It seemed a bit counter-intuitive conducting courses on face-to-face customer service virtually, but the feedback was fantastic, says Naomi Pinkerton, Head of Human Resources at BHG (Singapore), as she shares how the department store quickly embraced virtual learning during COVID-19.

Q What is the current business need for L&D in your organisational context? Why is it so important for the future workforce?

Retail is constantly changing - what customers want, need and expect has changed so much even in the last few years, and this will continue to evolve post-COVID-19. It is hard to predict exactly what this 'new normal' will be, but we need to make sure we’re constantly in tune with our customers.

One of our key strategies as part of our re-invention is 'unified commerce' - giving our customers a holistic retail experience by integrating technology to seamlessly serve our customers. Continual learning and development play a huge part in being able to prepare our teams for the future and make sure they’re equipped with the skills and resources to succeed.

Q With the COVID-19 pandemic, many organisations have been forced to take their learning programmes fully virtual. Was this also the case for your organisation? Or was something like this in the works all along?

We have used technology to train in the past - but this was more for our office teams; for frontline staff, service skills and product training were usually done face to face.

Definitely, with COVID-19 we had to embrace virtual learning methods (and quickly) - it wasn’t easy and it would not have been our first preference, but it actually worked out very well.

We leveraged the expertise of our training partners and managerial staff and that, combined with the enthusiasm of our team really drove the success.

Q How did your organisation go about moving to virtual learning? What were the key investments made for it to be possible?

Last year we set up our Company Training Committee (CTC) and identified the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS) as one of our early training partners - this paved the way for our move towards virtual learning.

The courses our retail staff completed during the Circuit Breaker were run by SIRS – they completed the Service Leadership and the Service Excellence modules conducted via Zoom, Google Classroom and Kahoot Quizzes.

Q Were there any challenges faced along the way?

Definitely - not everyone is comfortable using technology, and not everyone has online access or the appropriate devices at home.

Fortunately, our managerial staff and our L&D team were very actively involved and ready to assist. They even prepared step by step guides for certain processes which made the sessions a lot more efficient.

Q What was the employee feedback like?

It seemed a bit counter-intuitive conducting courses on face-to-face customer service virtually, but the feedback was fantastic - the concepts were practically reinforced, and the trainers were highly engaging.

Q Please share your three key takeaways from this experience. How will this help you approach similar projects in the future?

My three key takeaways are: 

  1. Buy-in is super important your team needs to share the company’s vision and understand their role in its deployment; our teams are on board (and excited) with our re-invention strategy and know they play a key part in making it a success - this maintains motivation and keeps people focused.
  2. Flexibility - things don’t always go according to plan but the ability to pivot and adapt quickly is key.
  3. This might sound like a cliche but especially post-COVID-19 I find this especially true - we are stronger together! We need to maintain contact and support each other, it’s the only way to succeed.

Q What is your long-term vision for the virtual learning courses prepared?

Now that we know virtual learning is possible, there’s so much more we can do; and much more efficiently.

As BHG continues our digital transformation, we will use virtual learning to help our staff stay ahead of the curve, and develop and maintain a flexible and open mindset.

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