Information technology training isn't necessarily technical
BY LARRY JOHNSON
Have you ever telephoned a company and the person answering the phone was unable to assist you because he or she did not understand the basic technology or lacked any knowledge of the company's products? How a company is represented-from the receptionist to the salesperson-is critical, especially in today's technology and competitive markets. First impressions are critical in the sales process. A favorable first impression paves the way toward a sale, whereas a clumsy or poor first impression may be the impetus to look elsewhere.
Over the years, I have found the annual Optical Fiber Conference (OFC) a great example of companies representing themselves well by having well-trained staff effectively dealing with new and existing customers. This annual event provides a forum for members of the worldwide fiber industry to meet, discuss, evaluate new products, and learn about new technologies.
Most companies ensure that their best and most knowledgeable people are available to provide information about the company and its products to potential clients. That includes corporate officers, technical staff, and technical sales. Due to the technical nature of the sessions, product specialists-including product managers, quality control staff, and engineers-are also present to answer questions from their peers.
The fiber industry requires a technical and professional presence in order to understand and communicate effectively. A basic understanding of fiber technology and the company's products-from the front desk receptionist to the corporate officer-is required for ongoing success in dealing with internal and external customers.
For example, suppose an inquiry comes into the sales office regarding a need for a SONET system. The salesperson assumes the product will be used for a telephony application and is confused when it becomes apparent that the system is wanted by a power utility. This lack of knowledge is immediately recognized by the potential client who needs to know whether the product will have the lower-level grooming required for the company's supervisory, control, and data acquisition (SCADA) requirements.
In this scenario, the background information missing is the current and past applications of voice circuits from DS-0 (64 kbits/sec) to OC-768 (40 Gbits/sec). Even though telephone systems and equipment are used for voice systems, they are also used for transmission of many other protocols, such as frame relay, ATM, and DSL. Because the salesperson doesn't realize that SCADA is used by utilities, the client may immediately decide to look elsewhere instead of digging any deeper into the options tailored for utility applications that may be provided by this supplier.
Even though the fiber industry grew up around the concept of windows, with the evolution of DWDM and the development of new optical amplifiers, filters, and newer generations of fibers, the term "band" is becoming prevalent. Both the technology and terminology progress at an amazing rate. Retraining in both areas is a constant issue to stay abreast of today's needs and tomorrow's potential technology applications.
Education and training is an ongoing task regardless of the organization and the title of the person. An organization has the responsibility to make sure its staff has the opportunity to enhance its skills and/or knowledge. A well-trained employee benefits both the employer and the individual. New staff requires education about the company, its policies, and its products.
Creating a comfort zone for employees about the importance of the company's role, its products, and how clients use those products will help build good morale and greater employee retention. It is difficult for people to get excited about a company's products if they do not understand a particular product's features and benefits, not to mention how the product fits into today's communications infrastructure.
While scientists, engineers, and technicians require more technical levels of training, companies should not forget the needs of the staff that support the research, development, and production work. The human interface between departments, including clerical staff, department secretaries, shipping/receiving clerks, and purchasing folks are a few examples that are often overlooked-and they are critical in the smooth running of day-to-day operations. Introductory levels of technology training will provide benefits in helping these groups understand the company's terminology, products, roles, and applications. Effective internal communications between departments and clients should foster good communication between your organization and its customers.
It has been recognized that retaining current staff is always less expensive than training new staff. Employees want to be a part of the team at whatever level and role they hold within an organization. Today, we have the opportunity to provide training in a way that is convenient and effective. Learning can be done through formal classroom training with student/teacher interaction, computer-based training, the Internet, videos, compact disks, or books.
Just as a sports team trains for optimum performance, a business must train to keep its team members' skills on the leading edge, ready for each new challenge. A well-trained team is better able to capitalize on each business opportunity. A winning team enjoys high morale and suffers lower attrition. Employee training is a key investment into a team's success, both today and tomorrow.
Larry Johnson is president of the Light Brigade (Kent, WA). He can be reached via the company's Website, www.lightbrigade.com, or by calling 425-251-1240.