For the second episode of E-Learning Council’s Leaders in Learning Podcast, we interview Alex Turkovic, Director of Training & Implementation Services at HotSchedules Alex has spoken at E-Learning Symposium and is a former board member of E-Learning Council. Many of us think of training as inward facing–training our employees. In this conversation, we discuss customer training:
- The increase in customer satisfaction and trust that training can bring to the customer relationship.
- The challenge of training a customer in a high stress, high interruption environment.
- The return of investment of training your customer.
Transcript of Interview with Alex Turkovic
Sanjay Nasta: You are listening to Leaders in Learning Podcast from E-Learning Council. The mission of E-Learning Council is to advance e-learning through a community that provides leadership, best practices, and resources in a collaborative environment.
Hello. Today, we are talking to Alex Turkovic, Director of Implementation & Training at HotSchedules. Welcome, Alex.
Alex Turkovic: Thanks. Good to be here.
Sanjay Nasta: Alex, tell us a little bit about HotSchedules.
Alex Turkovic: HotSchedules is a software company that was actually born out of the restaurant industry, solving problems that restaurant managers face on a daily basis. What we do is create software that helps restaurant managers with scheduling employees, keeping track of inventory, and things like that. It really is bred out of a desire to help push efficiency into the restaurant industry.
Sanjay Nasta: Is it a web app or …?
Alex Turkovic: It’s all web and mobile apps.
Sanjay Nasta: Okay.
Alex Turkovic: As an employee at a restaurant, you can actually launch the HotSchedules mobile app and see your schedule and swap schedules with other employees and do things that would normally otherwise require you to engage your manager directly.
Sanjay Nasta: Tell us a little bit about your role there.
Alex Turkovic: I’m the Director of implementation & Training, which essentially means my team manages all customer-facing training at HotSchedules. The role specifically is probably a little bit more robust than, say, at other software companies, mainly because our audience is so varied. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, you will know that the audience doesn’t tend to be quite as captive as your other training audiences might be, so I actually have a pretty large team that focuses on one-on-one training mostly over the web with customers. Aside from training, we also do all the site builds and actually building up of brand new sites for new customers.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s interesting. What is the role of training at HotSchedules? We’ll start there.
Alex Turkovic: Yes. In my role specifically, we’re focused solely on customer-facing training, and it’s a massively important piece to what we do because the apps themselves can be quite complex. In the end, they really tend to drive efficiency throughout a bunch of complex series of inputs, but the problem is, is those inputs can be very hard to come by sometimes. Getting the customer to the point where they can use the app to really drive a return on investment takes a fair amount of training on the front end. Really, the role of training within the HotSchedules organization is to drive adoption of the app and make sure people don’t fall off after a certain amount of time. Really providing that strong front-end training experience helps the longevity of our customers and really helps them to squeeze every dollar out of the app.
Sanjay Nasta: Basically, a customer retention strategy, a customer satisfaction strategy too.
Alex Turkovic: It’s huge, yeah. We try to be as hand-holdy and one-on-one as possible with customers. It’s hard to do because we have millions of users essentially, thousands upon thousands of customers, so it can be really hard to be one-on-one with that many people, but I have a whole bunch of talented trainers on the team that do a great job of that.
Sanjay Nasta: One of the characteristics that you name is really common for training outside the organization, which is where the audience is varied. What kind of challenges does that cause you?
Alex Turkovic: Our apps require involvement from a variety of different people. We might be training an IT admin on the back-end functionality of a specific app one day. We might be training restaurant managers on how to use the app in their day-to-day activities the next day. We actually do have an LMS as well that we sell, so a lot of times we’re engaging with learning organizations as well, which is quite interesting. We have a variety there, but our bread and butter is really restaurant managers, and if you’ve ever worked in the food service industry, you will know what a revolving door those offices are.
Sanjay Nasta: Very high turnover.
Alex Turkovic: Yeah, high turnover, employees coming in left and right all the time, constantly knocking on your door, bugging you. You have a vendor out back trying to receive an order. You’re dealing with shift schedules. You’re dealing with temperature checks. You’re dealing with all kinds of different things. This is probably leading to a future question of yours, but one of the big challenges we face is engagement with those restauranteurs because they have so much going on. Engaging those guys for an hour-long training or a half-hour training can sometimes prove to be a pretty big challenge.
Sanjay Nasta: It sounds like with your LMS that you are also helping them, the restaurant manager, your core audience, with a pretty core challenge, which is keeping the standard of service by implementing training, so that’s pretty powerful.
Alex Turkovic: It is. HotSchedules itself was born out of scheduling. That’s the core product, but as the years went by … HotSchedules has been around since 1999. As the years have gone by, all these different apps have come into the fold as well. The LMS is one that our customers love because we are giving them the ability within that HotSchedules, the ecosystem, to provide their employees with training that’s not only legally required in some instances, but then the operational aspect of it as well. Anything from table layouts to temperature checks to anything else that you’d want to throw in there, it is a really powerful tool for them to use to really pull all that information into one kind of ecosystem of apps.
