Part 3 of 3: Personalization for Service Sector Learning

December 9, 2012 jkatzman

This is the 3rd in a series of 3 pertaining to how personalized learning can be applied to education and training. In the first I explored the application of personalization in K12, and in the second how personalization can be applied to high-skill knowledge workers. In this post, I explore how personalization is already enabling service workers in the retail industry learn job skills at a fraction of the cost of traditionally-developed training.

Personalization:  The Training Solution for Service-Oriented, High Employee-Turnover Industries

For service-sector retail chain or franchise operations – businesses ranging from chain restaurants to hotel and hospitality to call centers to hardware stores -  employee training is the foundation for delivering a consistent standard of performance and service.  Employee training is critical to the brand, and very expensive to deliver. It’s in this sector where personalized training is already making inroads with big benefits.

Service Industry Training:  Constant, Ever-Changing, Expensive and Imperative

Training in the retail sector has its own, unique training challenges. A one-size-fits-all approach to training is overtly wasteful for a number of reasons.

Workers may be less skilled, may or may not speak English, and may or may not be invested in their job.  Some fast food restaurants report over 100% turnover every six months. Multiply the cost of training by the rate of turnover, and the numbers skyrocket.

In addition, there is a real cost to training employees on material that doesn’t directly affect them, both in lost time on the job and lost focus on the content that really matters. To be truly effective, task-oriented training needs to be highly focused, providing exactly what’s needed – no more, no less.

Delivery also matters.  Classroom training, even eLearning,  is less effective for task-oriented training than training at point of performance.

Learning to process a refund is more effective when done at the register, learning to restock a shelf is best done in the aisle. The 1000 page 3-ring binder or the clunky old back-office computer just aren’t effective training media.

Compounding the problem is the highly competitive nature of the industry requiring the constant introduction of new products and services: retailers are constantly updating menus, offering seasonal specials, testing new products.  Employees have to be trained on each and every change.

Making things even more complicated for the training departments, each brick and mortar store or franchise is a unique combination of location, language, special equipment, geography, and menu of products and services.

Complicated and expensive as training for this population of workers may be, it’s here, in retail, where personalized training is already being implemented to slash overall training costs.  Even better, the actual training, delivered at point of performance via tablets and mobile phones, is boosting employee productivity.

A Personalization Use Case:  A Major Fast Food Chain Uses Single Source to Keep it SIMPLE

Like the other use cases that we’ve explored, the key to personalization is to have a granular base of content and be able to match that base of content to the needs of the employee. In the case of a major fast food chain, Personalization is already improving service by customizing training down to the most granular and efficient level.

 Previously, the training groups supporting franchise operations would create enormous training binders that contain ALL procedures and training materials for ALL configurations of a franchise and ship it to EVERY store.  A kiosk in an airport would receive the same training materials as a sit-down restaurant. It was incumbent on the manager to go through the binders and pull out the extraneous pages. The printing and shipping costs alone were enormous.


To support personalization, the learning designers disaggregated content in the mega-binder down to its parts. Each procedure was tagged with metadata correlating it to the pertinent service, product, geography, language. These granular objects were uploaded into a centrally accessible repository.

Now, individual store managers are creating unique store profiles that define their store’s unique configuration of on-site equipment, menu offerings, store hours, local geographic preferences, and languages.  Once specified, the system creates a custom set of materials specifically for that store that can be accessed online, from a mobile device, or printed.

Now, onboarding employees receive personalized, highly-targeted and highly efficient training delivered directly at the point of performance from a SmartPhone or tablet.

As this is a first-generation, pilot application,  we don’t have an ROI on the project. However, the expansion plans of the client indicates the project is delivering powerful savings in terms of printing, reduction of time employees spend in training, and more effective training.

Single Source XML is the Technology Foundation for The Next Generation of Personalized Training Applications 

As I have repeatedly said, the only path to support this is to develop the content using a single source XML development methodology. This allows it to be modularized, published to multiple formats and devices, and tagged with the metadata needed to drive personalization. XML is also the optimal format to manage language translations and localization. The XLIFF (XML Localization Interchange File Format) is the most cost effective means to translate content using Translation Memory services.

Personalization, the method of matching the user’s needs to the most relevant content, on the device the user has, is the same regardless of whether we’re talking about the K12 student, the knowledge worker, or the service employee.

The retail application, with its focus on providing a very focused slice of the content, is the first stage in this new paradigm.  In the very near future, Xyleme will be delivering applications that engage workers more broadly.

Personalization is where the world is heading, and we are proud to be leading the way.


This post was authored by Jeff Katzman, CLO & Founder at Xyleme, Inc.

Previous Article
Social Learning: Now Everyone Is An Expert
Social Learning: Now Everyone Is An Expert

You’re looking for a present, say a new tool for your workshop, and...

Next Article
Personalization for Knowledge Workers
Personalization for Knowledge Workers

This is the 2nd in a 3 part series addressing the impact of...