Ongoing research into best practices among high-performance learning organizations is pointing to characteristics that, significantly, are sustaining a measurable impact on the business performance of their companies. One such characteristic involves extending learning opportunities beyond the “four walls” of the organization. High-performance learning organizations focus on learning that improves value and performance throughout their entire value chain: the workforce, the channel and alliance partners and the end-user customers.
According to Accenture research, about half of the organizations we surveyed offer education programs to customers, channel partners or both. Why? Most CLOs cited the ability of these programs to increase customer satisfaction and build loyalty. But they also noted that these programs can create an enduring point of competitive differentiation in the marketplace.
Perhaps the largest opportunity to expand learning beyond the traditional workforce domain lies in programs for channel partners. Such programs not only cut costs, but they can also grow revenue. ST University, for example, the corporate university of ST Microelectronics, opens many programs to ST suppliers and customers so they can share common tools, methodologies, experiences and best practices. When ST University decides to develop learning programs for different product applications or markets, it immediately invites the views of key customers. As ST CEO Pasquale Pistorio said, broadening the educational domain of ST University has been “a very powerful move. We have opened our university to suppliers, to customers, to authorities, to other social representatives and members of the communities in which we operate. Of course, we will not forget our priority, which is to continuously upgrade the education of our people. But we understand we operate in a world where all the links in the value chain are important.”
Just as employee learning is moving into a blend of e-learning, ILT, performance support and knowledge management, customer education is following the same path. Take, for example, Nielsen University, which is on the leading edge of high-performance learning organizations. NielsenU supports Nielsen Media Research, the leading provider of television audience measurement and related services worldwide. Customers of Nielsen need to be able to use Nielsen’s software applications efficiently in order to get the full value of the service.
According to Julie Aquan, senior vice president of client support services at Nielsen Media Research, “When customers need ratings information, they need it immediately. They don’t have time to review their training notes. Through NielsenU, we offer a combination of tutorials and synchronous online classes to help our customers work more efficiently and effectively.” Customers can register for training programs and individual learning activities on how to use various Nielsen software applications and services.
Learning programs increase customer satisfaction, but Nielsen realizes another benefit: Customer training helps limit the number of calls clients need to make to Nielsen’s client helpline. According to Aquan, “We estimated that about 60 percent of calls we receive on our client support helpline are really educational calls. Now we have the option of referring our clients to NielsenU and take a look at our tutorials. It’s more effective learning: Customers have an opportunity to resolve their performance issues themselves and may not need to call again the next time.”
Learning professionals should ask themselves how they can extend learning opportunities beyond the enterprise. Often, this means thinking as creatively as possible about who and what really constitutes your value chain. Consider one innovative program offered by ST University. Applying creativity to its mission, the learning team realized that financial analysts covering the computer chip industry were a vital, yet often overlooked, component of the ST value chain. So they developed a formal e-learning program titled “Basics of the Chip Industry,” targeted to these analysts, in partnership with the director of investor relations of ST Microelectronics.
These kinds of programs demonstrate how learning professionals can and should constantly expand the boundaries of their work. Such efforts will, in turn, improve their impact on the organization.
Jeanne C. Meister is vice president of market development at Accenture Learning. Comments on this article can be sent to Jeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org.