BALLS USES CBT FOR CASHIERS' PRODUCE IDENTIFICATION PILOT

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A computer-based training-program pilot, designed to improve cashiers' produce identification skills, began in mid-May at Balls Food Stores here.The pilot program provides training for 45 of Balls' approximately 500 cashiers, focusing on 80 of the most hard-to-identify produce items the store carries. The cashiers -- a mix of recent hires and more experienced employees -- will

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A computer-based training-program pilot, designed to improve cashiers' produce identification skills, began in mid-May at Balls Food Stores here.

The pilot program provides training for 45 of Balls' approximately 500 cashiers, focusing on 80 of the most hard-to-identify produce items the store carries. The cashiers -- a mix of recent hires and more experienced employees -- will take the CBT sessions three times a week for two months, after which they will be tested on their produce-recognition skills.

"We strive to make our front end as customer-friendly as possible, and training is an important element of that effort," said Barbara Ramsour, director of information systems at Balls.

The training module includes video clips of the produce items, their names and price look-up codes. Called Apricots -- Advanced Produce Interactive Cashier Off-line Training System -- it also provides supplementary information about produce items as part of the education process.

Cashiers might learn, and be able to share with customers, "that grapefruit should be stored at room temperature, not in the refrigerator, or that cilantro is an herb that's used in Mexican cooking," said Ramsour.

"The system provides the information that a novice cashier needs, but is also interesting to the more tenured employee," she added. "It's geared to the entire cashier population."

Besides improving customer service, Balls also wanted to cut shrink from produce items. "Grocers literally can't measure the shrink walking out the door from misidentified produce," said Ramsour. "For example, we sell some varieties of mushrooms for 99 cents per pound, and other varieties for as high as $23 per pound."

She added that this was a particular problem for Balls because the store carries a large number of produce items. "Depending on the season, some of our stores carry 350 to 400 produce items," said Ramsour.

Balls conducted a "Produce Practical" in September 1996 to determine the most frequently misidentified items, testing a cross section of its cashiers to determine items most prone to error and shrink.

While this pilot trains cashiers off-line, Ramsour believes the program could become part of Balls' front-end systems. "I could see it expand to a self-training program at the checkstand. This could be something cashiers access during their down time, for a quick review," she said.

Apricots was developed as a joint venture with NCR's Human Interface Technology Center, Atlanta. NCR is based in Dayton, Ohio.