What is Customer Education?
Customer Education is content designed to onboard, engage, and retain your new and existing customers that’s delivered in a programmatic fashion via in-person and on-demand channels. Customer education is sometimes also referred to as customer training. A Customer education program is designed to help users of your product or service better understand and find value in your offering.
Investments in customer education are particularly beneficial for companies with:
- A complex product that users must learn before obtaining value;
- A product that requires users to change their existing behavior, processes, or workflows;
- A diverse user base in terms of needs and roles;
- Products that are updated regularly with new features and functionality;
- A suite of products that could be up and cross-sold; and
- Products that require extensive support.
Depending on your goals, audiences, product complexity, and the knowledge level of your customers, you can deliver customer education in a number of content formats:
- Recorded webinars: Great for providing a walk-through of a product’s interface or when it would be helpful to have a human explain a complex topic.
- Recorded screen-captures: Ideal for sharing step-by-step instructions for complex configurations or processes.
- Infographics (PDF): These are an opportunity to recycle existing marketing content for high-level overviews or fast facts.
- Slideshows: Another great way to repurpose content – in this case, consider uploading content that was previously used during in-person training.
- Quizzes & knowledge checks: These help students measure their level of understanding and can be a great way to keep them engaged with learning content.
Benefits of Creating a Customer Education program
A strong customer education program can have a huge impact on the business including increasing customer satisfaction scores, reducing support ticket volume, improving product adoption, driving lead generation, generating services revenue, and increasing renewals. The right investments in customer education software can be a game-changer for your organization’s growth and long-term success. Let’s dive into each of these:
1. Faster Onboarding & Reduced Time to Value
Customer onboarding is a critical driver of ongoing customer success and satisfaction and the training and educational activities that accompany this stage of the customer journey are what enable your customers to effectively engage with your product over the long term.
According to a 2018 Customer Success Industry Report, Customer Success leaders cite a lack of product adoption as the number one customer journey challenge. The solution? Establish value for your customers early and often through engaging and efficient onboarding practices. As you can see in the below diagram, investing in a customer onboarding program early can have an increasingly positive impact over the long-term:
Initial onboarding is your first opportunity to show each user how your product works, how it will benefit them, and why they should feel confident about their choice in going with your product. Ultimately, better onboarding leads to increased product usage, a higher rate of renewal and reduced churn.
2. Improved Customer Adoption & Engagement
Armed with the resources and support to successfully find value in your product over the long-term, customers are much more likely to adopt and engage with your offering. The key is creating a customer education program that quickly brings customers to value and consistently updates them on the latest features and capabilities.
3. Increased flexibility and availability
While instructor-led training (ILT) can help you get started with customer education, on-demand training is what ultimately enables you to support more customers and deliver maximum business impact as it is available to customers anywhere and anytime. There are no restrictions on time zones, geographies, room capacity, or availability of instructors. Users can pick up and resume training at their own convenience, and review the material as often as they like.
Relatedly, on-demand content isn’t subject to fluctuations due to instructor quality. Customers around the world can receive the same high-quality training experience no matter where they are located or when they participate in training. In addition, you can create multiple learning paths that are customized by role type, product needs, and depth of product knowledge. This level of quality and personalization increases the odds that customers will engage with your training and therefore your product.
4. Lowered Training Costs
Are you sending someone on a plane to conduct in-person training every time you need to onboard a new customer or evaluate their skillset? This is neither time-efficient nor affordable in the long run. Not only are there the upfront costs of flights, but trainers also require accommodations, food, and transportation, among other incremental costs.
With these costs in mind, scaling training to be on-demand is a more efficient use of time and resources when compared to ILT. The training material can be delivered indefinitely and scalably, so upfront costs expended on the initial design and creation of online learning materials can continue to provide value without requiring additional trainer time.
5. Reduced Support Tickets
Is your Customer Success or Support Team tired of answering the same questions over and over again? We don’t blame them! Responding to individual tickets is a largely reactive and time-consuming approach. A strong customer education program can help reduce the burden on these teams by developing training content that addresses these key problem areas. As a result, CSMs and Support will see fewer inbound tickets, which means they can resolve other, more unique issues that come up more quickly and with fewer resources. With these benefits, CSMs can focus on using their time with customers more strategically and aiding in a stronger bottom line for the company overall.
6. Return on investment for Customer Success Managers
Depending on the size of your organization, your Customer Success team may be able to split its time equally between each of your customers. However, each account requires different types of onboarding and support and Customer Success Managers are likely spending a significant number of hours training users on how to use your product, particularly early on. As your company grows, this time investment becomes infeasible and training becomes inconsistent.
So, what can you do? The company could hire more Customer Success Managers to take on the extra workload. Alternatively, you could scale your efforts by providing online, on-demand training during the initial onboarding process. This allows you to decrease the number of customer touches and increase your team’s efficiency. It also gives Customer Success Managers the bandwidth to focus on higher value items.
