NOTE: This conversation was originally recorded for The 80 Percent Podcast. The audio has been transcribed and edited for brevity and clarity.
From the start, 2020 was set to be a year of transformation for MOL Group – an integrated oil, gas and petrochemicals company based in Hungary. They were already in the process of reimagining their service station retail experience and introducing Fresh Corner, an upscale consumer services platform. This required considerable change within their business, including how they train and communicate with 15,000 frontline associates in 2000 service stations across Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
If this challenge sounds daunting, now consider that the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the middle of this project, sidelining their in-person training programs. MOL Group had to find a new way to engage their frontline on topics related to both the pandemic as well as their business transformation. They leveraged their partnership with Axonify to do just that.
Get the whole story behind MOL Group’s epic learning transformation.
To learn more about MOL Group’s amazing transformation story, I sat down with Mitja Kulcar, Global Training & Development Lead. Born in Slovenia and based in Budapest, Mitja is a lifelong retail professional with a passion for supporting the frontline workforce. Over the past 13 years, he’s progressed through every area of the retail operation, from store associate to regional sales manager and now global training. Mitja shared amazing insights into MOL Group’s award-winning approach to technology implementation and how they were able to successfully enable their geographically dispersed frontline workforce during the height of the pandemic.
JD: Can you talk about the business changes being made at MOL Group that prompted the need for a new training approach? How did these changes impact your frontline employees?
Mitja: We are transforming our consumer services business from a traditional fuel retailer to a more convenience retailer. The reason for that is that we recognize that purely fuel is not the future anymore. Therefore, in the few last years, we introduced a new retail concept, which is called Fresh Corner. There, we are focusing to serve people on the move with top quality coffee, fresh food, everyday groceries and other services.
We understood early on that, in order to truly transform our retail operation, we also needed to transform how we are supporting and enabling our frontline employees. In the past, service station employees were mainly helping customers to fuel their cars and working on a cash register. Today, when fuel is not our main product anymore, they’re also serving fresh coffee from a to-go machine or a barista machine and also preparing fresh sandwiches and hot dogs. So, their workplace drastically changed, but more importantly, there are so many new procedures and knowledge that they need to follow to be able to perform the job. This is how we started to consider using technology and also met with Axonify.
JD: What initial steps did you take to support your frontline through this business transformation?
Mitja: We started by deploying a global face-to-face training program that was delivered by our internal trainers. This program is very engaging and also interactive. But after two and a half years of delivering it, we also realized that there is so much [more] we needed to cover from the training perspective. And it was simply not feasible to follow the pace of our transformation with face-to-face training. This led to the question of how we can better communicate and engage with the frontline.
JD: What factors did you consider when looking for the right digital training solution?
Mitja: [We considered] how it will fit into their workflow so that we are not pulling them away from work, but rather coming to them with a solution. [We wanted] to make training fun and to change the perception that training is not something you must [do] but further want to do. And the other important aspect was how they will use it. The frontline workers don’t have working computers and they’re almost constantly on the move since they’re facing the customers.
Our only kind of solution back then was one back-office computer. So, we said, “Let’s try and offer the solution also on their mobile devices.” I’m happy that we did this decision because today actually 87% out of 15,000 employees are using it on their own device. That’s always with you in your pocket and if you need something for work, you just check it. You can always refer to the resources that are available on the application and also have some fun doing the work.
JD: Once you decided on Axonify, how did you initiate the rollout of the new training platform to over 15,000 employees across nine countries?
Mitja: We chose our smallest market: Slovenia, it has around 370 full time employees. And we tested the solution for three months. Adoption was quick. Everybody loved the solution. What was very important is that we were covering the topics that were really crucial for them. And they saw how that content also helped them at work and how they could perform better on the job. We decided to go for a global rollout to the rest of the 15,000 employees, and the plan started in January 2020.
JD: You’ve just decided to launch a new platform to your entire frontline workforce, and then a worldwide pandemic begins. How did this change your approach and the role of the solution in supporting your essential workers?
Mitja: First of all, we had to convince all the stakeholders that we should continue with the initial plan and roll it out because everybody is saying, “Well, we cannot implement a new technology during the pandemic.” And we said, “Well, then now is the time to implement it because we need this communication channel, the training channel with the frontline employees, considering the fact that we are very limited in traveling and also with face-to-face contact.” We engaged all of the stakeholders from the top executives to the frontline employees. For us, essentially, it was important to understand on one hand the needs of the business, and on the other hand, the needs of the frontline.
JD: You mentioned that you are seeing upwards of 90% engagement across your frontline. You were also recognized with the “Best International Learning Platform Implementation” award from Learning Technologies UK. What were the ultimate keys to your success in launching Axonify during this challenging time?
Mitja: The success of our implementation during the pandemic wouldn’t be possible without the team. It was the internal trainers who had a very important role, answering questions, helping people understand why we need this kind of training, how this will help us. They also changed how they do their work. Now mainly everybody switched to more of e-learning design and supporting the activities which we do through our platform. We’re designing the topics, preparing the communication activities, finding those areas of need. I’m really thankful for the team and for all of their hard work during this period, which was definitely more challenging than in normal circumstances.
JD: What advice would you give to companies looking to follow in your footsteps and implement right-fit technology to support their frontline teams?
Mitja: Understand what problems or challenges your business would like to solve. Do homework, engage with stakeholders and dig into challenges. Map out your use cases. In our example, we went a step forward and did services design research with deep dive interviews with the frontline employees to really understand their perspective and needs. Once you have the answers, it’s important to choose the right technology but to be aware that technology is only the enabler. Don’t only answer the needs of the organization, but also the needs of the people who use the technology and to perform better on the job.
You can read the whole story of how MOL Group fueled a fresh approach to customer experience with frontline-first training and communications over here.