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Online Customer Training: Behind the Surge in Specialized Learning Systems

Why is online customer training on the rise again? Learning technology analyst John Leh explains recent trends in specialized LMS solutions

Online customer training is experiencing a renaissance of sorts, as companies large and small discover its tremendous untapped value.  Once considered a nice-to-have option for product and service providers, customer training is now considered a strategic necessity for businesses in every industry – and with good reason.  Educational programs often play a critical role in attracting new customers, ensuring a smooth onboarding process and cultivating profitable long-term relationships.

Why So Much Renewed Interest?

The software sector is an excellent example.  Recent research by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) reveals the impact of training on several key dimensions of customer adoption:

  • 68% of trained customers use products more often
  • 56% use more product features
  • 87% use products more independently

Online customer training drives product adoption - research results from TSIA

The same study also found that the average renewal rate among trained software subscribers is 92%, compared to 80% for untrained customers.

With results like these, it’s no wonder why customer training platforms are one of the hottest segments in today’s learning systems market.  However, it wasn’t always this way.

Traditionally, customer education came in the form of relatively expensive instructor-led classroom training, and the costs of these location-based events were passed along to participants.  Customers became conditioned to the idea of purchasing training directly from product and service providers.  After all, who knows more about a product or service than its source?

Sellers never intended to get rich from these training programs.  That’s because the cost of delivering classroom training is relatively high and the structure doesn’t scale efficiently.  The best an organization could hope for was to break even.  More often than not, customer training was considered a necessary evil, rather than a strategic business opportunity.

The Rise of Online Customer Education

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Until a few years ago, customer training platforms didn’t even exist as a separate segment of the learning management system (LMS) market.  They actually evolved from employee-focused learning systems that were introduced nearly 30 years ago.  Over time, organizations began integrating standalone learning systems with HR and talent management suites to coordinate, deliver and track employee participation in mandatory classroom and elearning courses more efficiently.  Soon, the term LMS became synonymous with workforce development and compliance.

But over the past decade, as high-speed Internet, cloud technology and mobile devices took hold, organizations began to make portions of their employee training catalog available to customers.  Progressive companies started to create customer-specific “domains” within their LMS so external audiences could access content easily.

Unfortunately, this was an imperfect solution for extended enterprise learning, because customer data exists in a CRM and not a HRIS environment.  This translated into costly user provisioning, security and systems integration issues.  As a result, some companies began to deploy a separate LMS for their customer education programs to side step the technical issues.  Although this approach led to duplication of systems and content, it gave customer-focused organizations more control, and was usually less complex and costly to manage, overall.

Choosing to Learn: The Psychology of Customer Education

When the first dedicated customer learning systems became available, organizations quickly realized that the logic of customer education is fundamentally different from employee training.  You can’t force customers to log-in or complete courses. You can’t order them around.  You certainly can’t fire them.  Customers have the power to choose learning or ignore it.  They control when, where, how and how often they engage with an LMS – if at all.  And when they meet an obstacle, they’re likely to leave and not return.

That’s why customer LMS developers make user experience a top priority.  Customers in both B2B and B2C scenarios expect learning environments to be just as simple, convenient, relevant and engaging as other digital services and apps they use every day.  In other words, if your customer education environment isn’t as effortless, coherent and easy to navigate as Netflix, iTunes or Amazon, it’s bound to reflect negatively on your brand, and your customer relationships will suffer.

Usability Leads the Way

This “voluntary learner” mindset is completely foreign to employee LMS platforms.  The typical employee LMS focuses on administrative functions and regulatory compliance.  User experience has never been a primary consideration.  Therefore as you might imagine, many existing LMS developers have struggled to create solutions that attract voluntary learners on their terms and engage them in continuous learning experiences.

Nevertheless, the concept of voluntary participation has had a profound effect on customer learning solutions and the industry as a whole.  There is only one chance to make a first impression, and this realization has raised the stakes for customer education sponsors as well as LMS vendors.  Usability is now paramount because voluntary learners have little tolerance for complex, cumbersome or annoying design and functionality.  Ultimately, this requirement has led to the birth of the customer LMS segment!

Data-Driven Engagement: Why an Employee-Focused LMS Isn’t Enough

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Usability isn’t the only factor shaping the direction of customer LMS offerings. One of the most powerful aspects of successful customer learning platforms is their ability to integrate seamlessly with customer relationship management (CRM) systems such as Salesforce.com.  Just as employee LMSs rely on HR systems integration for access to employee data, customer LMSs exchange data with CRMs to strengthen customer relationships and improve business results.

A CRM captures detailed information about every customer – including buying behavior, transaction history and communication touchpoints with sales reps and customer support.  Exchanging this kind of profile-specific data with an LMS makes it possible to offer highly personalized training recommendations, learning paths and socialization, in tandem with cross-selling and up-selling opportunities that optimize customer lifetime value (LTV).

This depth of insight into each customer and account relationship also makes it possible to measure, analyze, predict and improve the impact of education as an integral component in the customer success equation.

Conclusion

There’s never been a better time to offer customer education through a specialized learning system.  Although it’s possible to support online customer training with an employee-oriented LMS, the experience typically falls short of expectations among today’s digitally savvy users.  Now pure-play customer-focused learning platforms are raising the bar with innovative functionality, streamlined third-party software integrations, relevant licensing models and creative service options – all designed to help companies attract, engage and retain customers more effectively.

With powerful solutions like these to elevate your customer education programs, there’s no longer any reason to delay investment in a customer LMS.  And in a world where customer experience increasingly determines overall business success, who can afford to wait?

Thanks for reading!

 


Want more LMS insights? Replay our on-demand webinar:

How to Succeed at Extended Enterprise Education: Strategies for Learning Engagement

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Convincing employees to engage in training is hard enough. So what happens when you want to educate customers, channel partners and others across your extended enterprise? Relevant content is a start, but it is not enough.

What else does it take to succeed?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, and Kevin Hanegan, VP of Knowledge and Learning at Qlik, as they explore learning strategies that win extended enterprise hearts and minds. They discuss:

  • Innovative marketing techniques to attract external audiences
  • Methods for improving content quality and contextual relevance
  • How to motivate learners with contests and rewards
  • Creative ways to leverage video for stronger engagement
  • What custom mobile apps can do to drive continuous learning
  • How to measure, analyze and improve your impact, over time

REPLAY THE WEBINAR NOW!


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John Leh
About John Leh (158 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. Named among the “Top 20 Global Elearning Movers and Shakers” in 2018 and 2017, John is a fiercely independent LMS selection consultant, blogger and podcaster who helps organizations develop and implement learning technology strategies – primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based on more than 20 years of industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to more than 100 learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $65 million. You can connect with John on Twitter at @JohnLeh or on LinkedIn.

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