The rise of the LMS - Building company culture through your learning management system

REI & the Rise of LMS as Culture Tool

Sarah Greensonbach & Jason Bacaj | 17 min read

This piece originally ran as a white paper. We’ve updated it to include new, interesting info about how one of our partners, REI, puts these theories into action in their LMS, named Spark. And we broadened the perspective because these insights and best practices apply across all industries. Read on and let us know if you’ve put any of these theories into practice and how they’ve worked for you!

Businesses of all stripes today are disrupted at every turn by pop-up shops and digital natives. Online sales have grown by double-digits every year for five years, especially in retail. But there’s one thing that continues to draw customers away from the pricing, convenience, and selection of digital retailers, exercise memberships, online meal subscriptions, and the like — the experience they have with your brand.

In fact, 65% of customers say they decide where to shop based on the customer service, and 80% of customers say they’re willing to pay more for a product or service in exchange for excellent customer experience — in some cases, by as much as 16%. It’s no wonder that today’s biggest brands are building their empires on excellent customer service.

While it’s clear that the brick-and-mortar retailers, restaurants, and franchises that deliver the best customer experience are the ones that will prosper, it’s less clear how a brand can get from “here” to “there.”

And it may surprise you to find out that an excellent customer experience actually starts with your learning management tool (LMS).

An LMS functions as a way to bring your company closer together. Communications are easier to manage, which allows for employees to get a better feel for how your brand is communicated to customers. Consistent brand experiences are essential—and increasingly difficult to manage.

Customers have multiple touchpoints with your brand, and bring an expectation that in-person interactions are in line with their previously, likely digital, experiences.

One of the ways our partner REI uses its LMS—which they call Spark—is to give all employees visibility across the company. Marketing and merchandising departments publish content on Spark. Frontline employees are able to not only view the content, but ask questions about it.

This allows for more consistency in messaging across the entirety of the company. And it empowers employees to think critically and gain a deeper understanding of company values and goals.

“You’ll see people commenting on modules and it might be a retail sales specialist in Arizona is commenting and then the vice president of merchandising is right below him adding another comment,” says Rachel Shperber, REI’s Senior Talent Program Manager. “That’s been pretty awesome to see.”

“Brands increasingly find that their ‘inside voice’ and their ‘outside voice’ need to match. Before now, the marketing function and the employer branding function have been isolated, and those messages have been inconsistent with each other. But the explosion of platforms like Glassdoor give employees a voice to say whether or not what’s being projected is what’s occurring in reality. Because today’s customer rewards emotional connection and authenticity, that disconnect gets reflected in your customer experience.” 

Matt Burns, 15-year retail HR executive and founder of BentoHR

Executive Summary

After years spent witnessing brands improve their customer experience by building a strong, brand-story-based company culture with their LMS, the Wisetail team wanted to learn more. We surveyed a panel of 102 HR and L&D professionals to explore the relationship between customer experience, company culture, and brand story. In this report, we share the results and consider five ways HR and L&D leaders can use their LMS to build a company culture that delivers on the excellent customer experience required for success today.

In the 102-person survey, 64% of HR and L&D professionals surveyed indicated they have direct experience working in a retail, restaurant, or franchise organization, and 36% identified as general HR and L&D professionals.

The majority of survey respondents agree that sharing a company’s unique brand story is an important piece of delivering an excellent customer experience — and among HR professionals who’ve worked in a training and development or leadership role, the percentage of respondents who think it’s important jumps up to 94%.

But even though respondents overwhelmingly agree their company’s brand story is important, only 60% use their current training and development program or learning management system (LMS) to educate employees about it.

This report explores important themes connecting employee experience and customer experience. It also speaks to how HR and L&D leaders can use an LMS to incorporate their brand story into employee training initiatives to drive higher levels of customer experience.

Some of the statistics in this report have been rounded to the nearest whole number, so the totals may not add up to 100. For complete results to the tenth of a point, please consult the full survey.

Company Culture and Brand Story Trends for HR and L&D

Today’s customers have high expectations of their favorite brands. Top-notch retailers like Apple, Amazon, REI, and Zappos regularly up the ante for delivering a seamless, high touch customer experience. And brands across all industries are feeling the pressure to meet and exceed those expectations — but the survey shows they aren’t quite sure how to inspire the kind of connection and community in their employees it takes to be successful. 

The following three themes stand out in the results of the survey: 

Top training and development priorities revolve around customer experience.