7. Improved Retention, Renewal, and Expansion Rates
A strong customer education program can help drive improved retention and expansion rates, as well as lower churn rates. When your customers learn how to use your product, they become more invested in it. This leads to increased product engagement, and as customers see value in your product, it also creates the potential for customer advocacy. Additionally, when customers understand how to continuously derive value from your product (via training), they are more likely to renew their contracts and become more loyal over time.
A Segmentation Model for Customer Education
Strategically creating a customer education program is still a relatively new concept and we understand that it can be intimidating to get started without some sort of framework. Based on our experience with hundreds of technology companies of all sizes, and unable to find an effective, existing methodology, we developed a new way to inform an onboarding and training program: the Risk-Scale Onboarding Matrix.
In discussing the variety of characteristics that promote product adoption behavior among users and accounts, we found that there are two characteristics, risk and scale, that are the most critical guides for the strategic development of a customer onboarding program.
- Risk refers to what could go wrong for the customer if they don’t have properly educated users and accounts
- Examples: Improper access to sensitive information, ability to cause organizational mayhem, physical danger and/or legal implications
- Scale measures how broadly your product is adopted, and how different those adoption behaviors look like across your user base. Scale can be further broken down into two components: Frequency of Usage and Reach.
- Frequency of Usage refers to how often the average user engages with a product – is it used throughout the day every day? Or just once in a while? Put another way, are you trying to develop new work habits among your user base, or are you solving a more specific problem?
- Reach is the number of users in an account that need to be onboarded. Does everyone in the customer account need to use this product or just a few select people?
Whether you are building a customer education and onboarding platform from scratch, or you’re exploring how to expand your current program, this Risk-Scale Matrix creates four onboarding models, or archetypes, that we use to determine the type of onboarding experience your users need.
Let’s take a look at each model:
1. For users in a high scale, high-risk model (many end-users in a regulated environment), consider the following:
- Certification programs ensure that critical knowledge is absorbed and internalized
- Frequent, proctored assessments that mirror the certification requirements help maintain user knowledge
- Accessible, on-demand education offerings provide ongoing resources for both new and existing users to complete as needed
- Virtual-instructor led trainings (V-ILT) provide extended education opportunities for more advanced topics
2. For high scale, low-risk users (many end-users where the goal is broad adoption): Accessible, on-demand offerings maximize knowledge dissemination in an efficient manner
- 1:many V-ILT sessions increase general knowledge, particularly among geographically disparate users
- In-product walkthroughs help users navigate through product features without requiring a separate onboarding course or leaving the tool
- Microlearning videos provide bite-sized, easily digestible user tips and tricks
3. In a low scale, high-risk situation (highly-specialized users where error brings high risk):
- Live labs enable users to problem-solve and learn in a simulation that replicates your product, but isn’t accompanied by the same level of risk
- Live training curriculums bring expert trainers directly to the end-user and ensure a customized, relevant training experience
- Rigorous certification processes make sure users not only theoretically know how to use your product, but that they are actually using it correctly in practice
4. Last, but not least, for those in the low scale, low-risk model (products adopted by specialists that are highly customized, but not mission-critical):
- On-demand training enables different uses in different roles to access the content that is most relevant to them
- Role-based email nurture campaigns provide inspiration and course recommendations customized to a user’s job function
It’s no secret that product adoption is one of the most challenging aspects of the customer journey, but through a close analysis of your user base and identification of their position(s) within the Risk-Scale Matrix, you can shift your onboarding strategy from static to strategic.
Metrics to Manage Your Customer Education Program
Whether your company is a fast-growing SaaS startup or an established multinational corporation, your customer education program can be the essential driver of product engagement and customer growth. As you build and scale a customer education program, the right data can help you identify patterns, make evidence-based decisions, and adapt strategies to meet business goals. Having ready access to business impact data can also help you raise the visibility of your program and secure additional investment.
Categories of customer education Data
Broadly, you can bucket customer education metrics into two categories:
1) Program metrics that help you run and optimize your program, and
2) Business Impact metrics that help you measure and communicate business impact.
Program optimization metrics reflect the current state of your customer education program, while business impact metrics measure the impact of your program on customer retention, lead generation, and revenue. You can think of these two categories as leading and lagging indicators of your program effectiveness, respectively.
1. Program Metrics
Program metrics are leading indicators of your success and include: course-, content-, account-, and program-level data. This data is often useful when discussing your program with your company’s instructional designers, training managers, education success & customer success managers.
These metrics can also help you assess if your program is reaching the right people and if the content is engaging. You can then adapt your marketing tactics and the creation of new content and courses accordingly.
2. Business Impact Metrics
Business impact metrics are crucial to help you track if users are successfully onboarding and adopting your product. You’ll want to pay particularly close attention to the delta between the number of software licenses sold and the number of users taking training and logging on to the product. Examples include:
Your customer education data needs will vary depending on the analysis that you seek to conduct and the audience that you seek to address. We recommend that you strategically select the right metrics based on the needs and goals of your audience, keeping in mind their role in the success of your training program. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to data and the more you can tailor your training data analysis to your audience, the more successful your program will be as it grows and evolves.
