In our recent Jedi-inspired webinar, Skilljar’s VP of Marketing, Michael Freeman, hosted Greg Lea, Sr. Director, Curriculum Design, and Keith Craig, Director, Customer Experience Instructional Design, from RingCentral—a leading provider of cloud-based communication and collaboration products and services for businesses—to share customer training strategies for scaling businesses.
View the on-demand webinar or read the recap below.
Webinar attendees: If you didn’t get your questions answered during the webinar, scroll down to the bottom of this post for the full Q&A session!
How RingCentral Scaled Customer Education and Training
RingCentral started out as a small business in 1999 and within five years was an enterprise player in the global UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) market, experiencing 33% growth year over year. In 2013, the company completed its Initial Public Offering (IPO) appearing on the New York Stock Exchange. Today, with operations on five continents, RingCentral has more than 9,000 employees serving 400,000 businesses and more than four million users. Now, that’s a company that knows how to scale its operations.
But in order to navigate this hypergrowth, RingCentral also knew they had to scale customer training along with their business.
Greg Lea has been with the company for more than five years, building the customer education team from a staff of three to 60 as the products they supported grew from one to four. They created RingCentral University, powered by Skilljar, to offer self-service education for their customers, including live training, webinars, videos, and guides, for three products. With experience in building and growing learning organizations across a variety of industries, Keith Craig was brought on nearly two years ago to help rethink the structure of the training team so that the customer education program could scale and continue to be sustainable amidst further growth.
We all have that same challenge. We have to train our customers and we have to do it while keeping up with the growth of the company.-Greg Lea, Sr. Director, Curriculum Design, RingCentral
Four Strategies for Scaling Customer Education and Training
In this webinar, they shared their strategies for scaling customer education and training, with a focus on people and content. According to Greg and Keith, it all comes down to four simple concepts: organizational scale, leveraged resources, agile design, and speed to market.
Devise a thoughtful plan for organizational scale
Scalability means not only looking at tools, processes, and designs, but also team, department, and organization structures from the standpoint of: How can we scale this? How can we replicate this? How do we do it in an efficient way? How can we make it easy for others to do this as well? How can we adapt for similar but different situations?
Leverage people and resources
According to Keith, creating leverage means figuring out “how to use people with special skill sets to make it possible for people without those skill sets to do things that would normally require that skill set.” This might mean hiring someone with a “bonus skill”, recognizing an additional skill that someone on the team already has, or even creating a new role around a highly-talented individual with a unique set of skills.
Iterate using the theory of agile design
While different organizations have different approaches around agile design, Greg and Keith define it as working small and working quickly, in ways that are both collaborative and iterative. A key tenet of agile design is being willing to work in steps and improve as you go.
Consider speed to market
Considering speed to market means looking at how you’re doing things and asking questions such as: What are the steps that take the longest? Where do we run into bottlenecks? Can we be innovative about processes, tools, workflows or organization in order to move things quickly, all while maintaining quality?
New Hires Call for a New People Strategy
Next, Greg gave an example of how these factors come into play in terms of a “people strategy” by looking at the old way of doing things compared to how they do things now.
The old way of doing things involved hiring based on company growth. So as the company grew, the team of trainers and instructional designers grew. But when you’re experiencing the kind of growth RingCentral was, this eventually becomes unsustainable. Because as you add more people, you also have to add more managers to train and oversee them. Then there are hiring costs, equipment costs, and soon you are asking leadership for more funding to hire people, again.
We needed a new strategy. We decided to add people with unique skills and put tools and processes in place so that those people could increase their efficiency and their ability to scale.-Greg Lea, Sr. Director, Curriculum Design, RingCentral
For RingCentral, the new way of hiring looks something like this:
Suppose you have a learning and enablement team with instructional designers and trainers that support specific products, customers, or business functions. In order to scale customer education and training, you still need to hire more of these people, but you should look for bonus skills that could come along with them that can help you become more efficient.