When asked to rate the priority of training and development outcomes for the coming year, survey respondents identified the following three customer-experience related priorities as the most important:

  • 83% Equipping employees to deliver an excellent customer experience
  • 82% Retaining employees and building loyalty to the brand
  • 81% Keeping employees up-to-date with changing product knowledge

Alternatively, the following employee-focused priorities were ranked low priorities or “I Don’t Know”:

  • 42% Defining and sharing our brand story with employees
  • 36% Improving employee decision-making
  • 20% Increasing employee productivity and skills

What’s interesting to note about these results is the placement of sharing brand story with employees. Despite the fact that emotional engagement is a critical part of building brand affinity with employees and customers alike, survey respondents ranked it as their lowest priority.

This suggests room for growth when it comes to understanding how incorporating brand story into your training enriches both your employee and customer experience.

HR and L&D professionals don’t always feel prepared to measure their training and development outcomes.

HR and L&D professionals who feel prepared to measure success in achieving their training and development outcomes are in the minority – most respondents feel not prepared or only somewhat prepared to measure their efforts.

Respondents feel most prepared to measure the following outcomes:

  • 39% Equipping employees to deliver an excellent customer experience 
  • 37% Retaining employees and building loyalty to the brand
  • 35% Increasing employee productivity and skills

Respondents feel least prepared or only somewhat prepared for the following outcomes:

  • 74% Improving employee decision-making 
  • 74% Defining and sharing our brand story with employees 
  • 67% Keeping employees up-to-date with changing product knowledge 

Since the first rule of making progress in an HR initiative is being able to measure where you start and where you end up – a fact that’s lead the International Standards Organization to debut Human Capital Management reporting standards –  this represents another significant opportunity for HR leaders to prioritize their measurement efforts.

HR and L&D professionals are split on whether they’re communicating their brand story to customers.

Survey respondents are divided on whether or not their current customer experience is holding up – 49% of respondents say their current customer experience communicates their brand story well, and 51% say it communicates their brand story not well or they don’t know.

When considering the best way to solve this problem, respondents are also split on the best way to improve how employees communicate brand story. For better or worse, the following three training and development initiatives stand out as go-to strategies:

  • 48% Incorporating digital training and development experiences such as microlearning, social learning, gamification, or AI/VR 
  • 40% Adding in-person training and development experiences like all-day retreats and onsite trainings
  • 38% Developing unique subject matter training for retail or frontline employees such as visual merchandising, sales, empathy 

Surprisingly, respondents are least likely to consider implementing an LMS to focus on brand story and company culture, with only 23% of respondents indicating they would prioritize implementing an LMS. This is fewer even than the 24% respondents who felt this is a priority but they don’t know how they’d start. 

Deploying an LMS As Company Culture and Customer Experience Tool.

In our survey, 48% of respondents admitted their first instinct is to develop a training session on brand story and put it out as required training. But a one-time injection into your company culture won’t deliver lasting results.

Instead, you must make a systemic change to how your company delivers training — you must deploy your LMS as a vibrant hub of information and community that reflects your brand story and company culture.

As brands absorb the importance of building company culture and weaving their brand story into their customer experience, the first question that comes to mind is “How?” And that’s where today’s modern LMS comes in — a powerful way to deliver training and build culture in a consistent, scalable, and user-friendly way. Here five steps you can use to get started:



One of the most common mistakes HR and L&D professionals make when deploying their LMS for company culture and brand story is assuming company culture will develop naturally. But a positive and powerful company culture requires the same time and resources commitment as other important HR and L&D functions – and even the most cutting-edge LMS can’t build a culture for you.

Before you start the implementation process, sit down with stakeholders and decide exactly how big a priority this will be for the coming year. What time, budget, and resources are you willing to dedicate to planning and implementing this project? How will your LMS content be different from your existing training and compliance content?

“We have six different departments releasing content,” REI’s Rachel Shperber says. “There’s at least one new piece of content in there every other day to at least once a week… as far as the fun optional content, that’s about once every two months or so that we update those banners and add something new.

“Turning our field guide into a paperless version… that took us about three to four weeks, and that’s just the review cycles and content development side of it,” she adds. “Images, diagrams, links out to TED Talks has a quick enough turnaround that we can get that up in a couple of days.”



As tempting as it may be, don’t jump in and try to change everything about the way you do training and development at once. Reflect on your long-term plan and identify a series of small goals you can tackle, also known as the minimal viable content you need to launch your hub. Quick wins will inspire you and your team members to keep going, and you’ll benefit from real-world experience you can apply to your implementation as it gets bigger.

“Developing content for your LMS can quickly become overwhelming if you focus only on the bigger picture,” says Hayes. “Instead, focus on the little day-to-day actions you can take that will pay off over the course of the whole year.”



