April 18

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How to improve product knowledge in 7 days

By Ian Johnstone

April 18, 2020


Are you struggling with team members who just don’t remember their product training?

Do you find that after training some employees are performing better than others?

In this article, we will look at what influences an employee's memory and the 4 simple steps  you can use to to make your product knowledge training more memorable.  

How much do people remember?

In the late 1800s  German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus studied the memory and retention levels of several groups of people.  Based on his research he identified that people will retain most of their information immediately after a training/ learning sessions, however, they will start to lose as much as 80% of what they have been taught within 24 – 48 hours if they don't use it.    

From his studies he developed the concept of the forgetting curve, which shows how much people can forget over time. 

Forgetting Curve

Forgetting Curve

This is quite alarming because it means on average that only as little as 20% will be remembered.

But it gets more challenging because each employee will take away a different 20%.
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Helping employees remember

Generally, employees are more likely to remember information and training that they see as valuable and this includes information that: 

  • is relevant to them (e.g. their ID number or password to a computer)
  • helps them to do their job better, faster or easier (e.g. steps to writing a report or make a cup of coffee) 
  • has an emotional connection, these can be both positive and negative that make them either feel safe and happy or help them avoid uncomfortable situations.   
    • e.g. Positive - Products that they like to use 
    • e.g. Negative - Work-based tasks they find difficult to do or are unpleasant. 

The 4 steps to memory & retention

When giving your team any sort of training you need to do more than lecture at them or give them a book to read.  To help make your product knowledge training more effective, there are 4 easy to follow steps that you can use when delivering training. 

 They are: 

  1. Demonstrate the Relevance
  2. Repeat the essential information
  3. Reinforce the learning
  4. Review the impact
4 Steps To Better Memory Befor And After

4 Steps To Better Memory Before and After

It doesn't matter if training is formal (i.e. run in a classroom) or informal (as part of a team briefing) you can use each of these steps.

During the training 

 The first two steps are done during training.  Their goal is to help the employee to learn the essential knowledge.

Step 1 - Demonstrate the relevance

The first step is to discuss the relevance of what they are learning, you can do this by helping them see the importance to both them as an employee and the business.  

The employee - Identify the benefit to the employee, by answering the question 'What's In It For Me' (WIIFM) and how will their learning help make their job easier, more enjoyable or less stressful?

  • E.g. Menu knowledge training will help them to make appropriate suggestions and answer questions from customers will have about a new menu.  

The business - Identify the business case and benefit to the business, by  helping them understand why the training is required. 

  • E.g. Menu knowledge training will help to attract customers and increase revenue as new competition is opening in the area. 
Identifying the business case is important as it will help you to measure the success of the training.  

Step  2 - Repeat the essential information

Each employee learns differently based on their preferred learning style and existing experience and understanding of the product.  To make sure that everyone gets the right information you need to  repeat the essential information using two or three relevant methods to suit the employee's 5 senses. 

  1. Sight - Show products, tasting notes,  or product brochures,
  2. Hearing -  Have a discussion and a question and answer session, 
  3. Smell - Get employees to smell the product in raw and cooked/ finished forms
  4. Taste - Get employees to taste the products and similar or matching flavours.  
  5. Touch - Get employees to pick up the tools, equipment and products and use them.  

After the training 

The final 2 steps happen after training, to ensure the employees can retain and use the information at work. 

Step 3 - Reinforce the learning 

Each day following the training session it is essential  to refresh the employees knowledge of the topic and how they can apply it.    To do this, you can use a differnt 5 - 10 minutes activity each day before or during the employee's shift.  For example:  

  • Ask what 3 things they learned from the training 
  • Have a short quiz (5 - 10 questions) on the topic 
  • Ask 3 specific questions on the topic that are related to the workplace. 
  • Ask 3 things customers might want want to know about the product 
  • Ask how each employee is using or can use the information with customers 
  • Ask what alternative products could be used if the product is not available
Regular reinforcement of 5 - 10 minutes per day will help employees retain their learning. 

Step 4- Review the impact

The final step is to review what impact the training has had on the employee and the business.  

You can assess each employee by observing their interactions with customers and by asking them specific questions they should know about the product. 

Assessing the impact on the business is a little more challenging as it usually takes a longer period of time to compare sales and revenue figures over different periods.   However, after 7 days you should have a better idea if you are on the way to achieving the  business case you identified in step 1 Demonstrate the Relevance.   

Once you have reviewed the impact you can continue or make changes as required.  Check out the image below to see how the 4 steps work over 7 days 

Retention Curve

Retention Curve

  1. So there we have it, how to improve product knowledge in 7 days,  by using the 4 steps to increase memory and retention.  
  2. Demonstrate the Relevance
  3. Repeat the essential information
  4. Reinforce the learning
  5. Review the impact

What are your thoughts? Do you agree? or Do you have a different perspective? if so then leave your comments and feedback below. 

Ian Johnstone

About the author

Ian is a Sales & Service Coach & Trainer with a background in over 20 years of 5-star Hospitality and Customer Services within Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. He works with businesses to consistently achieve great results by designing and delivering interactive, engaging and memorable training programs, tailored to meet the needs of each business, their teams and their customers.

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