The pool season is in high gear, and it’s more important than ever to provide top-notch customer service.
To make this happen, proper employee training is essential. With the right tools, you can implement a program that will foster a knowledgeable, productive and dependable team.
Here, experts provide tips for developing an effective regimen that will promote a positive work environment and please even your most discerning clients.
1. Compile the right training manual
When developing an employee manual, it’s important to provide sections on company policy, skills training, safety and operational procedures such as emergency action plans.
At the end of each section, include a checklist where the staff can sign to confirm they received the particular training. By doing so, the employee can’t claim ignorance if he or she fails to adhere to a particular policy or conduct a procedure properly. It also can protect the company if it faces any litigation.
“From a liability standpoint, it’s a great document to have,” says Alex Antoniou, director of Educational Programs at the National Swimming Pool Foundation, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Also, the staff can’t turn around and say, ‘That’s not what you told me to do.’”
Though there are no laws requiring a company to provide a training manual, there are laws that protect employees’ rights. So he cautions business operators against having their staffs sign anything without attorneys looking over the documents first.
“It’s worth having it reviewed because it becomes a legal document when the staff signs the document agreeing to the terms of employment,” he says.
2. Take note of your weaknesses
Training is an ever-evolving process, and the high season is the best time to assess it, Matt Gohlke says. He should know. The president of Gohlke Custom Pools in Denton, Texas, has been updating his program as needed for more than 10 years.
In addition to providing each person with an introductory training manual, he teaches lessons on more than 100 different subjects. As part of his regimen, the staff — regardless of tenure — attends mandatory weekly training sessions over the course of eight months and is tested at the end of each class. Additionally, employees are given handouts to add to their training books. Then, between May and August, they put what they’ve learned to use.
Even with a thorough program such as this, there’s always room for improvement.
“When we are busy, that’s when our weaknesses are exposed,” Gohlke notes.
He uses these moments to rethink his lesson plans by documenting the question or discrepancy. If time allows, he will create a weekly session to concentrate on the issue at hand and address it with the staff as soon as possible. Then, when he conducts an annual update during the off-season, he adds the new lesson to the manual.
“Taking the time to do it is difficult and painstaking, so it’s definitely an off-season project. But if you do a good job, it could be so rewarding,” he says.
3. Focus on daily tasks
Zeroing in on everyday, repetitive tasks — especially seasonal ones — can streamline the training process, says Howard Weiss, president of Contemporary Watercrafters Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md.
Each year, he hires up to 15 new employees, and having a system in place expedites their orientation."
“We try to systematize the repetitive as much as possible so it’s easier to train someone how to do a particular task and get the results we are expecting,” he says. “I know a lot of people are doing very haphazard training and don’t have a training process in place to bring new hires up to speed and make sure they all are getting the same information the way the company wants them to be trained.”
Weiss doesn’t necessarily frown upon having employees shadow others, but he doesn’t advocate it as a sole method for training because it can lead to problems in the future.
“They might pick up the same bad habits that you are trying to eliminate,” he says.
That would be the case with the handling of warranty work, which can be particularly tricky due to the variables involved. Each manufacturer has its own specific requirements, and the intricate details can be easily confused. Until last year, Weiss didn’t have a documentation of the steps involved. However, while training a new hire, he asked the recruit to create an official procedure. Today, the company has a reference guide that explains the job and identifies the form pertinent to the work order, which the employee can access on a computer.
“That cleaned up our warranty processes, and we are getting paid much better and faster and there are less problems with the manufacturers,” he says.
Another area of focus is the pool opening procedure. In the spring, Contemporary Watercrafters staff views a PowerPoint presentation to reacquaint the mechanics and inform the seasonal assistants of the overall process. In addition, each of the 15-plus company trucks is equipped with checklists covering things such as which products to stock on the truck for each season and what basic chemicals to have available.
Accepting bench work also is an area of concern for Weiss. To avoid mistakes, he has trained his employees to follow specific steps each time a customer requests a repair. This includes every detail, from filling out the proper intake form and assigning a tow-tag to the item, to where the product is stored and how the sale is released to the customer.
“When you do the same thing over and over again, you really need to have those consistencies because your customer starts expecting that,” he says.