Are you involved with customer education, enablement or success programs? Then at some point in your career, you’ll probably need to find, fix or replace a learning management system. For many people, this is a nerve-wracking responsibility. So, what can you do to make the process less perilous and more successful? That question sparked a conversation I had earlier this year with Dave Derington at Customer Education Lab,
Needless to say, what these industry colleagues envisioned as a community-building side gig has really blossomed. Now, Customer Education Lab is a popular and respected voice that reaches all corners of the customer experience world.
That’s why it was such a pleasure for me to catch up with Dave and compare notes about the role of learning management systems in the customer education process. In a one-hour deep dive, we touched on a wide range of tech-related questions. For example:
What should customer education professionals know about modern learning systems?
What’s the difference between customer education platforms and employee-focused systems?
How can a customer education system help you link learning with business outcomes?
What process should you use to select the best system for your customer education needs?
How can an independent resource help improve your choice?
What resources are available to help you understand the landscape and specific vendors?
Ready for answers? Listen to the full podcast and read the Customer Education Lab highlights below:
Or, if you prefer, watch the video version:
Customer Education Lab Podcast Highlights
DAVE: Welcome, John. So, let’s say one of our listeners is building a customer education program, and wants to buy an LMS. What should they do next?
JOHN: As it turns out, there are over a thousand solutions available in the learning systems marketplace. So it’s no wonder people are confused. And that’s why we’re here. We do the research, so other people don’t have to.
DAVE: Someone once told me, “An LMS is basically just a database.” Well, yes and no. Each LMS has its own purpose. For example, there are different LMS platforms for customers, partners and extended enterprise needs. But how big is this difference?
JOHN: Oh, it’s big.
Here’s my working theory. For many years, there were only two types of learning systems — one for corporations and another for K-22. There was no crossover between these two applications. Managing students, and instructors in a semester of school classes is much different than managing employee training and compliance.
DAVE: So in your view as an analyst, what is really different about customer education?
JOHN: Well, in the business world, think of what it would be like to use an employee-focused LMS for customer education. That’s where you’ll find the biggest gap.
Think about what an employee LMS is designed to do. Employers want to minimize risk by making sure they deliver mandatory training to the right person within a specified timeframe. They need to check off a box to verify compliance at a federal, state or company level.
The content is generally horrible. The learning experience is clunky and boring. Yet, content consumption is mandatory.
Now granted, these systems are improving because they’re focusing more on the learner experience. But if your organization has one of these systems, you’re not pulling it out and replacing it. Why? It’s all about costs. You’re trying to avoid costs, and an employee LMS is on the cost side of the equation.
DAVE: So, in a sense, employee learning is like feeding fish in a barrel. You need to make every one of those fish take compliance training, right?
JOHN: Yeah, absolutely.
Conversely, customer education is entirely different. Your learners are voluntary. They don’t have to be there. They may not even know you exist. You need to attract them. They may have different interests and goals, so your platform needs to adapt accordingly. You need relevant, high-quality content. And it needs to be easy to access. You need to reduce friction.
Also, you may need to sell content to individuals and organizations. There are other differences as well. But all this has to be better than your competition because your business depends on it.
So that means the metrics and reporting must be tuned toward making money or supporting your core business of customer education, not compliance. But no one worries about these things with employee learning systems.
DAVE: This is a bad analogy, but if employee training is like fish in a barrel, then customer education is like chasing greased pigs. They’re running all over and we scramble to lead them to the trough with all the good stuff they need. Right?
JOHN: Funny! Well, if it all comes down to one thing, I’d say the difference is all about the voluntary aspect of customer education.
DAVE: Okay. Let’s say I’m starting in a new role and my boss says, “Get an LMS and get it quick.” But I have no idea what I need. I know people who’ve been there before. So, where do I even start?
JOHN: The first thing I would do is push back on the whole “fast” thing. That’s because buying fast is a sure way to hit the wall during implementation. It’s also a sure way to buy the wrong system, which you’ll need to replace when you hit the wall a little further down the road.
Actually, in my 20-some years of experience, I’ve found that the best LMS buyers stop to think about the big picture and draw a map. What problem are you trying to solve? What’s your use case? Who are your learners? What do you want to help them achieve? The answer is different for everyone.
Then you can drill down to next-level questions…
DAVE: Right. That’s what helps you develop a request for proposal or RFP. It’s like a job task analysis in instructional design, right? And in customer education, it’s especially important to think about how learning is affecting people who use your product and how you can measure that.
JOHN: Yes, that foundation matters. Because when you start evaluating systems, matching vendor responses with that foundation will be much easier.
And if you don’t do it, a salesperson will try to do it for you. Eventually, they’ll try to convince you their solution is perfect. But it may not be perfect for what you need. Learning systems are just too complex to buy on a willy-nilly basis. You need an independent, apples-to-apples comparison based on your particular requirements.
DAVE: Let’s go back to what’s different about customer education systems for a minute. Because some things you’ve written recently are definitely eye-opening…
JOHN: Well, in my research, I’ve found what separates vendors — even within the same category — is specialization. And vendors that are focused on customer education systems are evolving into a whole new platform that’s not quite LMS and not quite CRM. It’s somewhere in between.
So it’s important to figure out what each vendor does best. And we document that in a variety of ways, and make much of that information freely available at TalentedLearning.com.
Being a guest on the Customer Education Lab podcast was an exciting opportunity for me. Not just because it gave me a chance to riff about a topic I love. But it’s especially fun to exchange ideas with smart, dedicated customer education specialists like Dave and Adam. I know they’re just as passionate as I am about helping others get it right, so all of us can benefit and expand the customer education discipline.
And if you’ve been wondering how to take your customer education initiatives to the next level, I hope this is helpful for you. If you have questions, feel free to reach out.
Thanks for reading!
To dig deeper into customer education strategies and systems, check these resources:
John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.