May, 2017

Craig Cundey, national training manager for Redring Xpelair, discusses the advantages of online learning and its many benefits for merchants and their staff.

Ours is an ever-evolving industry, it never stands still. New products are developed and launched on a constant basis, while new legislation is introduced, and installation processes are updated and need to be learned.

Of course, all this progress is a good thing. Providing customers with the best service and quality products is an absolute given, whether you are a manufacturer, supplier, contractor, installer or builders’ merchant. Such development means there is a continual need to refresh, stay up-to-date. But, for the merchant, as with many professions, time is at a premium.

When there is a customer in front of you asking about the latest electric shower, instantaneous water heater or boiling tap, spending time elsewhere on a training course is unlikely to be front of mind. That customer’s needs, quite rightly, need to be fulfilled there and then.

However, as the industry continues in its work to deliver a safer and more efficient service and, with a continually growing product range, training must be a priority for businesses. The adoption of online training is building as the industry recognises the flexibility, time-saving and other benefits it offers.

Not only can the user choose to log-in when and where it’s most convenient to them, they can do so either at length, say over an hour or so, or in shorter bite-sized chunks. It’s their choice. The portals also operate as technical libraries, putting detailed product and application information at merchants’ fingertips.

Furthermore, they can serve as an additional sales tool for the supplier and merchant in question. If it is well-designed and easy to navigate, staff will return to a business’s site rather than that of a competing supplier. This should also mean more products being sold across the counter.

Face to face

Of course, there will always be a place for face-to-face training. Familiarity of counter staff and a shared understanding with visiting installers is invaluable. In addition, hands-on experience cannot be replicated online – customers can take the product in question apart and put it back together again, and get a real sense of what it can offer.

When it comes to training, every session will involve a mix of individuals with different learning styles. At Redring, we use Kolb’s Methodology, categorising learners as either theorists, pragmatists, reflectors or activists. The key as a trainer is to quickly understand who falls into what category and then tailor the course to suit all. This can only be done through face-to-face contact.

These sessions, however, would typically require time away from the store, perhaps a half- or full-day at minimum. Feedback from our sales teams who have visited branches shows that some builders’ merchants may not have the spare room on-site to set up a face-to-face training session. In addition, if the phone is continually ringing in the background with potential customer orders, it’s bound to be a distraction.

Mix and match

With face-to-face training, you can only take in a certain amount of information from that day. This is where online training comes in – it’s a readily available resource that can help reinforce what you’ve learned in the session, with the opportunity to add further knowledge as and when suits.

Recognising the benefits of using both forms of training, we established our RXG Academy just over a year ago, in partnership with IT learning platform specialists Cortexa. We felt it was a way of giving extra support to those store visits our sales team made and have since developed an e-portal.

There are currently three eLearning modules on the portal, all of which are free. These offer an introduction to water heating and basic utilities, product features and benefits, as well as advice on how to add value and boost sales.

Other modules are being created and will be added in the near future. Each takes around 20 minutes to complete, with questions at the end to reinforce your knowledge.

It can also be a useful way of communicating complex information. Take, for example, energy-related products legislation. When this was introduced, we uploaded an article that not only helped explain it, but also outlined the resulting responsibilities of suppliers and stockists, as well as RXG’s position. Used in this way, portals like ours can become a go-to educational resource for industry issues.

Another benefit is we can pull-off reports showing how, for example, a company’s team is progressing with its training. A manager at a builders’ merchants with multiple branches will put in a request to us and we will send them feedback on who has logged on and the percentage of success.

It’s important the merchant sees value for the investment that’s been made in terms of staff time. This is one way of making it measurable, and we can support them in encouraging their involvement through a range of incentives. Furthermore, we can set the training at various levels, for students, managers, team managers, administrators. They each require a different level of access, whichever is most appropriate to their position.

From a supplier perspective, it can also be a cost-effective way to support the launch of a new line. The RXG Academy portal has been expanded to include our latest brochure, which is supported by a series of informative videos on key product lines – it’s not only a learning forum, but also a directory of products.

While our merchant customers are on the site, perhaps looking at a specific water heater or shower, we can introduce other products they might not be stocking at that moment, but may wish to in the future.