It’s not hard to imagine the scenario: A pop star performs on an awards show, debuting a fabulous new makeup look. The next day, fans go in search of product recommendations and application techniques. They just might find it at Dillard’s.
In recent years, the retailer’s army of 6,000 beauty advisors spread across 29 states have been in constant learning mode, staying updated on cosmetics, skincare, fragrance and makeup. There’s formal training — but there’s also a constant flow of on-demand, bite-sized segments on trends, five-star service, product launches and promotions, in addition to the opportunity to create community through comments and learn from internal beauty influencers.
Best of all, it’s right there on their phones, accessible when and where they want it. The tool is called Learner Mobile — branded at Dillard’s as Beauty Institute Mobile — and Sheryl Porter, director of beauty education at Dillard’s, sees it as a convergence of YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, as well as a lot of fun.
“We’re always looking at ways to do things differently,” Porter says. “We saw a huge need in educating our team, and also knew that generationally, the sales team is changing. They’re younger, and they like to process information and receive information differently than traditional methods.”
Learner Mobile is not just a web-based formal training program optimized for mobile. Its informal learnings are available on desktop in addition to iOS and Android, but it is decidedly mobile-first. It uses artificial intelligence and algorithms to determine where the community is most engaged, and what is likely to engage them next.
Learner Mobile also provides ongoing analytics and reports that tie training back to key performance indicators. And there is no risk of an information breach in terms of metrics, as all information is internal, rather than shared on a social network. Learner Mobile — and BIM, by extension — is not crowdsourced, adding credibility.
That last bit is an important distinction, says Learner Mobile President Tim Harmon. If users are “spending their days in the retail space in Learner Mobile, just browsing and having fun, that’s not good,” he says. “As we know in retail, they need to be spending that time on the floor. We designed this application to allow people to get in, pinpoint what it is that they need to be productive and get out.” All the same, today’s training content must be marketed to those learners, engaging their interest rather than simply being directive.
SPEED + SCALABILITY + AFFORDABILITY
The relationship between Dillard’s and Learner Mobile goes back further than the introduction of the system. The companies have worked together for a decade; Dillard’s was the first company to sign on for Learner Mobile with parent company SVI, which also offers 36 Dollar 360 — a low-priced, easy-to-use 360-assessment system — and Quickfires, a low-priced, easy-to-teach library of off-the-shelf training courses for managers.
Those themes of “easy” and “low-priced” are by design. Harmon says the SVI leadership came up in the retail marketing space; based in Arkansas, its mere proximity to the multinational retailer also in the state deeply engrained the concepts of speed, scalability and low cost early on. The overall idea is to empower every single employee, and SVI has worked with a variety of complex organizations to make it happen, including Tyson, Walmart, Interstate Batteries, BSN Sports and AutoNation.
At Dillard’s, Porter admits there were questions at first about beauty advisors using their own devices — especially on the sales floor.
“But once people get on it, they see the value, and they understand it,” she says. When customers approach, they know not to be on their phones. That said, they can use devices and the app to fact check, which can assist with the customer experience, and also can take advantage of quick learnings in downtime. For her part, Porter finds the advanced technology of smartphones has made it easy and fast to shoot video and produce content.
“This really augments a lot of the things we’re already doing with our instructor-led training,” Porter says. “It helps us reach a wide broad audience. I can deploy information fast. And the way that it’s portrayed is very fun.”
The accessibility of the app means the content is consistently spread from “Missoula, Montana, to Macon, Georgia.” In the past, the experience and effectiveness of training might have depended more on availability and on the skills of the facilitator. Today, however, the graphic-heavy, eye-catching app includes images, short videos and content from vendor partners.
Porter also likes to include contributions from internal influencers who work with her on topics and scheduling. The platform also allows for special seasonal channels, such as one dedicated to holiday and another to Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
BUYING INTO THE MISSION
The target market for Learner Mobile is enterprise organizations. That doesn’t mean they have to be large and global, says CEO and founder Mike Thompson, but ideally there’s a field-based component. The goal is to empower, engage and value each employee, at every level.
These organizations, he says, will be looking for a “new, innovative, disruptive way of delivering content and training to their people,” but also will want to connect the learning and training aspect to strategic and measurable goals.
“Sometimes traditional training is completely disconnected from business results or business metrics,” he says. “We want to be very connected to the business metrics. When we work with our clients, we’re asking for that data. We want to understand, what is the activity within Learner Mobile, and how is that driving real business ROI?”
Porter wouldn’t share specifics about the return on ROI for Dillard’s but did say it was “significant. Even mild usage impacted the numbers.”
Thompson — inspired to empower and inspire others and make the most of life after losing a young child to congenital leukemia — says his company aims to be a global leader in next-generation learning management systems. SVI blends Thompson’s marketing acumen and Harmon’s software development background with the industrial engineering skills of COO Erin Marchese in a way he believes is unprecedented in the industry.
In the early days, bringing a new client onboard meant “they had to buy into our mission,” Thompson says. “They had to fall in love with us. And that can be heavy lifting sometimes.” With Learner Mobile, “they first see it as a smart decision.”
BSN Sports has seen adoption and activity go “sky high” through Learner Mobile, Thompson says, using it as a productivity tool for its salespeople. And AutoNation has expanded use of the system to go beyond training and content delivery to highlight communication of new initiatives and product information, Thompson says.
The system, then, is constantly learning — as are those who use it.
Fiona Soltes, a freelancer based near Nashville, Tenn., loves a good bargain almost as much as she loves a good story.