In this period of inflation, economic downturn, and drops in public valuations, training and education become more critical–not less. Why? Because everyone has to do more with less, and training helps you do just that.— Sandi Lin, CEO and Co-founder of Skilljar in her keynote presentation at Skilljar Connect 2022
I joined Skilljar seven months ago and have experienced firsthand the excitement brewing over Connect –Skilljar’s annual user conference–from my very first day! Now in its fifth year, Skilljar Connect 2022 was held at the Sheraton San Diego Marina and Hotel–not a bad way to spend three days getting to know our amazing customers and learning about best-in-class customer and partner education programs.
This year’s sold-out event hosted learning professionals representing companies from Asana to Zendesk.
As a Connect newbie, I was eager to take in as much as I could from these industry experts. From the panels and breakout sessions to roundtable discussions, there’s always an opportunity to learn something new at Connect (even at lunch!). One thing’s for sure about people who work in the training industry–they love to learn and they love to share what they know.
So rather than recap every session I attended, I thought I could give you a better sense of what it’s like to experience Connect by sharing a few things I learned–29 to be exact–in no particular order, including some important trends to watch courtesy of the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). Lastly, I was so inspired by some of our speakers, I thought I would let their words speak for themselves in the “Heard at Connect” section below.
29 Things I Learned at Skilljar Connect 2022
Skip ahead to a section of interest or read all 29 below! And be sure to check out Skilljar Academy to view our Connect 2022 keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions in the coming weeks!
1. Perfection in customer training is not a requirement. Neither is originality. It’s perfectly fine to repurpose existing content and even use your phone for images or videos. At Skilljar, we call this a crawl, walk, run approach and we encourage all of our customers not to wait to launch a program – start with what you have and then build from there.
2. Content development is a tradeoff between time, resources, and budget. Stacey Carillo, Program Manager, Education Services at Druva offered this amusing caution in the “Producing Great Content Quickly” breakout:
3. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have all of your strategy in place. Pick a starting point and continue to iterate on it from there with an eye toward agility so you can adapt as your business adapts.
4. Education is important to every part of the Customer Success lifecycle–from onboarding to adoption to time to value to scaling, and more. It was amazing to see companies like HPE that push beyond onboarding and use education to drive revenue.
5. The average Skilljar customer delivers about 2,000 training hours a month through our software. Not only is this an incredible self serve learning experience for product users, it is also massively efficient for internal teams to scale. 2,000 hours a month is probably a dozen CSM’s time!
6. 43% of companies consider Education Services an integral part of a formalized and documented customer success strategy, according to the 2022 TSIA Education Services Benchmark Survey. Ensure customer education sits at the center of customer experience/customer success. Skilljar customers like Gong and LinkedIn have education teams that report to Customer Success because they understand how training impacts the customer experience in terms of adoption, retention, and time to value.
7. In-product support reduces call volume into the support team for “how to” type questions, which comprise more than 30% of calls, according to the TSIA.
8. Before you begin planning your education program, establish your goals and your audience(s). Keep the end user in mind as you create different content to fit their needs along the customer journey. Meet your end user where they are in their journey so you can deliver the right content at the right time.
9. Put and keep your head in the mind of the user. Topic flow is really important for mitigating “analysis paralysis.” Have a clear, suggested flow of learning topics, rather than leave users to skip around trying to find what they need. This will improve the learning process from the perspective of someone who is new to all topics.
10. During the “Scaling Success Through Customer Education” breakout, Circle CI’s Aaron Becker taught us about a “dodecagon,” a 12-sided polygon, used in comparison to a triangle, to express that, “It takes many sources of data to make well-informed choices when it comes to what kind of training your customers need.”
At Skilljar, we’re all about learning new things…and new shapes.
11. Don’t be afraid to use humor to punctuate or accentuate a point to help make it memorable. (See dodecagon example above.)
12. Having a separate content authoring tool allows you to be more agile with your certification program; this is particularly helpful if you have a different LMS for employees vs. customers.
13. Having industry benchmarks is great, but creating your own trained customer benchmarks for your user base is even better! Connect attendees were treated to a preview of Skilljar’s new Group Analytics feature (now available to Skilljar customers) that allows you to create benchmarks to compare customers, product segments, or other types of groups so you can identify which ones are the gold standard and which ones need attention.
14. As far as ROI, customer education is one of your biggest levers for both revenue and productivity. Find out which is truly aligned with your executives and organization and invest in the business case accordingly.
15. Businesses with strong Customer Education programs help drive higher adoption, usage, and ultimately improve net revenue retention, which is a key metric for SaaS companies, according to Gainsight CEO, Nick Mehta. Certified Gainsight admins have a meaningfully higher NPS (78%) versus those with no admin certification (36%).
16. To be truly successful, training needs to tie back to business value – what does NRR look like for customers who used education programs versus those who didn’t? If you can’t answer this question, be prepared to be squeezed on your investment.
17, Metrics to gauge education program success include NPS impact, number of Certified individuals, and how external audiences move from Prospect to Sales Qualified Leads (SQLs).
18. Three customer education metrics that communicate the value of your program to stakeholders are adoption, retention, and customer health. For those that choose to monetize their education programs, revenue is also a key metric.
19. The top trends for education in the next few years include:
- Training will continue to become more personalized, combining in-app experiences that are contextual with jobs and aligned with industry best practices.
- AI will help us better understand and predict our learners’ next steps or needs, thus making it easier to make recommendations and keep students on the path they need to be successful.
