This awful catastrophe is not the end but the beginning. History does not end so. It is the way its chapters open. — St. Augustine

Over the past few weeks, I have been speaking with many Customer Education leaders and other CEOs to understand how COVID-19 is impacting their organizations. 

All around us, the pandemic is taking a heavy individual, social, and economic toll. In these uncertain times, organizations are looking for leadership to help us adapt in the short, medium, and long term. Conversations are quickly shifting from “quick tips to running remote teams” and “fun Zoom backgrounds”…. to fundamental pivots in strategies and resourcing, in a world with no travel or face-to-face interactions.

I believe we are accelerating into a New World of Work that will have a lasting impact even after this initial crisis has passed. Customer Education professionals now have a more critical role than ever to play in helping their organizations and customers adapt to this new world.

In this blog post, I want to share more about the mindset and the approach that I believe will be necessary in the weeks and months to come. 

Your Customer’s Priorities have Changed

Rewind to February 2020. A few weeks ago, you may have been living in a world where:

  • Your customers (and your CSM team) insisted on in-person, white-glove implementation and training sessions. Virtual and on-demand content was considered “lesser” and not as effective.
  • Any online content was required to be professionally produced in order to stay “on brand” and was reviewed for weeks and months by subject matter experts for quality.
  • Getting resources from cross-functional teams (design, Salesforce administration, data analytics, engineering) was near impossible.
  • Lack of product adoption and subsequent customer churn was swept under the rug as a renewals problem.

We’re living in a new world now, and your customers are too. No matter what industry you’re in, your customers are dramatically changing the way they interact with your products and services.

Every SaaS company I know is furiously working on how to protect their existing customer base by driving more engagement and product usage among their existing users. Good news – your customers are also looking for help in getting the ROI that was promised during the sales cycle. 

COVID-19 is a forcing function for digital transformation. If you didn’t have a cloud strategy for all aspects of your company, including your training program, it’s time to accelerate that now.

At Skilljar, I’m consistently hearing that student demand for online training is off the charts. This is literally true in our platform usage data, which has grown exponentially over the past few weeks.

It makes sense. People have more time available to learn and are proactively seeking opportunities to upskill and reskill. People who traditionally would not have tried online learning are now doing so out of necessity…. and finding that they are getting high value and convenience from the experience. 

These changing needs and behaviors mean that Customer Education experts are well-positioned to help their organizations and customers succeed in this new world. 

Customer Education – Your New Superpower

Unlike the downturns of 2001 and 2008, I’m seeing that companies are prioritizing existing customers and reducing new acquisition activities. Nobody knows what the new normal for sales will look like, so protecting the existing customer base is of critical importance.

A “wait-and-watch” approach means that supporting existing customers has quickly become much more actionable and predictable than acquiring new customers. In the training world, some programs have adapted by making paid educational content freely available to both customers and prospects – with extraordinary results in usage, brand loyalty, and societal benefit 

Two examples:

  • Moz, a Seattle company specializing in SEO tools, is offering its paid training content free of charge through May. Within a day of their announcement, they saw tens of thousands of new users enrolling in their courses. They have delivered over 45 thousand hours of on-demand training in the past two weeks.
  • MakeMusic, a Boulder company specializing in music creation and education software, is offering free SmartMusic Premium licenses to teachers and students to help them maintain their students’ music education during the COVID-19 pandemic. The influx of new users has created a large demand for their SmartMusic Academy, where users can easily learn the ins and outs of using the software. As a result, they’ve seen large increases in enrollments and engagement with their on-demand training content.

When it comes to engaging your existing customers, your Customer Education team is uniquely positioned to deliver business impact at scale.

Your customers aren’t the only audience who are struggling to adapt to this New World of Work. Your internal teams – Sales, Customer Success, Services, and Support – are in a similar position. Many Customer Education teams are working closely with internal teams to help them understand and adapt to this new normal. Some organizations are also repurposing their Customer Education programs to drive product and service enablement for internal teams. 

Customer Education teams have always needed to work cross-functionally to be effective, and now they are doing so more than ever before. 

Preparing for the Road Ahead

If you’re already doubling down on Customer Education, here are three best practice observations for you to consider: 

First, best-in-class education teams are using this opportunity to share their impact and insights with the rest of the organization. You’re in a position to showcase the increased usage of your program across your customer base. Some impact metrics to consider sharing are:

  • Program growth, specifically increased reach at the user, team, and account level,
  • Improved engagement in the form of consumption of lessons and courses, and
  • Qualitative feedback to represent the voice of the customer.

Second, be intentional in noticing changes in customer needs, and bring back these insights to your executives and the broader organization. Nothing is more valuable right now than feedback from the front lines, and this is a unique opportunity to help strengthen relationships with existing customers. Providing value through education, and doing so broadly across your customer base, is an effective and scalable way to maintain relationships, especially when customer success managers are already stretched thin. 

Third, and this goes hand-in-hand with the impact recommendation above, training programs are asking for and receiving resource investments that they could not secure in the past. I’ve heard stories of web design resources, sales operations resources, and development resources suddenly becoming prioritized to help training teams. More programs are ramping up content initiatives that provide value at scale, and this is a good time to ask for the resources that you need to scale.

These are trying times for the best of us. That being said, we can’t let fear paralyze us. The time is now for us to meet these challenges thoughtfully and with a sense of service to our organizations and to society. Customer Education professionals have never been in a better position to serve as a force multiplier for businesses looking to serve their customers. While you may be hunkering down indoors, you have an opportunity to do more, share more, and reach more people than ever before. We at Skilljar look forward to doing everything we can to support you on this journey.