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
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:
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.
BY SARAH GREENSONBACH
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.
BY JASON BACAJ
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.