Training certifications are growing in importance, both for the individuals who earn them and the companies that offer them. As a result, Customer Experience teams are using different types of certifications to improve business outcomes.
With the shift from role-based to skills-based talent management, certifications demonstrate to recruiters that job candidates have the skills necessary for a particular job. For software companies, in particular, enabling individuals to be certified in your product lends credibility, establishes your brand as a thought leader among your competitors, and encourages brand awareness when individuals promote your badges and certificates.
According to the 2022 Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report, certifications remain the #1 tactic for driving customer success and customer engagement with learning programs. Nearly 60% of respondents indicated they use certifications to drive training program engagement and/or learning among their customers, ranking above such tactics as marketing automation, gamification, and community. Not surprisingly, certifications also ranked highest for future engagement strategies.
What Are the Different Types of Training Certifications?
Certifications measure a particular skill or set of skills and demonstrate how well an individual can apply their learning to a total solution, typically with a test at the end to prove knowledge.
Earning a certification indicates that an individual has acquired the necessary knowledge, skills, and sometimes personal attributes necessary to perform a specific occupation or activity. For SaaS companies, such as Gainsight, LinkedIn, and Zendesk, certifications offer a way to confer mastery of a specific business tool.
There are different ways to assess knowledge, including:
Learners earn non-proctored certifications by passing an exam that follows a standardized process and validates an individual’s qualifications in a certain subject. These assessments are usually considered “low stakes” because they are more limited and less preparation is generally required. Certifications can expire and require learners to be recertified.
Proctored certifications monitor learners during the exam. The requirements needed prior to taking the exam are separate and not monitored. These assessments are generally considered “high-stakes” because the result is of significant consequence for an individual, such as earning a license that qualifies them for a certain job. Today, proctoring can be in person or provided remotely.
Skilljar makes it easy for learners to showcase the certificates they earn for completing courses to increase product knowledge on their LinkedIn profiles.
This assessment is awarded at the end of a training course in the form of a branded badge that validates what an individual has learned. Badges are more than just a visual image, as they contain underlying descriptive information (known as “metadata”) such as the course description, skills, and earning criteria. Metadata is embedded into the digital asset, also known as a digital credential.
Why Are Certifications Important for Customer Success?
Certifications have become integral to many customer success strategies, and with good reason. Companies may offer certifications for different reasons, such as to:
- Validate knowledge and increase user confidence
- Increase the marketability of their programs through badging and social sharing
- Enhance the credibility of their programs to prospective customers and competitors
- Drive product adoption
- Fulfill compliance requirements
According to the 2022 Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report, 49% of respondents state they have some form of a certification program. Of these, the majority (60%) use the program for industry/brand recognition. In addition, 20% of respondents use certifications for compliance purposes, and the remaining 20% use certifications to help drive product adoption.
How to Create a Certification Program That Drives Product Adoption
Driving engagement among customers is a top priority for all customer success leaders. Companies that have a formal customer education program find that trained customers are their best customers, in part because they are the most engaged and adopt faster. Certifications work on two levels to help drive adoption: product-based and role-based.
These drive value for the learner by providing them with advanced product knowledge and official credentials and serve as an encouragement to complete further training.
Offering certifications is a great way for customers to assess what they need to know in order to gain more from the product. From a company standpoint, this helps to drive adoption because the more users know about the product, the more inclined they are to use it and get value from it.
These are more specific to performing a certain set of job functions using the product.
For example, admin users that need to understand the more technical aspects of using a solution can receive certification, such as Zendesk’s Support Administrator Expert Exam. Zendesk offers this certification to learners so they can be “recognized for their in-depth knowledge and earn their employer’s trust as the go-to person on their team for Zendesk Support.”
Other examples of role-based certifications include:
- Duda, a professional website building software used by agencies, SaaS companies, and web hosting companies, offers a certification program for users that have developed skills in website design, platform development, and developer tools.
- Procore construction program management software expanded its course offerings to include the development of five job-related task simulators that walk users through the process of performing a task using Procore’s mobile app.
How to Measure the Impact of Certifications
How can you tell if your certification program is driving value for your business?
Many companies implement a learning management system (LMS) for customer education that is built to integrate with the tools they already use, such as a CRM or Customer Success platform.
By doing so, they are able to track the progress of their training, including the number and type of certifications granted, and tie it back to business outcomes such as:
- Increased product adoption and engagement
- Reduced support tickets
Additionally, many companies charge for certifications as part of their monetization strategy, bringing financial value to their programs in addition to the other benefits of certifications.
Credly, a digital credentialing platform, offers a Credentialing Education Program that provides expert tools and resources to professionals who want to establish a credentialing program in their organization. Upon completion of the program, users earn a badge from Credly certifying that the individual has the knowledge and tools to build a meaningful credential program that meets both business and stakeholder needs.
MRI real estate software uses an integration between Skilljar and Salesforce to make connections between certified users and their behavior using their solution. This type of information is essential to proving the value of your customer education program and securing future budget to expand the program.
Tips for Creating Effective Certification Programs
Here are some tips from Carol Dibert, Former Manager of Certifications for Zendesk, on how to create a successful certification program:
1. Examine the reasons to offer certification.
- Offer a program for individuals to differentiate themselves in the job market. For the individual, this helps other companies understand that their product skills have been validated by your company.
- Create a staff well trained in meeting the needs of customers to provide a better customer experience. If customers have a team certified in your product, they can tend to the needs of their own customers, creating less support tickets for them, and ultimately for your product as well. Ensuring you have professionals in the field configuring and deploying your solutions correctly, and with expertise, ensures the whole ecosystem is focused on customer success.
- Demonstrate your maturity as a company, one that is proliferating solutions in the market. When you’re at a point where you can offer a certification program, you’re really telling the market and your shareholders that you’re ready to unleash a force of professionals implementing your products and solutions, leading to greater awareness and proliferation of your offerings in the market.
- Promote awareness for your company as a leader in its space. This may be a useful tactic if your competitors are not yet offering certifications — you can establish yourself as the leader and attract more attention for your brand.
2. Don’t skimp on online proctoring for certifications.
As a company, it can damage your reputation later on if you grant certifications to people who have not legitimately taken and passed your training.
3. Work with an Instructional Designer (ID) to vet training blueprints.
IDs do audits of trainings to see if there are any nuggets in the training blueprint that are missing, and then plot out how they can fill those gaps.
4. Cultivate relationships with your Product Teams.
Get their input on what product might be first up for certification. Use them as your stakeholder and have them help you identify who might be subject matter experts for you as you develop your training content.
Given all the benefits, it’s no wonder different types of training certifications are a key tool for driving customer success and that certifications remain the primary customer education engagement tactic for 2022.
Companies distinguish themselves from their competitors by offering certifications, as well as ensure their customers get as much value from their product as possible, as soon as possible. As a result, the benefits of certifications to both companies and recipients will only continue to grow as we look to the future of work.
Want to learn more about how companies are using certifications to engage their customers and improve product adoption? Download our 2022 Customer Education Benchmark and Trends Report.