Employee Training Is Broken - You Can Blame Google or You Can Fix It

Google amnesia
  • Employee training has devolved because of the always-on Google or Siri solution to all inquiries.
  • Unless employees are learning and holding onto information, their brains are not challenged - they will continue performing at rudimentary levels for basic tasks, such as filling orders.
  • If the human brain isn’t stimulated and challenged to remember and connect information, it shuts off and soft skills, such as talking to other humans, begins to atrophy.
  • Employees who can’t talk to strangers leads to lower conversion rates and lower margins.

Imagine paying $500 a ticket to hear an opera, $5,000 for a luxury box at the big game, or $50,000 for a brain operation and they let just anyone perform the work. Instead of world-class athletes, the lead tenor, or a board-certified brain surgeon, it’s some random person who doesn’t have the training or developed skills to perform with excellence.

You’d walk out of the performance, your team would lose, or you’d die.

Yet many retailers do just that with new employees. Information alone isn’t what your shoppers are looking for - they want someone truly trained to create a meaningful connection with them.

Why is it we don’t see this in retail or other businesses? Because business used to be easier. 

Before the pandemic, maybe you didn’t convert more than a couple hundred visitors to your store from the thousands who entered your doors that day or week, but you could bank on just as many thousands the next day or week.

With a pandemic still on the loose and the real threat of shoppers increasingly moving online, that certainty is gone.

Google, Siri, Alexa - these are all wonderful technologies, but they cannot replace human connection, an experience so many of us crave while we maintain social distance and wear masks today.

In fact, these encyclopedic sources made a devastating impact on employee training because it just cannot be a simple Q&A with some technology. 

Even further: You have to make your crew your customer’s Siri, not give them more tools to access the web. 

Shoppers are more likely to become buyers not from their self-led use of technology, but human interactions that render that technology unnecessary.

The only way you can succeed is to get more out of those who are willing to go out of their way and visit your store. Even when we have herd immunity, converting lookers to buyers is more important than ever.

That starts with the right sales training for your employees. Want to increase your UPT? Better training. Need to show a new employee how to greet a complete stranger into a warm, inviting conversation? It’s all about the training. Looking to expand job opportunities for all? People who can do more are paid more because they are trained better.

The Science of Real Training

Simply exposing learners to new skills does little to actually affect behavior. Unless your brain is asked to access what it was exposed to, you will not be able to build the strong memory necessary to override weeks or years of unproductive behaviors.

Confucius said it best, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

The human brain has an unmatched capacity for learning just about anything. The process of training our minds to store relevant knowledge in memory and recalling it when needed is essential to our lives.1 Whether it’s a toddler learning to differentiate between a bird and a butterfly or an employee working to learn a skill at a new job, training our brains is essential.

Yet many business owners I talk with falsely believe training doesn’t work. “We tried training once - it just doesn’t work.” If that were true we’d never learn how to play an instrument, ride a bike, or play a sport. Real training changes behaviors - and deserves repeating.

Exposing a learner to content and calling it training doesn’t work. That’s why so many day-long sales training programs are doomed. The mind can only handle so much and unless it associates those lessons with an action, the time spent is worthless.

It’s time to change that…

There are two different types of learning: non-associative, and associative.

Non-associative learning occurs in response to a single stimulus without reinforcement. This is the kind of ‘training’ most people experience.

Associative learning links ideas and experiences to reinforce each other like using books and then exercises for the brain to make the learning stick.When training employees, this requires the accompaniment of role-play practice.

One of the most remarkable qualities of our brain is its malleability. Experiences, memories, and even thoughts change it. Learning physically changes the brain, too.3

But training requires memory to recall the information.

Successful learning depends on the emotional response the learner has towards the experience, and the learner’s motivation and attention while learning.2

Short-term memory involves remembering a customer’s email just enough to type it down into a tablet, and then forgetting it forever. Long-term memory is where we store our experiences, skills, and knowledge about the world.Unless we get the brain to physically change, most ‘training’ is never committed to long-term memory.

It requires focused attention, clear direction, interactions, and practice, specifically role playing with managers. Visualize a learning experience as your brain takes what is heard and places it into folders in the memory bank file cabinet of your memories. Unless you are asked a question about what is in the memory bank and the brain has to search to find it, open the folder, and re-deliver the information, that memory is lost.

That’s why in retracing our steps when we can’t find our car keys – we force the brain to recall the actions the body took. It makes our brain open the memory files and recall the answer. 

The Google Effect

Heavy reliance on the internet changes our learning and memory processes. As a 2011 study published in the journal Science suggests, the internet has become a form of “external” memory—we started storing our own knowledge outside of our heads. This is now known as the “Google effect” or “digital amnesia”.6

While information can be obtained within seconds through a quick thumb tap or click of a mouse, information that is learned is more easily remembered.

And here’s the kicker: we are more likely to remember where to find the needed information on the Internet than to remember the information itself.7*

Why is this a problem?

