Honda Canada maintains 275 Honda and Acura dealers across Canada employing 2,000 sales consultants. When a customer walks into a vehicle showroom, the company wants each sales person to understand every model inside and out-how it runs, its features, its selling points. Since models change frequently and the turnover rate for sales people in the automotive industry is high, achieving that goal requires continuous training. That used to be a big challenge; trainers criss-crossed the continent constantly and even then sometimes didn't get to a dealership until after a vehicle had launched. All that has changed. With HP Virtual Rooms, Honda Canada accelerates training, reduces costs and steers its sales people to success-all especially critical in today's economic environment.
"It used to take instructors four to six weeks to reach all the dealers. With HP Virtual Rooms, they can train 2,000 people in two weeks," says Steve Carter, Honda Canada manager of customer satisfaction and training. "That saves time and travel costs while ensuring sales people have up-to-date knowledge about products and sales messaging."
Feature-rich remote collaboration without travel
HP Virtual Rooms provide the benefits of live interaction without costly travel. Participants can attend training or meetings from anywhere in the world using a standard Internet connection. Online classrooms deliver live, interactive, instructor-led training-with slide import, application sharing, screen capture, annotations, web touring and interactive features such as audience surveys, text chatting and hand-raising. Microsoft® Outlook® integration eases scheduling.
Honda Canada uses HP Virtual Rooms as part of a blended approach. First step, it provides trainees with electronic background material such as product guides and workbooks. After that, virtual sessions using HP Virtual Rooms reinforce the messages with media-rich, live interaction. Finally, in-person classroom sessions including "ride-and-drive" outings, give sales people hands-on experience with new vehicles. Virtual training is the hub of this system, enabling efficient and effective use of the other modalities.
"Simple electronic delivery of information is a good start but it lacks the live, interactive, collaborative component. Classroom training with a hands-on component is important but it isn't necessarily timely or cost effective," Carter says. "Virtual training fits nicely between the two mediums, enabling an integrated program delivering the best training possible at the lowest cost."
Honda Canada started using HP Virtual Rooms five years ago. At first the sessions were small. Over time, more people started to attend. Now the company purchases preconfigured bundles of 10, 25 or 50 seats per class. Each dealership represents one seat and might have two, three or four sales consultants logged in to participate, magnifying the audience reached.
Because the HP Virtual Room is a SaaS (Software as a Service) it can be quickly deployed with no additional IT infrastructure and support investment. It is a fully hosted solution; customers have no servers or server software to buy, install or maintain. HP provides a highly reliable, secure infrastructure and free technical support as part of the purchase. HP Virtual Rooms include a backpack feature enabling customers to easily move and save content from repeatable events to save time and increase productivity.
Honda Canada's course material is created in both French and English by company instructional designers who load the course content into HP Virtual Rooms for use by the automotive firm's training facilitators. At first they used simple PowerPoint® tools, but today Honda Canada makes rich use of HP Virtual Room's many interactive features. Web touring enables facilitators to go live onto websites, without having to pre-build the website into the presentation. Text chatting and hand raising enable participants to ask questions without interrupting the facilitator. Slide import lets trainers highlight illustrative images. Audience surveys enable presenters to test participants' assimilation of material before advancing to the next module.
"HP has made numerous advancements to HP Virtual Rooms over the past couple of years," Carter says. "We take full advantage of them. People learn in different ways-some visually, others have to hear. The multimedia aspect of virtual training provides all the modalities, plus the chance to ask questions on the spot."
In the future, Honda Canada plans to use more video, he says. Streaming video presentations could show, for example, how all-wheel drive moves power from front to rear wheels. A webcam can allow a trainer to climb into a vehicle to show its features in action. One advantage of virtual training is that it allows far greater granularity of detail. "They're not only learning faster and better, they're learning in more depth. That's good for the sales people, the dealership and their customers."
Driving benefits to the bottom line
Carter jokes that the only change most people like is the kind that jingles in their pockets. It's no joke, though, that HP Virtual Rooms makes a bottom line difference. Sales consultants work on commission. They used to lose a day of earning potential to drive to a classroom training session, sit through the presentation, and then go out and drive. The dealership, meanwhile, had to cover for that salesperson's absence. Now, a virtual session takes just an hour and a half-no drive time, no gas consumption, no absent workers. What's more, the trainers themselves use their time more productively. Honda Canada employs three instructors. In the past, these trainers would travel six to eight weeks across the country communicating the overall product knowledge and preparing sales people nationwide for a vehicle launch. They still travel, but with the product information training handled virtually, a ride-and-drive curriculum allows a deeper hands-on demonstration of key technologies. Carter estimates that saves $20,000 in additional travel per launch in training salaries alone-and that doesn't count hotel bills or gas consumption.
Until now Honda Canada has concentrated on using HP Virtual Rooms for sales consultants. Carter looks forward to extending the resource to also train service managers, service advisors, parts managers and parts counter staff. Class size doesn't have to be large to add value, so trainings can occur more frequently. The cost-efficiency of the tool opens new opportunities to build dealership competencies in areas such as vehicle financing and service management. "We surveyed our sales managers across the country and their biggest advice was more virtual learning," Carter says.