In RingCentral’s case, these bonus skills include UX design, video production, language skills, and voiceover talent. It could also mean hiring product specialists at a lower cost whose job is to support the designers and trainers, but they don’t necessarily need instructional design or training experience as the product portfolio grows.
Instead of investing in turning all of our designers and trainers into subject matter experts, we can dial that back a little bit and leverage a product specialist who supports these roles.-Keith Craig, Director, Customer Experience Instructional Design, RingCentral
Part of this strategy also includes knowing what you have. You may have people on your existing team who have other skill sets you’re not leveraging. By identifying and seeking out these related skills, you’re adding catalysts to your existing skill set that can accelerate productivity and efficiency as you scale.
Lastly, a key part of the people strategy is to create high-leverage operational roles that give you some efficiency as you scale. These may be program manager roles within the learning and enablement team that are not tied to the typical stakeholder needs and deadlines in the same way that a live trainer or an instructional designer might be. Their primary responsibility is to support other roles and make it possible for others to be successful. These roles can provide leverage across one or a number of teams.
Some of the roles that serve this purpose at RingCentral are go-to-market, tool and template development, and globalization. The opportunity is to have a person in these roles that can help a whole team or the organization overall with a set of issues that may be cross-functional. Keep in mind, these roles may be filled with people from your existing organization when you uncover bonus skills. It does not necessarily mean adding new headcount.
We have to make people and content scalable. That’s a big challenge that’s in front of us.-Keith Craig, Director, Customer Experience Instructional Design, RingCentral
Making Content More Effective and Efficient
As for their new content strategy, Keith described it as “reuse and recycle.” Similar to their people strategy, it works better when it’s thought out in advance.
Keith explained: “Your content needs to be constructed with scale in mind. It needs to be templated so that it can be edited by anyone and released in phases. It helps to have the right tools in your toolkit that allow you to do easy, quick translations, agile releases, and that contain reusable assets that allow you to scale.”
As an example of this reusable content, Greg and Keith shared the process for customizing RingCentral’s welcome video for customers.
Welcome videos are designed to help build awareness and excitement leading up to a customer’s RingCentral product launch to its employees. Rather than having all customers use the same video, RingCentral is able to easily customize a video for each company so they can have something to get employees excited about the new communication software.
In the old way of doing things, customizing each video would typically require high-end video skills and at least a week of production time. So they developed a modular approach to video creation that can be customized depending on the customer’s needs. The customer logo can be placed in the intro and outro of the video, along with their launch date. Only the RingCentral products that the customer uses appear in the video.
While the individual product modules cannot be changed, customers can make the sophisticated video look like their own, high-end content offering. RingCentral video editors (roles that were leveraged to complement instructional design roles) are able to produce these videos in about 15 minutes. The resulting concept video allows RingCentral to have targeted stakeholder conversations, making each customer feel that they are receiving something unique.
RingCentral iterated the video design based on many internal conversations and prototype reviews. From a scalability standpoint, they didn’t create videos that required a video specialist. Instead, they leveraged the video expertise of existing hires to design the videos. Then they created agile development processes and an upskilling program for anyone that would be creating the videos. From a speed-to-market standpoint, they set aggressive goals for development times–four videos in an hour. Lastly, presentation kits were built to enable stakeholders to help customers through the intake process and show them how to promote the video asset.
Post-event Q&A session with RingCentral
Greg and Keith gave attendees a lot to think about when it comes to scaling customer education and training. Since we weren’t able to answer all of the questions you asked during the live event, we’ve captured the complete event Q&A here.
Q: At the beginning, did you train a single customer at a time, or multiple customers at the same time?
A: Both. We ran weekly free public webinars that were more generic and open to all. Customers also have paid options where they can have a private session.
Q: What product do you use to manage your video components?
A: We host our videos on Vimeo. We moved away from YouTube because it does not allow you to provide a persistent link, i.e. update a video and maintain the same link. Vimeo provided the best balance for us between cost and feature functionality. There are plenty of other well-regarded options out there, like Wistia and Vidyard, with a wide range of pricing.