Because the unique ability to answer questions not found online or the ability to compare and contrast similar but more expensive items is your competitive advantage. Google can show features, Siri can tell you about what the price is online, but no technology can truly replicate the in-store connection with a highly trained salesperson.

As a culture we have moved from embracing training to avoiding it. Yet can you imagine a barista who formerly worked at “Joe’s Java” going to work at Starbucks and being allowed to make drinks on Day One? Of course not. Starbucks wants their employees to make Starbucks drinks the Starbucks way. With over 30,000 locations, they know that consistency is what people buy, whether they are in Athens, Greece or Athens, Georgia.

If all an employee can do is remember where the tablet is to check for the information, they add no value to the customer shopping experience.

Unless your associates train in bite-sized lessons and then practice what they have learned, you are merely exposing employees to your information which is likely to fade quickly.

Employees that learn in smaller chunks in a blended way with practice are found to achieve four times the improvement in applying what is learned to their workplace.11

Even better, it is estimated that taking a work-related course can yield learner’s wellbeing benefits parallel to about $2,000 of income annually.10

And the connection between employee experience and customer experience are largely symbiotic:13

  • Companies that invest in the experience of their employees are four times more profitable than those that don’t.
  • Companies that are remarkable at customer experience have 1.5 times more engaged employees.

If non-associative learning doesn’t work, what does it take to embed a memory and make training stick?

Glad you asked…

Associative learning gives the learner space for reflection about what they learned with the opportunity to practice and role play.


Is there value in reflecting on what is learned?

The ability of reflection to change our brains is described in The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull.14 Reflection, which refers to consciously looking at our experiences and knowledge, has been found to lead to significant performance improvement.

I developed my online retail sales training program SalesRX after doing day-long sales retreats for clients and realizing if the participants don’t have a sustained exposure to bite-sized elements of the lessons and a sustained effort to practice what they just learned, the learning just fades away. 

We can’t just expect learners to apply what they learn. That’s true on any job but particularly when we are talking about hourly employees. 

The stronger the memory, the longer period of time that a person is able to recall it.

Most training today is on tasks – here’s how to pick an order, here’s how to do a return in the system, here’s how to deliver curbside. Training is seen as something to complete – a checkbox on a long to-do list – rather than the compelling point of differentiation between your brand and a competitor.

Add to this so many retailers only hire people with previous experience. Without your understanding of their previous employers’ methods, you can be simply hiring someone as untrained as someone new to the workforce. It’s likely the person with previous experience is even a worse hire than the newbie because the newbie has no bad habits to break.

As a conductor I know the importance of training. You have a rehearsal and then spend the rest of the week practicing until the next lesson. Along the way are juries, auditions, and sectionals long before there is a performance. Players constantly repeat the things they’ll do in the performance in a safe environment where it’s OK to make mistakes. Yo-Yo Ma shared in a 2015 interview, “What all string players have in common is that if we don’t play for a while, we actually start from ground zero.” 

You either hit the note in concert or you don’t. And you don’t get a second chance. The stakes are high because retail is already roaring back to life and significant growth in 2021. What will set you apart from your competitors is remarkable sales training, not whether you can ask Google or Siri the right question.

In Sum

Even if people don’t have the skills when they come to work for you, you can train them. When you associate learning to create memories then employees can access information to compare and contrast and add on to every sale.

SalesRX gives you the best online retail sales training program with built-in role-playing situations to help your employees create a world-class shopping experience. Get started for only $195/month today.


  1. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/neurosciences-articles/learning-how-the-brain-learns
  2. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-brain-learns-in-unexpected-ways/
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S089662731200178X
  4. https://www.google.com/search?q=synapses+are+gray+matter&oq=synapses+are+gray+matter&aqs=chrome..69i57.5243j0j1&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  5. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Robert M. Sapolsky. 
  6. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/776.short
  7. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/therapy-matters/201107/the-google-effect
  8. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0399-z
  9. https://whatworkswellbeing.org/resources/wellbeing-benefits-of-job-related-learning/
  10. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/valuing-adult-learning-comparing-wellbeing-valuation-and-contingent-valuation
  11. https://emeraldworks.com/research-and-reports/workplace-learning/transforming-formal-learning
  12. https://emeraldworks.com/research-and-reports/workplace-learning/engaged-learners
  13. https://www.forbes.com/sites/blakemorgan/2018/02/23/the-un-ignorable-link-between-employee-experience-and-customer-experience/?sh=365ac54348dc
  14. https://emeraldworks.com/research-and-reports/behavioral-research/habits#downloadReportForm
  15. https://www.academia.edu/36742185/Learning_that_lasts_through_AGES
  16. https://www.tinyhabits.com/book
  17. https://www.wired.com/story/multitasking-problem-with-virtual-assistants/
  18. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mar.21192
  19. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0148296320305683
  20. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/new-study-suggests-handwriting-engages-the-brain-more-than-typing-1.5132542

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