The Double-C Dilemma: Certifications vs. Certificates for Customer Education Credentials

The Double-C Dilemma: Certifications vs. Certificates for Customer Education Credentials

March 14, 2024
Customer Experience
Online Certification and Badges
Training Strategy

Offering credentials to certify learners in your product is a successful strategy for creating product advocates, encouraging renewals, and boosting brand awareness. There are different forms of credentials, and it’s important to understand the distinctions, particularly between “certifications” and “certificates,” before offering a credentialization program to your users.

Here’s the crux: not all credentials are created equal. While certifications and certificates can help users upskill and advance their careers, they have different ramifications for professional development.

Understanding the different types of Customer Education credentials

The three common types of credentials offered in Customer Education are certificates, certifications, and badges.

Each benefits the learner, but it’s important to determine which category makes sense for your product and your program.

Feature Certificates Certifications Badges
Representation Document signaling a specific achievement Granted after assessments, indicating knowledge, skills, or competencies Digital or physical symbol of achievement or competency
Assessment Can be activity-based (attendance, participation) or assessment-based (successful passage of a test) Typically results from proctored or non-proctored assessments, often high-stakes Can be tied to high or low stakes, or no assessment
Focus Completion of tasks, courses, events, or successful passage of assessments validating specific skills Assessment of knowledge, skills, or competencies for specific occupations or activities Competencies not shown on traditional transcripts (e.g., project management skills)
Use Cases Recognizing participation or the acquisition of specific skills through formal education and training programs Validating professional qualifications and skills for employment or specific roles Representing competencies, often in informal settings or as part of continuous learning


Certificate programs function as acknowledgments of program completion for individuals who have completed specific training modules or learning units. They are tangible evidence of effort.

Certificates fall into two main types: activity-based and assessment-based. Activity-based certificates are granted when someone finishes a task or attends a class or training event. On the other hand, assessment-based certificates are awarded when someone passes a test at the end of a course, confirming they’ve acquired a specific skill.

Assessments embedded within courses serve as the foundation for awarding these credentials, ensuring at least a baseline understanding of key concepts. Certificates are issued by the platform provider, not by an independent third-party entity.

Certificates generally take less time to earn and serve to enhance an individual’s knowledge and confidence, demonstrating a dedication to personal and professional development. Examples may include:

  • Certificate of completion for product X onboarding course
  • An online certificate in “Advanced Troubleshooting Techniques”
  • Certificate in “Advanced HR Analytics”


Certifications involve standardized exams, hands-on projects, and performance-based evaluations. Unlike certificates, which may focus on completing a course or program, certifications specifically assess participants’ knowledge or competencies. Thus, obtaining a certification shows that an individual has demonstrated the necessary capabilities to excel in a particular occupation or activity.

Further elevating their value, professional certifications are often issued by external, accredited organizations, lending industry-recognized credibility and prestige.

Earning a certification often requires more time, effort, and investment. This reflects the level of commitment required to achieve mastery. Plus, many certifications mandate continuing education or recertification to maintain their validity.

In practice, some companies mistakenly label their tests as “certifications” when they more closely resemble completion certificates. This misrepresentation poses legal risks because certifications necessitate greater validation. So, to be legally defensible, a specific procedure must be followed in creating the exam to ensure fairness and proper validation of skills and knowledge.

Think of a certificate as enhancing individual knowledge and a certification as proving competency of a specific skill set.

Here are some certification examples across various fields:

  • Procore Admin Certification
  • Project Manager: Core Tools (by Procore)
  • Zendesk Explore CX Analyst
  • Zendesk App Developer

Digital badges

Think of digital badges as dynamic, online representations of achievements and skills. They are issued electronically, often linked to a unique URL, and contain detailed information about the badge, including the issuer, criteria for earning it, and evidence of achievement.

Also, the digital format of badges enables easy sharing on social media platforms like LinkedIn and professional profiles, promoting individual brand building.

Here are some examples of digital badges:

  • “BigQuery for Marketing Analysts” badge by Google Cloud
  • Duolingo language fluency badge for German
  • Udacity nano degree program completion badge
  • Coursera completion badge for the “Chatbot Building Essentials” course
  • “Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Associate” badge

Choosing the right Customer Education credentials for your training program

The questions below can help you choose the suitable education credentials:

  • Who is your target audience? Who are you trying to educate with your program? Beginners seeking basic knowledge, experienced users aiming for mastery, or both?
  • What are your program objectives? What do you want to achieve with your Customer Education program? Broad engagement and initial knowledge acquisition, skill validation, and career advancement, or a combination?
  • Is your user base ready for it? If you build it, will they come? Assessing readiness ensures there’s actual demand for the program, enhancing engagement and participation rates.
  • How many people can you expect to reach? Estimating reach helps justify the investment and secure necessary resources by demonstrating potential impact.
  • How long have they been using your product? What does the training data tell you about usage patterns? Analyzing usage patterns can inform the curriculum’s focus areas, highlighting where users may need more guidance or advanced training.
  • How long have your products been in the market? The maturity of the product influences the feasibility of a certification program, as newer products may not have enough familiar users to justify the effort.

How do Customer Education certifications and certificates benefit a business?

Choosing the right credential for your Customer Education program is just a matter of preference, there are legal ramifications as well that you should be aware of.

Certificates and certifications both hold value that can benefit your business and your customers. Let’s break it down:

  • For your customers
    • Certificates: Certificates representing program completion and foundational knowledge encourage engagement and product exploration. This translates to increased user adoption and value realization.
    • Certifications: Certifications signify skill validation empowering users to become proficient product users. They drive organic adoption of your product within their organizations and professional networks and act as brand ambassadors.
  • For your business
    • Certificates: Equipping users with core knowledge (via certificates) enables them to troubleshoot and solve basic issues independently, minimizing reliance on your support team and potentially lowering overall support costs.
    • Certifications: Certifications make sense for companies that have an extensive training content library and, for software companies in particular, significant adoption among other organizations such that they will make hiring decisions based on that certification. For example, companies may look to hire administrators who have earned a certification from Zendesk.

Ultimately, customers with certifications are linked to higher retention—the biggest win for customer educators.

Tracking the impact of Customer Education

While issuing certificates and celebrating successful completions are valuable aspects of Customer Education, true success lies in measuring the real impact your program has on learners and your business. Here’s how you can track learner improvement:

  • Knowledge assessment: Use pre- and post-program assessments to track knowledge acquisition and skill development. Standardized tests and practical exercises may be used.
  • Certification course completion rates: Monitor completion rates for individual courses and your entire program. High completion rates indicate learner engagement and a well-designed program.
  • Certificate achievement: If certificates are issued, track the percentage of learners who successfully achieve them to see if this impacts course registration and completion rates.
  • Learner satisfaction: Track the satisfaction levels of those who receive your credentials before and after participating. Improved satisfaction means increased product understanding.

Skilljar has effective Customer Education software for user learning

Regardless of your preferred credential format, effective Customer Education software empowers you to deliver impactful learning experiences. With Skilljar, you can award the appropriate recognition for achievements, including badges, certificates, or even industry-recognized certifications. This ensures learners receive the acknowledgment they deserve in a way that’s effective. Plus, trained customers are more likely to be retained customers. Talk about a win-win for customers and your bottom line.

Get a Skilljar demo to see how it can help you create, track, and personalize learning experiences.

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