selling up, selling down

Your Refrigerator Is Running

You better catch it if you want to be at the forefront of learning By Bob Mosher

Bob Mosher is a senior partner and chief learning evangelist for APPLY Synergies, a strategic consulting firm. He can be reached at


he other day my new refrigerator’s water filter needed to be changed. How did I know that? Not from the taste of the water and not from the color of the water but rather because my refrigerator told me so.

It knew when I purchased it and began using the filter. It knew how much water I had consumed over the past several months. It knows how long a good filter should last. So when the time came it flashed a warning light on the front of the water dispenser and gave me a six-day countdown to have it replaced. That warning grew more daunting as the final day approached.

So I’m ready to replace the filter for the first time. I open the door to see the make and model of my refrigerator prominently displayed on the inside frame, nicely embedded for the moment of need. My original intent was to take that information, Google the manufacturer’s website and research how to change the filters on this particular model.

But upon examining the label, I noticed a QR code alongside the model number. I took my smartphone from my back pocket, scanned the code and was taken directly to my specific refrigerator model on the product section of the manufacturer’s website. As I looked at the bottom of my phone display (with no scrolling involved), I saw a list of commonly asked questions. The first one is about how to change a water filter. I clicked the link and was taken to a page of directions with a video at the top explaining how to change the filter. Problem solved in less than five minutes.

I hope you see the connection to what we do for a living every day. This particular manufacturer is not in the L&D industry. They didn’t direct me to the user manual. They didn’t post an 800 number to call for assistance. They didn’t have a link on their home page directing me to their L&D team or their LMS.

They designed fundamental and powerful learning and support right into the experience. First, they anticipated my performance problem. They took steps to know my behavior, track it and begin preparing me in increasingly overt ways before the problem occurred.

Second, they embedded the support right into the workflow at my point of need. I didn’t need training. The resource fit perfectly both in location and context. Two clicks or 10 seconds is as long as my attention would last and that’s how quickly I was guided to my answer. Third, the technology to answer my question was perfectly matched to the context of the problem. It was literally in my back pocket.

And finally, they took me right to the appropriate resource, giving me two options but clearly recommending the one they felt was most helpful. That’s a powerful way of looking at learning and support.

We have to be brave enough to look at learning and support through a different lens.

I keep using learning and support in the same sentence because that’s the new range of offerings we need to build. In fact, if you build for support you do less training. My refrigerator manufacturer is highly motivated by the same things we in learning are:

  • Lower support costs. In our case, we want to lower help desk and post-training support costs.
  • Optimize support resources while reducing in-home visits. In L&D we want to decrease the overhead of expensive learning resources such as the classroom while optimizing their impact.
  • Increase customer satisfaction. We want to empower learners’ confidence in their ability to solve problems and own their professional development.
  • Increase customer loyalty and sell more products.In our case, we want to create better and more impactful learning products that those we serve will want to continue to buy.

We can do all these same things right now if we choose. If we’re brave enough to look at learning and support through a different lens. If we’ll risk enough to produce a different product in the first place. If we’ll have different conversations with those we serve. If we build different kinds of expertise and skill sets within our L&D team. If we invest in new and emerging tools to create learning and support experiences.

I have seen organizations of every size, from every industry begin to do this successfully. The time is now. Let’s not let a refrigerator manufacturer show us up.