Q: How do you maintain video production scalability as your product changes and videos quickly become outdated?
A: Your question rings true…painfully true…for us too. We learned the hard way and ended up with an unmanageable library of videos. Our first step to solving this problem was to be very selective for which topics become videos. Our stakeholders suggest video as the solution to most needs, though there are often more efficient media.
We have done three things to manage our video library:
- Educate stakeholders that, given frequent product updates, training videos should be thought of as “more disposable.” Then, find a balance between high-quality production and lower-quality rapid video production. In other words, a “disposable” video should still be high-quality, but you may sacrifice some of the bells and whistles.
- Negotiate with project stakeholders and find a balance between the number of videos they want and the number we produce. Typically, we will replace low-priority videos with job aids. So instead of creating 20 videos, we negotiate down to 5 videos and 15 job aids. We got plenty of pushback at first, but over time our stakeholders came to accept that strategy.
- Part of our content strategy was to develop video templates that allowed us to more easily make small updates and provide translation. We might record a trainer webinar style and then wrap it in an intro/outro that improves the overall aesthetic of the video. We also created templates that used text instead of voiceover, which speeds things up.
Q: At what point did you implement your LMS system?
A: We did it before we were really ready so that we would actually be ready when we needed it. We had been doing crazy amounts of instructor-led training (ILT) for about two years. We had internal discussions about scale and were able to sell the idea of an LMS even though we needed to grow into it. I know that can be a tough sell as executives will want to see a return on their investment immediately. We didn’t yet have enough content creators to properly fuel our LMS which made the need to rethink how we manage people and content even more important.
Q: How do you drive customers to your Skilljar instance?
A: Lots and lots of repeated outreach to customers and internal customer-facing teams. We’ve added links to RingCentral University in a variety of locations including our Support Site, our Apps, onboarding emails, and more. We also added RingCentral University as a topic in our Sales pitch decks and Implementation kickoff decks.
Q: Have you utilized streaming services like Streamyard for additional on-screen functionality, like for best practices or checklists?
A: We haven’t. Sounds interesting. I’d like to learn more about this.
Q: What training format did you start off with?
A: At the beginning it was instructional designers creating decks and instructors mostly doing virtual instructor led training (VILT). Thousands of hours of that.
Q: How many customers did you have when you were a team of three?
A: It was actually hundreds of thousands of users, so it wasn’t a small amount. But we were focused more on onboarding new customers. And in that case, we were doing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 to 200 customers a month by doing repeated back-to-back ILT training sessions. I’m not going to say it was the best way, and you can imagine why we soon discovered that was unsustainable.
Q: How often did you do things (think translations) internally vs outsourcing as part of your strategy?
A: We do both. We work with an outside translation agency and we have some partners that can do ILT in various languages. They can also do translation for us if we need it and so we try to provide different options. When we’re looking to scale training in another language, we write it in English and then work with our outside agencies to get that translated. And if we can do it in a way that is more scalable, as we talked about, then it’s a lot cheaper to do that because those agencies charge you for every, every word that they have to translate.
Q: I’m curious about if these changes in strategy led to layoffs for the existing team of 60, and if not how perceptions were managed for that team thinking that technology was being brought in to replace them.
A: There are challenges related to staffing and team challenges that relate to content and development for a business that’s still rapidly growing. So how can we look at things differently in order to identify or land on new approaches in the face of these challenges? We understand the challenges. We know that we need to rethink our approaches to people and rethink our approaches to content, but we don’t yet have a structure for that thinking. Without a structure, the possibilities are kind of endless. You could end up anywhere in the approaches. There are so many choices available. So we needed to structure our thinking in a way that we could count on a more specific type of result.
In terms of staffing, we decreased the need for more trainers and did not continue to add them at the rate of growth, but did not eliminate the need for trainers entirely. Those on the team were able to remain on the team but we reduced the need for additional headcount. We also created bespoke paid training and consulting options that appeal to our larger customers. This keeps trainers busy and actually creates a revenue stream.