Better, Stronger, Faster: Training Summer Help

Cailley Hammel Headshot

No one better understands the importance of a well-educated staff better than Larry Bloom. Bloom, co-founder of Xmente Swimming Pool Retail Academy and former CEO of BioLab, Inc., recently wrote a series for the AQUA site about what keeps customers loyal to you — and its no surprise knowledgeable staff was a key component.

To help pool and spa retailers train staff faster and more effectively, he created an online training course called “How Pools Operate,” which covers circulation, filtration, pool types, chemistry, cleaning and more. 

Here, Bloom shares his thoughts on training staff and how his program can help. And be sure to check out the August 2013 issue of AQUA for "Superb Summer Staffers," a story that sheds more light on hiring summer help. 

When interviewing a candidate, what are some great questions to ask and why? 

Before you begin asking questions, it would be wise to have the right attitude. If you think, "it's just an interview for a temp job — no big deal," that's where you're mistaken. After all, you are about to trust this person with your most important asset – your customer. 

Next, remind yourself that interview questions are asked for a purpose, so make sure you are clear minded about this. For example, one of the most important interview objectives is to determine if the candidate has the aptitude to quickly learn a new language, to learn to speak pool to your customers. Many retailers actually put candidates through our cost effective online training course as a tool to measure aptitude and interest before hiring. It is a cost effective and professional way to address this most important requirement, and it avoids many costly hiring problems that show up later on. And if the person is hired, she will be productive much more quickly.  

What challenges do retailers face when hiring younger people for seasonal positions? 

Pool retailers have told us that the biggest challenge in hiring any staff — particularly temporary, younger summer help — is helping them learn how pools operate and then applying that knowledge to helping customers. We call this the knowledge advantage, and it’s a key weapon that retailers have against online and mass market retail outlets.

Our in-depth research found that a full 85 percent of loyal customers that receive the advantage of applied knowledge are extremely satisfied with the overall value from their retailer. So, this is a critical ingredient in the “secret sauce of success” for any specialty pool retailer.

Obviously, having knowledgeable, well-trained employees is critical for specialty pool retailers to retain their loyal customers. This underscores the critical importance of training staff members to understand how pools work so that they can provide the level of knowledge that customers expect.  

When did you develop the Xmente program, and what prompted you to do so?

We began by listening. We asked leading retailers to tell us their top business issues and first sought to understand them. We repeatedly heard that training staff is a massive pain because new hires don't quickly understand pools, and training time and tools were very limited. Yet, the No. 1 reason consumers shop at a specialty retailer is knowledgeable staff, while the No. 1 reason for customer dissatisfaction is bad advice. 

We heard loud and clear that this is a big problem. When under-educated staff looks at a customer like a deer in headlights, customer loyalty is at risk. Based on this issue, our product development began in 2011 in close cooperation with a panel of leading retailers that provided input and feedback along the way. The course, “Xmente's Basic Training - How Pools Operate” is in its first full year and retailers have told us it improves staff knowledge and customer satisfaction in just one day. Many retailers are having all their staff take the course to make sure they are speaking the same language among themselves. 

Why might Xmente be a valuable tool for seasonal help? 

Retailers often do not have the time or budget to create their own training programs. Teaching new employees is time-consuming, and it’s often not the best use of store managers’ or owners’ time. It is also difficult to accurately duplicate time after time and cover all aspects of the basic training without it being a programmed course like the one we developed. Seasonal employees can work through the lessons on their own time, outside of store hours, and the course incorporates brain-science-based principles, presenting the information in the format in which people learn best. And, the APSP has accredited “How Pools Operate” and will grant five C.E. credit hours for completing it. 

The Xmente course differs from other training programs on the market. Some training programs from manufacturers focus on their specific brands and products rather than basic understanding of pool operations.  While specific product knowledge is good, it won’t get employees to a solid level of applied knowledge – that is the ability to use pool knowledge to assist customers effectively -- on its own. Other programs deliver more generalized pool knowledge but do not focus on basic information regarding how pools operate, which is important to know if an employee is going to help customers troubleshoot and solve problems.   

Can you suggest any additional strategies for quickly training seasonal staff? 

The biggest recommendation we have is to make training a priority rather than an afterthought. It’s critical for every employee to come across as confident, credible, and trustworthy in the eyes of the customer. Whichever training program you use, make sure it is offered to all employees prior to the start of the season (April-May in most markets), and make sure it accomplishes the following:

•Helps new employees to reach a knowledge threshold quickly and gives them the confidence to interact effectively with customers.

•Validates that even seasoned employees have the expertise required by customers.

•Ensures that training sets a standard for quality without being a burden to managers.

•Provides consistent, comprehensive training for new employees without draining time from seasoned employees.

•Reinforces what is most critical for the business – applied pool knowledge that leads to customer loyalty and profits. 

Why should retailers try and cultivate a knowledgeable seasonal staff — even if they won’t be there long?

It’s true that seasonal staff may not stick around, but pool dealers certainly want to be around for the long haul. That means they must recognize that loyal customers are key to their business. An owner of a substantial chain of specialty retail stores told me:  â€śIf an under-informed employee gives poor advice to a customer, that customer may never spend another dime in that store – even if he or she was a loyal customer for years.” And sadly, the pool store owner may never hear of the problem. If pool dealers want to compete successfully against the Internet and mass retailers, they can’t afford not to invest in a trained sales staff, whether temporary or permanent.

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