Building a Successful Customer Education Program

We’ve had hundreds of customers over the years and while every customer is unique, we’ve learned that the most successful customer education programs share characteristics in three key attributes: strategy, content, and technology. Over the course of this eBook, we will share detail on each of these attributes and what you can do to replicate the best practices of our customers to build an impactful customer education program. To begin, we will focus on the importance of starting with a cohesive foundation and then break this down further into team alignment on goals, a focus on getting things done, and making data-driven decisions.

Defining Your Customer Education Strategy

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.

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, we’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 section, we will discuss content and how it provides the anchor for a solid customer education strategy.

Developing Great Content

At our inaugural customer conference, Skilljar Connect, we asked our customers for their thoughts on the essential steps that must be taken before the first piece of content is developed for a customer education program. From the responses, there was one recommendation that consistently stood out: “Start with the goal and then move backward. Training has to be easy and add value. Also, if it is not easily consumable, then no one will take it.” In the first section of this eBook, we discussed the importance of establishing common goals and using a data-driven strategy to build your customer education program. With this foundation in place, we can now move on to the next attribute of a successful Customer Education Program: content development. An important first step in the content development process is establishing the types of content that will best serve your established goals.

Identify the Most Approachable Learning Format

Before determining what content to draft, start by answering the following questions:

  • How broadly will your product be used across a customer’s employees?
  • Is your product designed to be used by a select group of highly-specialized professionals or will it span the business and be used as a day-to-day resource for many different teams?
  • How complex is your product? Are there multiple tools or elements of your product that need to be understood or is there one central offering?
  • What is the starting knowledge level of your customers? Will your courses need to begin at the 101-level or do customers have prior knowledge?

The answers to these questions will help you match knowledge with a content format that helps best communicate it. Some common types of content are:

  • 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

Create Content that Works

Once you’ve established the type of content to develop, you can start the process of content creation. As you delve in, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Length does not equal value: Just because a video is long or a quiz has 100 questions does not mean it’s doing its job. In some cases, a five-minute explanation may have higher completion rates and be more effective than an hour-long video.
  • Content development is a team effort: While one individual may be responsible for quarterbacking the process of content creation, it is important to solicit input from other teams to ensure that it aligns and meets with the desired goals.
  • User experience matters: While the value of the content itself should not be underestimated, the accompanying experience matters a lot for absorption and engagement. As content is created, the method of delivery may need to be modified - flexibility is key!

Build for Change

As just noted, flexibility is an integral part of the content creation process. Sometimes we find out midway through a slideshow development that a concept is simply too complex. A full-length video may not feasible, but perhaps inserting a short video demo will help clarify the concept.Relatedly, what we believe will be effective may not always be accurate, no matter how strategic our process. If customers are consistently skipping particular courses, fast-forwarding, or not completing modules, it is worth considering why that is happening and the answer may be the format. It is easy to get attached to your content, particularly if we’ve spent a lot of time and energy creating it, but it’s critical to keep the end-user in mind, and if something isn’t working, view it as a lesson learned and an opportunity to iterate. It’s also entirely possible that content that isn’t performing well at present will be valuable in the future. Or perhaps it can be deconstructed and remodeled into something else. The lesson here is to maintain a mindset of versatility and be prepared (and even excited) about the potential to adapt content to the needs of your business and your customers.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Content creation is an ongoing process of development and modification and given its significance, there are a few common misconceptions to clarify:

  1. Content takes months to develop: While there is certainly some content that takes longer to create than others, do not underestimate the power of shorter pieces like article summaries, checklists, or re-purposing content developed for conferences and in-person training. A strong library of content is a mix of both long and short-form material.
  2. Content creation often takes longer than expected: This point goes back to our earlier point about identifying who and how the objectives of your Customer Education Platform will be achieved. Revisit the RACI and OKR Models you previously built to ensure that content creation is given its due time and resources.
  3. Regularly audit your library for relevance: As we’ve noted, it can be difficult to let go of content that we’ve invested time and effort in, but just as your product changes with updates and new features, so too do your customers’ needs change. It may be painful, but it is important to regularly review your content to ensure it still meets everyone’s needs (and is in an effective format).

Developing impactful content is no easy task and it is certainly an investment, particularly when a customer education program is being created for the first time. But remember, the initial investment will pay out over the long term if the content meets your company’s goals and engenders product adoption among your customers. In the next section, we’ll delve into the technology requirements, capabilities, and integrations for a successful customer education program.

Choosing Technology That Works

In the last two sections, we discussed the importance of having a cohesive, overarching strategy and the establishment of a content development process in building a Customer Education Program. With this foundation in place, the third element of a successful Customer Education Program comes into play: technology. 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. The right technology platform can help you scale your learning programs while bringing down costs and operational complexity. Leveraging a virtual, instructor-led platform minimizes travel expenses and by extension, improves trainer productivity as they are relieved of days spent in transit. Additionally, facilities and equipment needs are reduced as classroom space and related devices, such as computers and A/V systems are not needed. Selecting the right technology to fit your company’s needs can often be an overwhelming and complex process. 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:

  1. Technically scalable: Can the platform reliably scale as your company grows and evolves?
  2. Friendly user-experience: Can users easily navigate the platform and access what they need?
  3. Interoperability: Does the learning platform integrate with other customer-facing systems?
  4. 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.

  1. User-Experience: This is particularly relevant since 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 in the evaluation process:
  • 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.
  1. Integrations: Customer education teams do not exist in a vacuum - they often also report into sales, customer success, finance, and other departments. Therefore, an effective CTP 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)
  1. Analytics: 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.

Over the course of just a few years, we’ve seen successful education programs that span a variety of industries - from construction management software, to security applications and human resources tools. Regardless of the vertical, customer education is a critical facet of any business. Keeping these three characteristics in mind - strategy, content, and technology - it’s possible for any company to build a Customer Training Platform that both encourages product adoption and supports customer renewal and lead generation opportunities. 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