- Education will help to build more diversity in the tech space and in our customer portfolios (particularly if we can offer free programs for people looking for jobs at customer companies) and also helps us level the playing field for those applying to join companies (particularly if they can get certified). As an example, Gainsight’s Pulse Impact program is on a mission to provide education to underrepresented groups to break into tech.
20. TSIA’s Maria Manning Chapman offered four “non-trendy” trends in her keynote, “Trends in Education Services”:
- Use in-app (or in-product) performance support to help learners at the moment of need through direct contextualized guidance, helping to accelerate first time to value and to foster initial product usage. But remember, in-app guidance is not the same thing as training.
- Bundling training content with product purchase is an effective way to get training to customers and help them acquire more in-depth product knowledge and skills.This can be fee-based or non fee-based.
- Promote continuous content consumption by selling learning subscriptions and by aligning content and offers with a product adoption curve. (While 60% of education organizations have a learning subscription offer, the majority of training sold is “one and done.”)
- Content/offer development needs to shift from a product focus to a product adoption curve focus that moves from Awareness to Application to Proficiency to Optimization.
21. Customer education can be a strategic part of all company initiatives. Education metrics should be tracked and tied to overall business outcomes so that everyone on the Customer Education team knows exactly how their work is impacting the business and the role they play in its success.
22. Your best internal advocates for getting program buy-in are Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Support, and Professional Services. By working as a service provider to these larger programs you are seen as a valuable tool looking to positively impact larger programs. You have to bring everyone in the company you collaborate with along the journey for long-term success.
23. Repurpose all of your great training content into other channels like employee onboarding or thought leadership for marketing. And don’t forget the pre-sales process, training content has a place there as well.
24. Having the Skilljar project plan is great for implementation, but it’s also helpful to create your own project plan (see this example) tailored to the various internal stakeholders for your project, each of whom has different deliverables.
25. 84% of investors and 82% of CEOs plan to maintain or grow Customer Success despite the economic downturn, according to Gainsight.
26. More than half of customer churn is related to poor onboarding and poor customer service, and most renewal decisions are made in the first 90 days. (From the book Onboarding Matters by Donna Weber)
27. Trained customers are 73% more likely to renew (versus untrained customers), according to research from Tableau.
28. The “big three” business outcomes to track for customer education are:*
- Improved Product Onboarding
- Improved Product Adoption
- Improved Customer Retention
*Each of these ranked above 75% for seeing direct or some correlation to positive impact in Skilljar’s 2022 Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report.
29. The adoption rate, retention rate, and Net Promoter Score (NPS) of customers who regularly use Qualtrics’ Basecamp training is significantly higher than those who do not.
Heard at Connect:
Here are some of my favorite quotes from our Connect keynotes, panels, and breakout sessions this year:
- “Now, more than ever, is the time to drive better business outcomes through learning.”
– Sandi Lin, CEO and Co-founder, Skilljar
- “Our core motivation (at Gainsight) was the idea that we are human beings first, and business people second. We are human beings first, and customers second. We are human beings first and CEOs second. We sometimes miss the fact that all of these companies exist to serve human beings.”– Nick Mehta, CEO, Gainsight
- “In regard to planning great customer education training content: “This is not a time to be humble.”– Stacey Carillo, Program Manager, Education Services, Druva
- “Training can be a blocker to time to value for the customer if the program is not built in a scalable way.”– Heidi Feurig, Director of Customer Education, Zywave
- “I tell my team that I never want to continue doing something a certain way because it’s the way we’ve always done it. I want to embrace change and put the client first, whether that client is an employee of our organization or a customer of our business.”– Collin Bensinger, Director of Services, MRI Software
- “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Having a culture of continuous improvement over time and meeting each business where they are has helped me earn their trust even in times of upheaval.” – Courtney Miller, Director of Enterprise Learning, TogetherWork
- “In short, education and training increase brand loyalty and stickiness, which is incredibly important.”– Chris Beck, Director of Customer Education, PlanetLabs, PBC
- “Your relationships across the business are the most important element of your customer education program – product, customer-facing teams, technical teams, sales, etc. If you don’t have those relationships in place, I recommend spending a lot of your time on that. It will prove to be invaluable in the end.”– Andrea Zwaschka, Head of Customer Enablement, Cisco Security
- “The best way to see training is as an opportunity to manage and deliver on customer onboarding expectations by creating a delightful experience – first impressions matter over time and create loyalty, renewals, and referrals.” – Suzanne Ferry, Head of Digital Learning, Hewlett Packard Enterprise HPE
- “You can’t drive product adoption if you can’t get training into the hands of customers.”– Maria Manning-Chapman, Distinguished Vice President, Education Services Research, TSIA
- “If your marketing, product, and documentation are not localized – why is your training?”– Randon Ruggles, Director, Customer Education, Jamf
- “Experience Management is to Customer Experience as Customer Relationship Management is to Sales. It’s your SYSTEM of RECORD.”– Troy Coady, Head of Global Live Training, Qualtrics
- “Trained customers are our happiest, healthiest customers.”– Carla Bagdonas, Customer Education Program Lead, Asana
- “Obviously, you need an LMS.”– Aaron Becker, Technical Content and Training Manager, Circle CI
One more thing I learned at Connect 2022–the value of community. Since the pandemic, we’ve all gotten used to working in siloes. And while the Marketing team at Skilljar is super connected through Slack and virtual meetings, and we worked as a true team from all across the country to create this event, some Customer Education teams are only a team of one! All the more reason for Skilljar customers to use us as a way to stay connected through our webinars, virtual coffee chats (for Skilljar customers only), social channels, and relationships with your CSMs. We are here for you.
See you at Connect 2023!