Best ROI in Online Training Case? Return Business

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 30, 2009
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Farmacias del Ahorro is a Mexican pharmaceutical company that makes generic drugs and markets them throughout its chains of pharmacies across Mexico. Since opening in 1991, it has grown to 653 pharmacies across the country with 170 franchises and 9,940 employees.

“Their vision was to be the best pharmacy chain nationwide and, in the short term, to have 1,000 branches [by the time they reached] their 20th anniversary,” said Juan Pablo Ventosa, president of Epise, a human resources consultancy based in Barcelona, Spain, that worked with the chain. “They also wanted a more efficient operation aided by cutting-edge technology,” he added during a session at the American Society for Training & Development’s International Conference & Exposition held in spring 2009 in Washington, D.C.

“The challenge was to improve the sales of their self-brand products,” Ventosa said. Employees were given incentives to promote the store brands over other brands, and for that they needed training. They would “see if e-learning works and prove e-learning efficacy,” Ventosa said.

Put the Tools in Place

Implementing e-learningas a strategy to efficiently meet training needs and get a higher return on investment while improving employees’ knowledge of the product and sales was among the company’s goals. They wanted to improve communication, customer service and leadership among the people responsible for business operations—including the pharmacy managers and pharmacy staff.

“We trained … thousands of people,” Ventosa said. The project had several elements, including online design and the management of 10 tailor-made e-learning courses—courses on everything from data sheets, sales techniques, online design and management knowledge to 360-degree analysis on sales competencies and web-based skills training programs.

Helping them achieve this goal was not an easy task for Epise—especially since the stores did not initially possess computers or phones.

“Until we started with e-learning strategies, there were no PCs in the stores,” he said. “They had one telephone in every store and it only allowed calls to headquarters.”

The pharmacy “spent $800,000 or 12 million pesos to connect [the] Internet in every store,” Ventosa said. “We had to create a thousand e-mail addresses through Gmail for every employee.” Then Epise had to tutor people on how to use the computers.

Despite not having an infrastructure in place for e-learning, the pharmacy turned to that instructional method for a number of reasons.

“Until 2007, the pharmacies’ training was 100 percent trainer-led, but several factors hindered the path to a continued satisfactory response with this training strategy,” Ventosa said. “The expansion of the company increased the level of geographic distribution of employees; turnover was high, and the demand for training was growing.”

Three months after online training and engaging in a series of tests and evaluations, Epise “went to22 branches in an online survey to see how much of the training was applied. Eighty-five percent of the participants considered 50 to 100 percent of the course content applicable.” He added that during the course of Epise’s analysis, they discovered that 95 percent of participants felt enough self-assurance after the course’s completion to meet the pharmacy’s objective, which was to be confident enough to promote and sell the pharmacy’s brands of drugs. He noted the pharmacy saw a decrease in turnover.

He said they used a trends analysis which showed “that people who took the course exceeded the growth line after three months, which is an appropriate time period for knowledge transfer to a job.”

Overall, Ventosa said "the best indicator [of ROI] for me is the fact that currently we are still working with the client. It means that the client knows when you provide him or her added value, and he or she will call you back whenever they have a problem.”

Aliah D. Wright is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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