We recently had hundreds of customer education leaders in town for Skilljar Connect 2018. After the conference, I took some time to reflect on our journey and what distinguishes great customer education programs at companies such as MapR, Nintex, Procore, Quick Base, The Trade Desk, Zenefits and Zendesk.

We’ve learned that the most successful customer education programs share characteristics in three key attributes: strategy, content, and technology. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on each of these attributes and what you can do to replicate their best practices to build an impactful customer education program.

For this first post, I will focus on the importance of starting with a cohesive foundation. I break this down further into team alignment on goals, a focus on getting things done, and making data-driven decisions.

1. Setting Common Goals

The first step in developing a successful customer education program requires that the key stakeholders and teams involved be aligned and working towards a common set of goals. While goals vary from company to company, alignment ensures that teams are working in a complementary fashion without duplicating efforts or unintentionally optimizing for conflicting objectives. Some common customer education goals that we see are:

  • Revenue generation,
  • Cost recovery,
  • Customer churn reduction,
  • Increase Customer Satisfaction score (CSAT),
  • Increase Net Promoter Score (NPS) and,
  • Improved upsell

Of course, goal alignment is just the initial step in building a strong foundation. An effective customer education strategy must also have on-the-ground, cross-functional partnerships in order to be successful.

This requires input and buy-in from leadership, customer success teams, marketing leads, product managers, finance, and even legal. Once these agreed-upon goals are in place, it’s time to shift from the strategic to the development of tactical next steps.

2. Getting Things Done

With the goal definition phase complete, teams working on the most impactful customer education programs dive into how these objectives can be achieved. Some important questions to consider:

  • Who will be responsible for content creation and who will pull and analyze the data necessary to inform those materials?
  • Which stakeholders will oversee the direction and content creation for the platform?
  • Who will lead the program once it is off the ground?
  • What is a minimum viable launch in order to begin the “test and iterate” process?

Two of the most useful tools we’ve come across to help during the implementation stage are the “Responsibility Assignment (RACI)” model and the “Objectives and Key Results (OKR)” framework.

No matter what the project size, job roles and responsibilities must be clearly defined and each team member must understand the tasks and activities he or she must complete. The RACI matrix maps out:

  • Responsible: Who is completing the task
  • Accountable: Who is making decisions and taking actions on the task(s)
  • Consulted: Who will be communicated with regarding decisions and tasks
  • Informed: Who will be updated on decisions and actions during the project

Following this methodology, RACI organizes your project to ensure that everyone knows what is happening.

In addition to defining roles and responsibilities, research consistently shows that setting challenging and specific goals can improve employee performance and engagement. OKRs are intended to be ambitious, measurable objectives that help teams and individuals prioritize work and focus on big bets. OKRs are a great way to make sure teams are aligned, working towards common goals, and taking measured risks.

That said, remember to keep each team’s capacity in mind and be realistic about the resources available and the deliverable timelines. Effective prioritization is critical at this point and can be achieved through an examination of existing customer data.

Data-Driven Decisions

The best customer education programs make effective use of both qualitative and quantitative data. You can start by considering the following questions when designing elements of your education program:

  • Have customers asked for a specific type of training or genre of content?
  • Are there recurring questions from customers that could be collectively addressed?
  • What features of your product or services are most commonly used? Which are used infrequently or inconsistently?
  • What kind of support tickets are you seeing come up often?

When a new program is being built or when it’s being given a facelift, it’s critical that content matches need and is a direct reflection of the knowledge and skills that will be most beneficial to the target audience. This area provides a natural (and critical) opportunity for cooperation between customer education and sales specialists.

For example, data from TSIA reveals that 48 percent of support calls are “how-to” in nature. Imagine how much more effective a support team could be if nearly half of the inquiries they receive could simply be routed to an FAQ page. Or even better, deflected entirely through a proactive training program!

Time and again, I’ve seen great customer education programs built on the basis of common goals, a focus on getting things done, and data-driven decisions. In the next post, I’ll talk about content and how it provides the anchor for a solid customer education strategy. In the meantime, I encourage you to explore some of our other resources for building customer education programs:

For more information, check out our comprehensive online guide to Customer Education