Since 2003, conventional, classroom-based training has been part of the support that Sysmex America provides to its customers in the U.S. and Canada. Each product purchase includes a number of training slots, used by customers to send key staff to learn the skills needed to operate recently purchased high-tech equipment.
Organized in a classic “train-the-trainer” model, customers would submit student names for classes held at Sysmex’s training center, and the company would take it from there, including managing travel, accommodations, local transportation and meals. Classes were usually full, and customer and attendee evaluations were overwhelmingly positive.
But a challenge to that system – that by all measures needed no fixing – was building. For one, Sysmex sales were increasing, and so was the demand for training that came with each sale. In anticipation of those needs, in 2011, Sysmex began construction on a proof-of-concept, in-house, broadcast training studio. Limited smaller-scale video training began in 2013.
In 2014, Sysmex introduced four new hematology analyzers, each driving training needs that would exceed the capacity of the existing trainers and support staff, as well as classroom space. New trainers could not be hired and become proficient quickly enough, nor could additional classrooms be built and equipped in time to support the upcoming product launches.
Sysmex needed a different approach to deliver corporate learning to fulfill its customer commitments, and, fortunately, much of the leg work had already been done. Based on experience gained during the previous year, the Sysmex corporate learning team created a new model using virtual instructor-led training (VILT). It took the best of existing training, including instructor-led training, a combination of knowledge delivery and hands-on exercises, and the opportunity for real-time Q&A with expert instructors. It also embraced new technologies to make the experience as “classroom-like” as possible, including:
- Streaming high-definition live video online from new, state-of-the-art broadcast studios, equipped with the same instruments students were learning to use in their laboratories
- Adobe Connect
- An on-screen chat bar that allowed learners to ask questions
- Completion of online prerequisites to maximize training time with live instructors
Trust was the most critical pillar in bringing VILT to life, including from:
- Customers, who were unsure if this type of training would be just as effective as the traditional training they had grown accustomed to
- Trainers, who had to learn to be as comfortable speaking to a camera as they were to a classroom of students
- Sales staff, who needed to believe in this new approach and confidently convey that belief to customers
- Senior Sysmex executives, particularly those involved in approving the capital expense investment the program launch would require
Corporate learning staff knew their audience and acted accordingly. They approached the program as a pilot, keeping the investment smaller than a full-scale conversion. The team also knew that the biggest hurdle was for the different stakeholders to give VILT a chance. They were confident that if students tried it once, they’d become believers.
So, Sysmex gave its customers a choice and backed up VILT with a fail-safe, no-risk promise. When introducing VILT, Sysmex told customers that they could send a student to traditional training instead, or, if they participated in the VILT and didn’t develop the knowledge and proficiency needed, Sysmex would still provide and pay for a slot in a traditional training course.
When it was launched, the Sysmex corporate learning team hoped that 80 percent of customers would choose VILT over classroom sessions. The team never expected the 100-percent participation it has achieved during the two years since the program’s introduction. To this day, not a single customer has chosen classroom training when VILT was offered. In fact, 93 percent of attendees reported being satisfied or very satisfied with VILT, as shown in just a few of the many verbatim, free-form evaluation comments from trainees:
- “I learned a lot and didn’t have to go out of town.”
- “Very well organized. Also, I liked that we could do this right at our own facility.”
- “The best training I’ve ever had.”
What’s more, Sysmex’s VILT program has allowed the company to add new non-VILT advanced education classes, providing more in-depth learning through its existing traditional classroom capacity. Those courses are allowing customers to gain even more knowledge as well as greater benefits from their investment in Sysmex equipment.
Prior to VILT, training slots were capped and could only be used once per person. Today, an entire lab’s staff can attend VILT, and many are. They can also attend the same course more than once. The number of customers being trained annually has grown from 900 in 2013 to nearly 2,900 in 2017. Where traditional classrooms can accommodate eight students, virtual classes typically include 25 people. One session involved 62 students, a nearly eight-fold increase. Where a course was offered once per month previously, it is now offered every other week.
Sysmex has continued to respond to customer feedback through the transition to VILT, such as by developing a resource for IT departments so internet connections are as strong as possible and recommending a location for on-site training so students aren’t distracted.
Today the Sysmex studios are heavily used, and studio capacity is increasing three-fold. While product training has always been a competitive advantage for Sysmex, the adoption and expansion of VILT has taken that advantage to a greater level and helped separate the company from its peers. Sysmex customers are more knowledgeable, and extracting more value from their Sysmex equipment, as a result.
Attend Stephanie and Mike’s session at TICE 2018 this June to learn more about Sysmex America’s journey to VILT success.