Sanjay Nasta: Yeah. Having had friends who ran restaurants, keeping that standard of service the same from day to day across every location is so key to a restaurant.
Alex Turkovic: Absolutely.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s pretty powerful. You mentioned a couple of things that drive training for you. How do you measure success of training?
Alex Turkovic: In this environment, in customer-facing training, for us anyway, it’s much more difficult than, let’s say, your average HR-based training organization where your content is LMS-based. You have people taking e-learning modules. You have people taking assessments and things like that. At the end of the day, these folks are our customers, and we don’t necessarily want to throw them a 50-question mid-term.
From a knowledge retention standpoint, what we typically do is we give our customers … I don’t know if homework is the right word, but we give them tasks to complete after training. Then in their next training session, we’ll actually, we’ll check in on them and see how well they’ve done on those tasks, how far they’ve gotten in the setup of their site. We can also log in to see their site usage, how many employees are logging in, are they posting schedules and things like that. Between trainings, we’ll be able to gauge how engaged the customer is.
Aside from that, we measure things like project duration, how long is it taking for this customer to get through a specific training, and we’ll measure just engagement in general. We’ll measure things like staff versus log-ins and things like that just to get kind of a blended set of metrics.
Sanjay Nasta: You’re definitely measuring the learning. Are you measuring the business side, how much it helps HotSchedules to have this training?
Alex Turkovic: We are. Let’s put it this way. If in certain instances where training hasn’t been completed for a customer or the customer has opted not to go through training, we will see increases in, call it customer care tickets. One interesting side note here, too, is about a year ago, we implemented a system called WalkMe into the app itself, which is a way for customers to get self-help. They’ll be able to get guided tours and walkthroughs of the application.
What’s interesting is, is as soon as we implemented the WalkMe system, we saw a dramatic decrease in not only the amount of customer care support tickets that were created, but we also saw a pretty big engagement increase with customers just because they had that hand-holding. Doesn’t really answer you original question.
Sanjay Nasta: It kind of does. It’s interesting to see training used outside the organization, because we’re just … as learning professionals seem to be so focused on training inside the organization … the outreach aspects of this training. The other cool thing you’re doing is it sounds like you’re doing also the spaced learning where everything’s not this eight-hour dump of training and there’s not an opportunity to refresh the training.
Alex Turkovic: Yeah. We very much operate in the environment where we know we only have 15 to 20 minutes of useable training time at any given time, so spacing the training out allows the customer to get comfortable with the application while they’re in our hands and have those periodic check-ins to where once they’re through our program, it’s safe to say that the majority of the customers are ready to go.
Sanjay Nasta: Probably gets your brand imprinted in their head.
Alex Turkovic: Oh, yeah, 100%.
Sanjay Nasta: Have you seen it where a restaurant manager moved restaurants and …?
Alex Turkovic: Absolutely. We see that all over the place. In fact, as you can imagine, we’re at about 600 people worldwide at HotSchedules, and I would venture a guess that probably 50 to 60% of those people are actually from the service industry and a lot of them used HotSchedules. There’s very much a tribal aspect to what it is we do, because a manager will use HotSchedules in one restaurant and go to a different restaurant where they don’t have it and be suffering because of it.
Sanjay Nasta: Sounds pretty powerful.
Alex Turkovic: It is.
Sanjay Nasta: What are your challenges?
Alex Turkovic: Primary challenge we already touched on a bit, and that’s the engagement challenge. We have a lot of internal procedures that we follow to re-engage customers, but to give you a sense for the scale at which we operate, we have a team of about 14 trainers, and at any given time we have a total of about 700 active training projects. We have trainers that have roughly 50 to 60 points of contact at any given time.
When you try to operationalize that and when you try to make that as personable and as customized as possible, as a result of how busy we are, there are some operational policies that we have to put in place to try to drive that engagement and help people get to those training processes. We’ll do regular check-ins. We rely a lot on automated e-mail systems to try to help re-engagement and all those types of things, but the sheer volume is probably the number-one challenge that we face.
Sanjay Nasta: Everything you’re doing is webinar, so basically very synchronous.
Alex Turkovic: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sanjay Nasta: You mentioned one-on-one, so there’s an instructor for every student?
Alex Turkovic: The way we conduct the trainings is we have a pretty prescribed training process for each product that we sell. The trainers will essentially work with the customer to customize that a little bit, and then the trainings themselves usually consist of group calls. In doing a training for a restaurant brand, for instance, there might be 10, 20 locations, and we might do group calls with all 20 of those locations on at the same time or offer different times throughout the week. When I say training projects, that typically refers to a specific customer or a brand of restaurants or a restaurant kind of company.