Your ultimate goal is to turn your LMS into your organization’s social and cultural hub. But if you want to train your employees to visit your LMS for the latest news and developments, you need to regularly update your site with fresh content. You’ll also want to make strategic decisions around what’s exclusive to your LMS and what gets pushed out to employees via other communication methods such as company chat and email.

“One boutique exercise brand does a great job of treating their LMS like their company hub,” says Shannon Hayes, Client Experience at Wisetail. “They set aside time to create exclusive content for their hub and commit to updating it 1-2 times per week – and it pays off. The brand saw record engagement right away, and it continues to rise each year.“

“When we started adding these fun, optional trainings we saw the number of people active in the system during a day jump from 30-40 people to 400 or 500 people,” Shperber says. “Just the engagement level and people coming in here more frequently to look to see if anything is new has definitely increased.”



As you push fresh content through your LMS, don’t just republish old content from your company manuals into your LMS. Your employees will sense the lack of urgency and they’ll quickly learn the LMS is nothing new. Instead, refer back to your brand values and identify different content formats and topics that can support those values. For example, if one of your values is diversity, what kind of content could show that or educate employees on what it means? It may feel like a risk to make new content and ask for honest feedback, but it’s a risk that will pay off.

“Bringing attention to your brand story can feel risky at first,” says Rachael Nordby, Client Experience Lead at Wisetail. “You’re putting yourself out there to build connection and relationship with your customers, and that exposes you to their emotions and needs. And you have to deal with these relationships on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. But the people who are willing to go out there and build those relationships reap the reward by pulling ahead of their competition.”

“We have Opt Outside as an initiative we take every fall, and this year we changed it up and called it Opt to Act. It talked about our carbon footprint and what we can do,” Shperber says. “The module as an embedded TED Talk in it for people, and then we have other resources below that talk about our REI journey, who we are as a company, where we came from, the journey of our founders, and how REI became who it is today.”



Don’t assume that, as the person in charge of HR and L&D, all of the content development should fall on you. Brands with lean L&D teams can be very successful in deploying their LMS to build company culture when they delegate. Break up different parts of the process and assign to team members in your department and employees who stand out as culture leaders. Involve your marketing team from the start and consider how you can collaborate, taking the burden of branding and IT off of you.

“Some of our clients maintain very sophisticated LMS environments with only one or two administrators on staff,” says Hayes. “Even if your administrator balances managing your LMS with other priorities, you can get a lot done if you delegate to other people within your company.”

REI uses Spark to reflect company culture by facilitating peer-to-peer recognition. For instance, Shperber says, they’re using a badge nomination widget to let people nominate their coworkers for REI’s two signature recognition awards.

“We started a discussion board on our values and it’s starting to get some traction, people coming in, chiming in, how they’re exemplifying the values, recognizing other individuals, and bringing them to life in stores, headquarters, and our distribution centers,” says Shperber.

Your Brand Story and Company Culture Flourishes in an LMS

Organizations that have built a brand identity and want to stand out in high-stakes, competitive marketplaces have to put customer experience first. But putting customer experience first doesn’t start with your customers — it starts with how you train and retain the employees who serve your customers.

If you want to deliver the kind of authentic, high-touch, and meaningful customer experience your customers want, you have to give your employees the opportunity to learn about your brand story and connect with your company culture — and increasingly, the best way to do that is with an LMS.

Far from being a simple training delivery tool, advanced LMSs today take on the role of culture builder, infusing your employee training with your brand story and allowing it to permeate your customer experience. The result is a powerful way to scale your culture and capture a competitive advantage that distinguishes you from competitors — and puts your company’s unique brand story at the center of your customer experience.

One of the first steps REI took with its LMS was turning the paper field guide that each new employee received into an online learning module. The guide walks people through what it means to be part of the REI Co-op and what the brand stands for.

The digital transformation helped align the guide with REI’s conservation ethics, and the way the company works to reduce its carbon footprint.

“It just allows people to have conversations about the values that REI stands for,” says Shperber.

She sees how that transformation plays out on the ground by watching customer surveys. REI doesn’t measure specific sales figures for products because they’re more concerned that a customer who comes into the store is properly outfitted for whatever adventure they’re planning, says Shperber.

“Based on some of the content that we have in here about customer service, product training, we’re starting to see a positive shift,” she added.


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Chat with the Wisetail team today.


Sarah is a writer for Wisetail. By analyzing and condensing cutting-edge research and data, she helps L&D professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and training. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.

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