A Customer-First Approach to Professional Certifications [Webinar Recap]

A Customer-First Approach to Professional Certifications [Webinar Recap]

Jami Kelmenson
November 1, 2022
Customer Spotlight
Webinars & Events

In our recent webinar, Skilljar’s Director of Demand Generation, Carolyn Bradley, hosted a conversation with Bluebeam’s Lead Learning Experience Designer, Aily Roper, to learn about their customer education team’s journey launching their first certification program.

Bluebeam is a software solution for architects, engineers, and contractors that helps them communicate, collaborate, and manage projects more efficiently. They launched a subscription training offering through Bluebeam University that gives users access to more products and services across different plans.

Bluebeam University, powered by Skilljar

In planning for the University launch, they wanted to develop new ways to make users feel more connected to their software. This led to the development of the Bluebeam Certified Professional exam. According to Aily, “You don’t have to have a huge team to get a certification program up to speed.” In this webinar, she shared how they did it.

Bluebeam Certified Professional Exam
Skilljar was absolutely integral in our certification journey. From navigating the exam development, integrating with our platforms, and working through any problems we had, they were always on it. Skilljar is the easiest and best investment we’ve made on our team; they were our rock during this process.— Aily Roper

View the on-demand webinar or read the recap below.

Defining a customer-first certification

What is customer-first certification?

Customer-first means that the organization puts the customer at the center of organizational decision-making instead of organizing around products. This means seeking ways to consistently and proactively deliver a positive customer experience by designing and delivering with the customer in mind. (Aily credited Skilljar as being a customer-first company by constantly updating our platform based on user feedback, making customers feel heard, and creating solutions for real problems.)

Skilljar has a stellar customer success team that always makes us feel like they’re on our side, rooting for our success and working with us to ensure our program success.— Aily Roper

Exam development

Aily’s team incorporated a number of thoughtful measures during the research phase before building their certification exam.

  • Review what your competitors are doing.
  • Learn best practices from the broader SaaS certification landscape.
  • Have your team take as many certifications as you can and identify what you like and don’t like about them.
  • Review customer feedback on other certification exams.

From this research, they discovered the following exam pain points:

  • Multiple choice or true/false questions failed to keep them engaged during exams.
  • Proctoring (monitoring students as they take online exams) didn’t allow them to comfortably take exams. They found it inhibiting.
  • Some certifications were too easy. They were able to get certified for a product just by guessing on certain exams. They didn’t feel that the certifications they earned meant anything.
  • Much of the customer experience, both pre- and post-exam was confusing. There was information spread out among multiple pages and navigation was unclear.
  • They weren’t sure where to find communities of others who had taken an exam and shared their accomplishments.

Once they identified these pain points, the next step was to turn these into goals for their program. Aily’s team used a customer-first framework to define their goals for their certification program.

Goals for Bluebeam's certification program exam

Aily’s team wanted to:

  • Engage customers during the exam with exciting question types.
  • Find alternatives to proctoring.
  • Land on a difficulty level that felt appropriate for a high-stakes examination.
  • Have an intensified focus on the user experience and the user interface.
  • Have a monetization strategy that made their exam feel worthy of their customers’ time.
  • Encourage a community of sharing and conversation among loyal customers who passed the exam by giving them a way to showcase their accomplishment.

On this last point, Bluebeam created a shareable digital badge that they felt truly represented expertise with their product.

Badge for Bluebeam's Certification Program
The Bluebeam Certification Program digital badge, designed by our creative team, offers a fresh visual of our brand for our customers to interact with and strive for.— Aily Roper

Users who demonstrate essential product skills are rewarded with this badge they can proudly display on their LinkedIn profile and in email signatures.

Develop your exam with your customers top of mind

Aily suggests the first thing to do to engage customers is create exciting question types! Bluebeam uses Questionmark online assessment tools to create exciting exams that aren’t just text-based, but offer more visually enticing options like “hotspot” questions (placing a single graphical marker on an image to indicate your answer), drag and drop, knowledge matrixes, and images that accompany text. It was important to Bluebeam to vary the question types to promote user engagement.

Example of varying question types for professional certification exams

Here are some tips from Aily on how to make questions more challenging:

How to make questions for certification exams more challenging

When Bluebeam released Version 2 of their certification exam, 100% of respondents agreed with this statement:

“I like the interactivity and the visual question types on the exam.”

Aily’s team decided that proctoring was not necessary for their strategy. But they wanted a secure alternative that was easy to access, scalable, quick, and not expensive.