Sanjay Nasta: That makes sense. Have you all started thinking about recording some of your training and blending your approach?
Alex Turkovic: Absolutely. In fact, we do quite a few webinars on a routine basis. The problem with the webinars is that they are rinse and repeat, and as busy as my team is, I don’t feel like it’s an effective use of their time to do the same webinar over and over again. What we’re actually doing right now is … For you learning nerds out there, we’re building some Captivate projects to where a customer will be able to learn a little bit and then do a software simulation as a result, doing those little bite-size, three- to four-minute chunks of learning. That’s essentially going to replace all our webinars that we currently have, and we’ll be able to focus on a lot more thought leadership in our webinar series.
Sanjay Nasta: It will be interesting to see how the engagement is for that versus a live webinar. It’s always challenging to blend approaches.
Alex Turkovic: I think one of the big challenges that we all face in the learning industry is the fact that a lot of times, adult learners especially need to practice. When you think about learning a new piece of software, you go through a training session and you do it successfully with the instructor there, but then when the training is all done and when it’s over with, you go back and you try to do it again and you’re scratching your head. Really, I think our job is to do the training effectively and do the training to where people can practice on the training calls, but then also provide those resources that later on the customer can go back and actually practice it.
Sanjay Nasta: How do you overcome resistance? I’m sure you have resistance, because you’re working in one of the toughest environments for training. These guys are swamped. They’re working late hours. I’m sure they’re working multiple jobs in the modern environment. What are some of your tactics around that?
Alex Turkovic: It’s quite simple, actually, because the whole reason why people purchase our products to begin with is to drive efficiency throughout their business. The only way to really squeeze every inch out of the software is to learn as much as possible about it. Whenever possible, we try to drive the value of the training, because without it, you’ll be guessing your way through it the whole time and probably not squeezing every penny you can out of it.
The food industry is pretty cutthroat when it comes to profit margins. Even keeping accurate inventory in your restaurant can make the difference between you making five cents to 15 cents on the dollar. It can be a massive swing, so the more efficiency their folks can drive into their restaurant operations, the better, and we’re a huge key to that. Really, you can look at the HotSchedules product as being, yes, a software product or a set of software products, but I think that the training that we offer once people have purchased the software is probably just as valuable, at least in the beginning.
Sanjay Nasta: A question that almost from the very beginning you said that your training team is responsible for also implementation. Does that give them a strong advantage when they’re doing the training?
Alex Turkovic: It does in the sense that the team is obviously very knowledgeable on the platform. You can just imagine for an almost 20-year-old company and an almost 20-year-old product, it has evolved a lot over the years, and so because of that, there’s a lot of back-end complexity that’s there. Having a team that is both focused on the training and the knowledge aspect of it but then also the more technical side of things, is definitely a benefit, just because we can address some of those more difficult scenarios that otherwise might need the involvement of the product team or customer care, what have you.
Sanjay Nasta: I’ve known you for a while and watched you at different jobs. You’ve definitely done a lot of internal training and now you’re focusing outside your own organization. What are some of the differences between training inside an organization versus what you’re doing now?
Alex Turkovic: Top of my mind is the audience itself, just in the sense that with an internal training program, you can get to know your audience very intimately. You know Suzie Q and how she learns, and you know Billy and how he learns, and you can adjust your training approaches to those individual people and then also the individual organizations. With customer-facing training, it’s a constant battle of doing a really quick discovery of who you’re training, customizing the program as much as possible, and then moving on to the next one.
It’s a constant kind of revolving door, so you don’t have that luxury of really getting to know your learners. Also, given that they’re not in the same building or in the same company as you are, you don’t have that post-training ability to check in or even that post-training gratification. The whole reason I got into the learning industry to begin with is that crazy moment where you know somebody has grasped a really difficult concept and it was mainly because of your efforts, and that’s a really rewarding thing for trainers. We don’t get that as much, unfortunately.
Sanjay Nasta: You don’t get the eyes lighting up in front of you?
Alex Turkovic: No.
Sanjay Nasta: I’ve had some incredible moments where you can almost see a career being changed in front of you.
Alex Turkovic: Hundred percent. When you can tie somebody’s personal life into the training, that is massive. With us, we can be very sympathetic to our customers because most of us have worked in the food service industry, and we know what they’re dealing with, but that’s about where it stops.
Sanjay Nasta: Just generally, we’ve developed a lot of outreach training, and for us it’s about less control. You have less control of the people. You have less control of the environment. You have less control of schedule. It’s very different what you’re monitoring, and how you’re monitoring is very different. You have to get creative, and you have to keep it a little bit simpler. You cannot have a long, complex log-in. You can’t have security credentials and prerequisites. You do have to simplify some of the things we assume.