Engaging with Stakeholders
Providing opportunities for executive visibility into a customer education Program on a regular basis is a critical step to ensuring that your program is both given the buy-in and funding it deserves and is viewed as an important, beneficial component of the business. When considering how to approach key stakeholders, keep these four core principles in mind:
- Use a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data, as well as data related to both leading and lagging customers, to correlate customer education activities with business impact
- Ensure metrics are tied to specific points in the customer lifecycle
- Aim to tie metrics to specific business initiatives and larger metrics being tracked at the corporate level
- When reporting, focus on the metrics that have the most variability or the ones showing the most interesting trends
The Ideal Customer Education Team
Based on our experience working with hundreds of companies, we’ve seen customer education teams come in all shapes and sizes. That said, there are a number of roles that the most successful programs have found are critical throughout the customer lifecycle:
While bigger programs might have an individual inhabiting each of these roles, it is just as common for one or more team members to wear multiple hats. As Hannah Anderson, one of Skilljar’s Implementation Managers explains, “the key is not necessarily having a large team, but a team with the skills to fill each of these roles to successfully build and scale your program.”
Choosing the Right Technology for Customer Education
As our colleagues at TSIA Research explain, “With new learning approaches being introduced at a rapid rate, technology is a critical investment area for education services teams hoping to meet and exceed customer expectations.”
As traditional classroom training becomes less common, new tools and applications are necessary to achieve several goals. First and foremost, the tools that you select must prepare customers for the successful adoption of new technology. Secondly, the new technologies must help you develop online learning content that is easily digestible. And lastly, the technology should be able to monitor the use and absorption of educational content by your customers.
While selecting the right technology to fit your company’s needs can often be an overwhelming and complex process, the right platform can help you scale your learning programs while bringing down costs and operational complexity. What follows is a framework that can help you prioritize your needs and address key areas of functionality.
LMS Capabilities: What to Look for
When exploring technology platforms to support your customer training program, there are four requirements to keep in mind:
- Technically scalable: Can the platform reliably scale as your company grows and evolves?
- Friendly user-experience: Can users easily navigate the platform and access what they need?
- Interoperability: Does the learning platform integrate with other customer-facing systems?
- Analytics: Does the platform make it easy to monitor user performance and engagement?
Let’s delve into each of these areas further.
1. Technical Scalability
As your business grows and evolves, your LMS needs to be able to support this growth without sacrificing functionality or reliability. When exploring technology offerings, the following questions can be helpful:
- User volume: How many users can the platform support concurrently? Can the platform maintain that level of support if your user population doubles? Triples?
- Content: Does the platform have the capacity to support multiple learning paths? Can content be easily added and/or refreshed? Is there a maximum amount of content that the CTP can host?
- Security: If your user base expands significantly, can the platform support single-sign-on (SSO) or other safeguards?
Whether you need a platform that caters to a large volume of users, requires multiple training audiences, or has a particularly complicated use case, an effective Customer Training platform will be advantageous.
This is particularly relevant since external learners typically engage with content voluntarily. Customers are more likely to both complete coursework and come back for more depending on how intuitive and user-friendly your LMS happens to be. Consider the following features and capabilities as you are evaluating technology options:
- Intuitive Learning Pathways: Less is more when it comes to the number of clicks users must take to get to their desired piece of content. The user should be able to get from Point A to Point B in the most direct manner.
- Customization: Homepages that reflect an individual user’s coursework and learning path ensure they remain focused, while in-product offerings like feature tips and tricks keep the user engaged.
- Searchability: Users need a resource that is easily searchable so they can find what they need when they need it.
- Content agnostic: Not all users learn in the same way so the platform should be capable of disseminating information through multiple forms – whether through infographics, slideshows or recorded webinars – hosting different formats best serves various users’ needs.
- Self-registration: Are users able to sign up for coursework on their own and based on their own schedule? In some cases, such as if training is a required part of a role, this feature may not be as essential, but as your Customer Training Program grows, your content offerings will likely change as well.
Customer education teams do not exist in a vacuum – they often also report into sales, customer success, finance, and other departments. Therefore, an effective customer education program is one that integrates with your other systems of record, spanning teams and departments.
Incorporating customer onboarding, training, and certification data into your other business systems will enable you to track the impact of education on customer health and engagement, not to mention allowing education teams to evaluate how their program is contributing to the bottom line. Common integrations for customer education data include:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) systems like Salesforce Marketing automation platforms like Marketo, HubSpot, and Pardot
- Customer success software like Gainsight and Totango
- Data and analytics platforms (further detail in the next section)
Advanced analytics capabilities enable you to see the complete customer training path. Whether you are measuring user engagement, product adoption rates, or looking into commonly asked questions, data analyses help demonstrate the impact of training on customer adoption, retention, and renewals. Robust analytics can also elucidate the strengths and weaknesses of your training content and drive business insights.
If you are interested in learning how Skilljar can help you build an effective customer education program and increase product engagement, you can request a demo by visiting https://info.skilljar.com/skilljar-demo.