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Performance Support Goes to the Oscars

Mike Yonker, my guest blogger, is President of Learner Mobile for SVI Inc.

Much of mobile training and development is broken. Few have the patience to go through courseware on a phone or even a tablet. Screens are small and content is long. Mobile can do so much more.

Mobile was the buzz at the ASTD International Conference in Dallas in May, 2013. Even though they are keen for it, many learning professionals fail to ask the right questions. It’s important to inquire about device compatibility with the organization’s technical requirements. It’s important to know how both mobile content and messages are managed and published and how they can be segmented to serve distinct user groups. Ultimately, the core question should be about the business goals that are top of mind. Does mobile advance those goals? How? Mobile allows us to think in fresh ways about strategic priorities, transcending directly publishing existing computer content on these new devices.

Mobile has much to offer organizations, in general, and training and development units, in particular. Its ability to deliver relevant content, in context, is incredibly useful. It’s not just another screen. Think about it as a channel to deliver dynamic, personalized, on the go job aids. Thus, mobile performance support is particularly valuable for a fast-paced industry like retail, where products and fashion change with the seasons, and where store employee turnover can be as high as 67%, according to a 2012 Hay Group report.

How can a retailer use mobile performance support to deliver business impact?  Here I present four ways that a retailer and their vendors used mobile to help retail sales associates increase sales and engender customer loyalty on the day after the Oscars.

Learner Mobile - Celebrity Looks

First, on the day after the Oscars, many customers arrive at the store with a particular notion. They want to look like Anne Hathaway or Kerry Washington. This retailer anticipated that the Oscars would spark demand and delivered celebrity face charts to their beauty department’s sales team through their mobile phones. When the customer asked about one celebrity or another, the beauty associates consulted their mobile phones.

Learner Mobile - Celebrity Products Referrals

They then engaged with customers in prompted conversations to help the customer identify the aspects of the celebrity look they favored. The associate and customer are then shown corresponding face charts, products, and instructions to achieve the look. The following screen shows the products that are required to reproduce the celebrity look.

Learner Mobile - Celebrity Face Charts

The associates are expected to follow a particular process to achieve the look with the products and to demonstrate that process for customers, coaching customers in how they should repeat this process at home. Associates only received the content and messages that were appropriate for their department and, in this case, beauty counter. Relying on a mobile device to aid the sale made the sales associate feel more knowledgeable, not less.

There were customer benefits as well. A 2012 retail study by Motorola found that almost 70 percent of consumers report they have a higher level of confidence when a retail sales associate is aided by the latest mobile device.

Second, the retailer capitalized on interest in celebrity appearances at the Oscars to boost cross-department sales.  This retailer outlined the clothing brands that each celebrity was dressed in, in real-time updates to their sales associates, as the celebrities walked the red carpet. Beauty advisors could encourage an additional visit to the women’s department after the customer’s makeup purchases to complete their experience. Of course, the clothing sales people could also point to make up that would mimic the celebrity look. Even if the retailer did not carry the specially made clothing the celebrities wore, chances increased that the customer would make additional purchases based on a targeted referral.

The following screen shows how the mobile device organized information in layers, starting with selection of the celebrity and the moving to discover their fashion brand choices.

Third, the Oscar opportunity was not just limited to the retailer.  One beauty brand was able to leverage the increased traffic following the Oscars to send a real-time message to sales associates notifying them of an upcoming gift with purchase (GWP) promotion. When women came in to shop, the associates could remind the customers to stop back in for a return visit to take advantage of the promotion. Additionally, they could call their best customers to let them know of the promotion to come in and replenish their products to meet demand.

Learner Mobile - Daily Sales Tips

Lastly, the retailer sent a daily customer service tip that reminded associates about a key aspect of how to sell better. These daily tips come from condensed versions of the customer service training presented on the mobile device. The condensed content thus serves as a reference for new employees who have not yet made it to the classroom for formal instruction. For everyone else, it is a useful refresher on core customer service concepts.

This is just the beginning of the use of performance support in retail via mobile devices. Always, for retail associates, the key is to deliver material that they need, when and where they need it, and for them to know where to find information they perceive as useful. Content needs to be bite-sized. Finally, results are measured in associates’ ability to do their jobs efficiently and ultimately in increased sales and customer loyalty, not necessarily in completing a conventional knowledge test. Such is the beauty of mobile.


Mike Yonker/Learner Mobile

Mike Yonker is President at Learner Mobile, a division of SVI Inc. He is late to the learning industry, but has been working on smartphones since before they were really smart. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Mike is a fan of great design and simple user experiences.


  1. […] Mobile, a division of SVI Inc. He described how they use mobile devices to deliver immediate updates to retail sales people about the latest beauty products witnessed by millions on the Red Carpet at the […]