Alex Turkovic: You do. It gets down to the simple things, too. Do they call their employees team members? What do they call their employees? Every time, you have to adjust your lingo a little bit as well.
Sanjay Nasta: Language is very important.
Alex Turkovic: Massively. We’re expanding all the time. Massive outreach happening right now in Australia, and that’s a whole different thing as well.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s what I was going to ask you about next is language and culture.
Alex Turkovic: Yeah.
Sanjay Nasta: Are you all doing multiple languages already?
Alex Turkovic: We are not doing multiple languages.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s going to challenge.
Alex Turkovic: Yeah. It’s a challenge, but one of the tough things in software in general is the fact that localization in a software platform is a tough nut to crack in itself. I think a big reason why a lot of software companies choose one area or the other is because it is tough to rewrite your entire platform in another language. For us, the main challenge has been really regionalization among English-speaking countries, but I definitely think that different languages are going to come into play very quickly. The way that we’re starting to deal with that now is to keep different versions of the content and to really double-check even what region of the country they’re located in.
Sanjay Nasta: When I used to work for Motorola, we used to actually have a dictionary of names that we’d use for creating training across different regions, because even English-speaking countries, names that are common in the United States don’t work in Great Britain. It was always interesting to customize that.
Last concept, I guess, so we can wrap it up, but this is a 20-year-old company. You’ve seen the change from Internet and web to mobile, and especially in this market, mobile has to be on a sharp upswing. The age of most people working in restaurants, their inherent mobility. Are you all doing a lot of mobile training, and what are the challenges around that?
Alex Turkovic: We are just diving into that. I mentioned earlier our WalkMe platform, which has been instrumental for us. They’ve only recently written the app to be mobile-friendly. In other words, we can provide those walkthroughs on the mobile platform with the WalkMe app. In terms of mobile training itself, we have little performance support pieces built into the apps.
In terms of the training that we do, again, the audience itself is not a captive one and is not necessarily one that would sit down and go through a mobile learning module or a video or something like that. They need to have somebody on the phone with them that can answer questions. It’s so interesting to me, because in a perfect world, we would just throw all of our learning on the app. We would make it as engaging and as interactive as possible, but just the evidence that we have doesn’t suggest that that would be effective at all, just given our audience.
Sanjay Nasta: The other part of that is I bet they’re very sensitive to their personal time being used and also the cost of bandwidth on their personal devices.
Alex Turkovic: Sure. Let’s be real, one of the big costs of doing mobile learning is developing the content itself. If you’ve ever worked for a SaaS software company, you know the changes that happen in your platform are frequent. We release basically on a weekly or biweekly basis, and some of those changes might be minor, but some of them are pretty massive. Every time you have that change in your software, you have to rewrite all of your training content.
Video is about where we draw the line, because we can make our narrations as agnostic enough to where you can just swap out the images and it’ll still work. With mobile, I think that’s a different challenge entirely, because if the app itself is changing, then training on that app is going to be a little bit more difficult. For right now, we’re in the dark ages of updating PowerPoints and doing all that kind of stuff and changing out videos, but I’m actually quite content with that just because it works for our audience.
Sanjay Nasta: What’s effective is what we’re all after.
Alex Turkovic: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Sanjay Nasta: Alex, this was fun. Do you have anything to wrap up?
Alex Turkovic: No. As you mentioned earlier, I’ve spent a lot of time doing internal training, spent a lot of time in HR organizations, spent a lot of time in sales organizations doing internal sales and HR-type trainings, and the passion for customer-facing training is one that I personally love. It’s an amazing challenge that I’ve been given to really expand the portfolio of customer-facing training for this company, and I think it’s one of those things that as an industry, I don’t think a lot of companies pay enough attention really to that.
Sanjay Nasta: No, they don’t, but it’s growing for us. It’s probably the fastest-growing area for our business, because people have recognized that they can drive their strategy through external training. They can increase adoption, increase customer satisfaction, honestly, increase trust. Providing training is a strategy to increase trust.
Alex Turkovic: It’s a huge value-builder. Quite frankly, if I go back and look at my P&L for my organization, I have a little bit more leverage to actually grow my team and invest in my team, mainly because we are providing that value to our customers. We are actually pulling in revenue as well, which is a luxury that I’ve never really enjoyed before in my learning career.
Sanjay Nasta: That’s what everybody in the learning industry is trying to do is get a seat at that big table, and you’ve managed to achieve that. That’s rare.
Alex Turkovic: I lucked out.
Sanjay Nasta: Thank you, sir. I appreciate you taking the time.
Alex Turkovic: Thanks. Appreciate it. Good to be here.
Sanjay Nasta: This podcast was brought to you by E-Learning Council. For show notes, podcast links, and more information about E-Learning Council, please visit our website at www.elearningcouncil.com.