By  on August 6, 2007

Saks Fifth Avenue is looking to ensure shopper satisfaction via a training program for sales associates that blends instructor- and computer-based learning, with an emphasis on the importance of the "customer experience."

But the task of training over 9,000 sales associates and floor managers with the E-Learning program is daunting. "There is always a challenge with the number of employees and the amount of new hires being brought on board," said Jim Viola, senior vice president of organizational effectiveness at Saks.

"Time is always one of the biggest challenges in retail. We want to invest a lot of time into our people; we want to get them up to speed quickly; we want them out working the floor and in the classroom," he continued.

As a luxury retailer competing against Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, Saks has made it a priority to develop strong sales associates and managers, as well as provide them with the tools necessary to succeed.

Updated earlier this year, the E-Learning program utilizes interactive modules that teach trainees about product, how to use the point-of-sale system and how to develop the necessary relationship skills to interact with customers.

"The E-Learning program ensures not only consistency in the way each trainee is being taught, but also is a comfort [for the company] that these employees understand how to manage and operate the floors," Viola said.

The E-Learning program, which the company began using two years ago, has been nominated for many awards. Last year the program placed third globally for the Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning award, sponsored by e-learning firm Brandon Hall Research.

The retailer said training does not stop once employees hit the sales floor. Saks ensures its employees continue to learn and grow, and makes investments in training both up front with new hires and later, incrementally, during their employment.

"Service is one of the most important expectations as a luxury retailer. We are setting these expectations as soon as someone comes to work for us, and [we] make it easy for them to learn," Viola said. "We are winning because of it."

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