Chief learning officers and others in charge of finding training solutions for their organizations are driven to focus on getting a financial return on their investments in learning. But often, getting a return on investment (ROI) involves far more. Reynolds and Reynolds has discovered the additional benefits of improved productivity and increased competitiveness in the marketplace after collaborating with SmartForce to create a learning environment for its associates and customers.
Reynolds and Reynolds, headquartered in Dayton, Ohio, is the leading provider of integrated information management solutions to the automotive retailing marketplace. With more than 70 years of experience in the industry, operations in 20 countries and 5,000 employees, Reynolds’ services include a range of retail and enterprise management systems, networking and support, e-business applications, Web services, learning and consulting services, customer relationship management, document management and leasing services. Reynolds backs up its solutions with the largest customer-facing organization in the industry-nearly 2,000 of Reynolds’ 5,000 associates work on site with automotive dealerships on a daily basis. Almost half of all cars sold in North America are sold through Reynolds and Reynolds systems. The company has a presence in more than 90 percent of North American automotive retailers.
Reynolds University serves as the facilitator of learning for the company, according to Mona Yezbeck, vice president of organizational effectiveness at Reynolds. Reynolds University focuses on the medium, content, development and administration of training and benchmarks the number and costs of learning experiences. In addition, Reynolds University associates library the information and repurpose the content.
“By having a cohesive, autonomous team, we’re able to work together and utilize the synergies around sharing best practices and repurposing content at a proven, much lower cost, a higher level of productivity and higher levels of quality than we have in the past,” said Yezbeck. “We’re one of the few shared resources that has really sustained itself to a really high level of success in the company.”
Reynolds University has a twofold training mission:
- Providing ongoing learning and professional career development.
- Offering just-in-time learning to help reach business objectives and maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
In order to achieve its mission, Reynolds University collaborated with SmartForce, initially implementing an intranet solution and migrating to the MySmartForce Internet solution in 2000. Reynolds assessed the skills of its employees, identifying shortcomings in skill sets and then worked to develop a customized e-learning solution mapped specifically to Reynolds’ needs. Reynolds now offers approximately 100 “leader-led” courses and more than 300 distance learning courses to associates at any point in time, according to Yezbeck.
“We’ve got about 500 customer-facing business associates at any given point in time who need to be made aware of the product releases and new sales strategies,” said Yezbeck. “Via webcast, we can communicate to several hundreds or thousands of people at the same time to ensure that they’re getting all of the same information and all hearing the same message in the same way. With the relatively quick turnaround, we can translate that information to our customers, generating more revenue factor.”
Reynolds has been able to move from offering mostly leader-led courses to offering a virtual classroom environment, standardizing both learning and associates’ perception of the corporate culture.
“As we look to have more of a virtual classroom environment, that will lead to the next level and give us the means of adding a true comprehensive strategy to business learning because it’s not only going to involve courseware, it’s going to involve live, synchronous events,” said Steve Strawser, project manager for e-learning at Reynolds and Reynolds. “It’s going to give the associate base the ability to train and support themselves because of having that content at their disposal when they need it and when they want it, as opposed to taking the approach of “We will build it and they will come.”
Getting a Return
According to Brian Witchger, vice president of Knowledge Services at SmartForce, getting a return on investment is about far more than financial returns or saving money. SmartForce’s goal is to provide three tiers of ROI: cost displacement, improved performance and business advantage.
Of course, every CLO or training director has to justify their expenditures. In 2001, Reynolds and Reynolds’ associates and customers completed 66 more learning experiences than in 2000, and training costs were reduced by $1.1 million in 2001.
“Distance learning is a hard pill to swallow initially because of the investment,” said Yezbeck. “And people always find themselves caught up in the cost justification of it, which we all have to do. I’m accountable for my budget to our CEO and our financial officer, just like everyone else. But once you take that first step, you can’t even imagine the explosiveness of it. “For 5,000 associates, we’ve been able to successfully decrease our expenditures, while we’ve been able to more than double our learning experiences.”
Reynolds and Reynolds has also been able to unify previously diverse training offerings. For example, Yezbeck said that by pulling five or six areas together into a single distance-learning course, the company saved 35 percent immediately. By bringing people together who would have attended multiple courses from multiple vendors, the company saved time and money. And by repurposing content used to train associates for customers, Reynolds was able to save even more.
“As we looked at customer training, we said, “Hey look, we’re building manuals for customer training, and then we’re building again to train associates,” said Yezbeck. “It made sense that we combine that function, and we did that about two years ago. So we’re doing the content once and modifying it for customers and associates.”
Reynolds and Reynolds has also realized improved business and employee performance and has increased its associates’ sense of a unified corporate culture. Reynolds’ associates have filled in gaps in knowledge, helping them develop better customer relationships in addition to improving their own performance. And by providing online training for customers, Reynolds has shortened customer ramp-up time for new products.
“A typical product rollout would take three to six months within a medium-sized organization,” said Witchger. “It can happen within three to six weeks in an online environment because everybody has access to everything immediately. It’s not mass training. It is very personalized training to the masses.”
By offering standardized training to associates in various locations at the same time, Yebeck said Reynolds has been able to improve the perception of the corporate culture.
“Five years ago, a lot of people were doing the same thing at a lot of different times, in a lot of different places. We could have five different vendors in here on team-building, for example,” said Yezbeck. “And what that leads to is not a company culture, right? You’ve got different language, different norms, different values, different mission statements. So we consolidated learning under one umbrella, and right off the bat, we went from five or six vendors around team-building to one. So we saved money, and we built a culture because we were able to calibrate around the same language, the same core values and the same key behaviors.”
Ultimately, SmartForce tries to deliver the third level of investment return, helping organizations increase their competitive advantage in the marketplace. While learning has often been perceived as an employee benefit, organizations realize more value when learning is viewed as a way of improving the performance of the business.
“Learning is really seen now as a means to an end both from a company’s point of view as well as the employee’s perspective,” said Strawser. “Over the last five to seven years, learning has moved from when you have nothing to do, you may want to think about taking some course to you have to plan for the learning experiences for your professional survival and for the company to meet its objectives. It’s gone from a necessary evil to being a strategic part of what the company thinks about.”
Reynolds and Reynolds has maintained its leading edge in the automotive retailing industry by providing high levels of customer service. According to Yezbeck, customer satisfaction is directly driven by its customer support– a level of support that would not be possible were it not for the company’s training initiatives.
Yezbeck cites a high correlation between how well a company’s workforce is trained and how it treats its customers. And there is a close tie between how well employees and customers are trained on a system and how well they use it. If the customer can use the system to its full potential, it is only natural for that customer’s level of satisfaction to increase.
“Whether it’s culture training, management training, sales training, support training, marketing training or product training, the extent to which we can keep our associates knowledgeable and ahead of the curve directly translates to reoccurring revenue from existing customers and new business as we partner with a lot of the enterprise dealerships and mega-dealers. When you’re in the kind of business we’re in, knowledge is really the most powerful skill you can have, and keeping our associates ahead of the curve on all fronts is highly correlated to our successful sales rates and our reoccurring revenue.”
By collaborating with SmartForce to implement a training program that could be delivered to customers as well as associates, Reynolds and Reynolds has not only saved money, but it has also helped its associates improve their own performance, driving improved business performance and higher levels of customer satisfaction.