They set a maximum number of attempts to answer a question at three. Having three rotating questions per exam objective worked to lock down security without proctoring. They also made sure all of their questions were testing and validating real skills, and that they were challenging – no freebies!

Delivering an extraordinary customer experience

Aily’s team considered the user experience of taking the exam, but also the pre- and post-exam experience and the appearance and impression of the exam.

Examples of a bad user experience in a learning environment might be: information that’s spread across multiple pages, having to log in or register multiple times, a confusing customer flow, lack of attention to design, failed usability or accessibility, and unnecessary complexity.

Aily’s team wanted to streamline their information and access to information to get to the core of solving a lot of bad UX design. With that focus, some things they considered were:

Improve the user experience for professional certification exams
Attention to detail really helped us avoid big mistakes for the UX of our certification program.— Aily Roper

Aily’s tips for ensuring a positive user experience include:

  • Pay close attention to how many clicks it takes a user to access the exam from the University homepage. You want to streamline the path to purchase so there is no confusion over where to go next.
  • Make sure all relevant information is accessible from one landing page. Have that exist as the hub for certification information.
  • Elevate the design of the certification landing page in line with the rest of the University and the company branding.
  • Lock up your ideal exam interface. You will likely be working with a front-end engineer or professional services team at your exam platform. They need to create a template for your exam, so prepare a mockup for them including media specifications, if possible. Be as clear as possible about branding requirements.

Bluebeam had an in-house animator create a fun, engaging one-minute introduction to their exam to add a bit of spice and legitimacy when users first encounter the certification landing page.

Video to engage users in Bluebeam's professional certificaiotn
Skilljar inspired us to pay attention to and prioritize the user experience and interface. This is something Skilljar does so well, both within their own platform and within in their professional services team, who works to continually perfect our platform. This is one of the biggest reasons why we love working with Skilljar – their commitment to delivering this extraordinary experience.— Aily Roper

Pricing Certification Exams

With a great user experience and interface, it was time to put a price on the exam. Because they wanted to elevate this exam experience, Bluebeam decided that their pricing should be reflective of other high-stakes certifications on the market. So they set their price on the higher side of midpoint for similar experiences.

We used monetization as a strategy for adding value to the certification experience. We wanted to make the user feel like they earned the certifications by knowing the material and we wanted employers to take it seriously when they see the price tag, understanding that it provides real value to their employees.— Aily Roper

Fostering a Community

It was important for Bluebeam to make sure that their customer community felt connected to the badge and saw certification as something to strive for. They created a community around their badge by announcing their certification launch at their annual user conference, XCON, to create and promote an ethos of excellence and knowledge.

Marketing Bluebeam's professional certification exam at their annual user conference, XCON

They released the pilot version of the exam two weeks prior to the event. This was a great opportunity to focus on growth, so they offered a free, live session so users could take the exam at the event.

For customers who couldn’t make the live session at XCON, they offered a signup station where they could collect emails and send interested customers an access code after the conference. This resulted in a 50% engagement rate for the home app exam.

Launch results for Bluebeam's Certification Program Exam

Aily’s tips for marketing your exam include:

  • Look for customer-facing opportunities. This can be a user group or simply getting buy-in from customer success and account managers internally.
  • Target your influencers. You know who uses your product the most and talks about it online.
  • Run a contest or a trivia game. Bluebeam ran an internal contest to get more internal buy-in and have Bluebeam employees share their badges on Linkedin and in their email signatures.
  • Include the certification news in internal blogs or newsletters, or even try to get an external blog written about it. (Skilljar would love to hear about your experiences with your certification program to post on our blog!)
  • Use LinkedIn to “spy” on users and find out what they’re saying about their badge and the experience. This is a great way to get feedback from real customers who are interacting with your product, the badge, and the certification exam.

Creating an exciting exam with a great customer experience naturally led to a lot of conversation around it, and helped to build a community of users that are proud to share their badges online.

Badge sharing results for Bluebeam's professional certification exam
Our metrics and our feedback have all pointed towards Bluebeam certification as being a valuable exam for our customers. Creating an exam with this sort of legitimacy does not require a huge marketing budget; we were not only able to launch this exam with a great customer experience, but also build a community that was engaging with the certification post exam.— Aily Roper

Lessons Learned/What’s Next

Aily shared a few lessons learned from her experience implementing Bluebeam’s first certification program, as well as a glimpse into what’s next for their program.

Lessons Learned from Bluebeam's professional certification program

Aily and her team are working to perfect their platform. They constantly review feedback and metrics, and plan to update their certification exam on a regular basis. They are looking to scale to 5,000 certified Bluebeam users by the end of 2023 and add additional levels of certification.

Every Customer Education team has different goals for their department and a different relationship within their company. But we can all agree that certifications are, and will continue to be, huge for the future of customer education.— Aily Roper

Post-event Q&A session with Bluebeam

Aily’s candid discussion of her company’s journey to certification gave attendees a lot to think about in regard to building and expanding their own programs. Since we weren’t able to answer all of the questions asked during the live event, we’ve captured the complete event Q&A here.

How do you monetize your certification exam?

We created the pricing thoughtfully through industry comparisons. Most SaaS certifications in our industry tend to have similar price points. If your certification program has a great customer experience and truly validates skill with a badge to showcase, you will find loyal customers who are willing to pay for it. Be sure to consider the costs you incurred to create the certification (ie. software, human resources) and consider a price point that doesn’t undervalue what you are offering.

You’ve talked a lot about integrations like Questionmark. I’m curious if you can speak a bit to the other integrations your team uses to round out Skilljar’s functionality?

We heavily rely on Skilljar to deploy our courses, learning paths, and now our certification program. In addition to Skilljar, we use Questionmark as our exam platform and Credly as our digital badging platform. We also use Articulate 360 to include click-throughs and knowledge checks in our courses.

Our team is also responsible for managing the in-app guides in our software, and to do that we use Pendo. Pendo is wonderful with analytics, and is a very flexible tool for onboarding your users quickly without having to take an entire course to learn the basics.

What system do you use for certification analytics?

We rely on Questionmark’s robust analytics to get data on our certification exams. We mostly use it to look closely at pass/fail metrics and p-values (statistical probability metrics) to keep our exam up to date. We also rely on Credly’s analytics to see our badge share rate, click rate, and acceptance rate. And lastly, we use Skilljar analytics to understand exam completion rate, and pass/fail metrics on a user-by-user basis.

Do you have an expiration for certification? How do you ensure people stay up to date as your product evolves? How do you handle versioning of the certification?

Our certification currently expires in three years, at which point users must recertify by taking the exam and passing again to keep their badge. We are planning on doing a quarterly audit of the exam and swapping out any questions that are no longer relevant to the software and addressing any features/UI that have changed. We aren’t requiring users to retake the exam with each update, but users can stay up to date by seeing “What’s new?” in our Feature Training Videos. Versioning for the certification exam is done through Questionmark – their backend keeps track of every version of any question that is updated.

How do you manage re-attempts of the exam? What if users fail the exam? What is your course of action – waiting period before a retake, discounted next exam, etc.?

Currently, we have unlimited attempts on the exam. If users fail, they can retake the exam immediately, for no extra cost. We are currently looking into limiting attempts to a maximum of three with 24 hours between attempts for extra security. The plan is to require users to take a course prerequisite if they fail their third attempt, if they want to retake the exam for a fourth time.

Could you share how you’re working with the Skilljar lessons to tie into the Questionmark exam? Is the exam standalone or are there accompanying lessons prior to the exam? Do you require a user to complete all supporting modules or can they complete only the exam if they are already an experienced user? What pre-work is needed (and provided via the training center) in order to be able to pass the exam?

Our exam is embedded into Skilljar as a SCORM lesson. Questionmark exams are exported as a SCORM package that talks back and forth with Skilljar to pass information on results. The exam is accompanied by five text lessons prior to the exam: a welcome page, the exam code of conduct, how to use each question type, what to expect from the exam, and what to do after the exam. We have no required prerequisites for this exam, and experienced users have been able to jump into the exam and get certified quickly.

However, if users don’t feel confident about passing the exam after looking at the exam objectives, we offer a free 90-minute course on the essential features of our software. This course covers every exam objective, and we are also currently working on a study guide and practice exam to add to the list of resources.

Does Skilljar integrate with Salesforce (SFDC)?

Skilljar offers a Salesforce integration to pass training data into your instance of Salesforce. There are two versions of the Skilljar app available. One is a Salesforce Classic app that works in Salesforce Classic and Lightning and the second version is a Lightning app only. In order to take full advantage of Skilljar in SFDC Lightning, install the Lightning app.

Common Salesforce use cases include:

  • Viewing training registration and completion data with other SFDC data
  • Building consolidated SFDC dashboards with training and certification data
  • Adding training data to customer success software like Gainsight
  • Using training data to customize marketing targeted at your trained customers
  • Automatically adding training data to SFDC contact records
  • Sending signup fields (e.g. job title, company name) into SFDClan

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