Published On: March 20, 2024By
What is customer education? Learn from expert Debbie Smith, President of CEdMA, on this episode of the Talented Learning Show

EPISODE 75: What is Customer Education?

What is customer education? Learn from Debbie Smith - President CEdMA and Sr. Director of Visier University - Talented Learning Show Podcast

Debbie Smith, President, CEdMA

If you haven’t noticed a groundswell of interest in customer education, you haven’t been paying attention. No doubt, that’s what professionals involved in this business function must think. But what is customer education, anyway? Why is it gaining momentum? And why does it play such a critical role in customer experience?

I’ve been exploring this realm for years, most recently in a separate mini-podcast series called Customer Ed Nuggets. However, today’s topic deserves a deeper discussion. That’s why I’ve asked Debbie Smith to join us for this episode of The Talented Learning Show.

Debbie has a wealth of experience as a teacher, instructional designer and customer education practitioner. Currently, she is Sr. Director of Visier University. She also serves as President of the Customer Education Management Association — CEdMA — the world’s oldest and largest association for professionals in high-tech companies. So I think you’ll agree, she’s the ideal guest to discuss this topic.


What is Customer Education – KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Customer education has long been the fastest-growing segment of the enterprise learning market. Yet the term still causes confusion. Exactly what is customer education? Here’s a simple answer: It’s not just about helping people learn. It’s about driving behavior that achieves targeted business results. And this concept applies to a wide range of audiences.
  • Increasingly, company leaders see customer education as more than just a program they can add or delete as budgets allow. Rather, it’s an integral business function that adds measurable value.
  • To prove the impact of customer education, it’s important to use the right metrics. Every company has unique strategic goals, and every customer has specific objectives for using a product. By aligning these priorities, you can develop effective success measures.


What is Customer Education – Q&A HIGHLIGHTS

Welcome, Debbie. Why don’t you start by telling us about CEdMA and its purpose?

Sure, John. CEdMA actually started in 1991 as the Computer Education Management Association. But the computer industry has changed a lot since then, and so have we.

In 2016, we actually changed the name from “Computer Education” to “Customer Education.” That’s because our members are executives, managers, and professionals who focus first on customer and end-user education. We believe every company should have a customer education function, probably sitting side-by-side with customer success teams.

What is customer education? Find out at the CEdMA Conference 2024 in AtlantaMakes sense…

CEDMA has 400 members from over 70 companies, and we’re led by an all-volunteer board. The organization is currently completing a major transformation, which will culminate in this year’s conference, from April 23rd-24th in Atlanta.

We’d love for everyone to attend. And here’s a tip: If you become a member before you purchase a ticket, you’ll save a bit of money. So I hope you’ll all join CEDMA and then join us at the conference.


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Sounds great. I’ll be there! Now, let’s talk about your career path. I think your story helps others see that customer education experts can have very different backgrounds…

Over the years, I’ve taught students of all ages how to use all kinds of technology. I’ve taught in all sorts of industries, too —  manufacturing, biotech, finance, SaaS.

But the year I fell in love with customer education was 2017. That’s when I learned how to show the business impact of customer education. Previously, I had done employee training for HR and sales enablement. That was fun, but we couldn’t show any real impact because those companies weren’t focused on it.

But in 2017, I was able to show the impact of trained users versus untrained users. Specifically, annual recurring revenue (ARR) was about 11% higher for trained users who took elearning. And for those who took instructor led training, ARR was about 25% higher.

Then when I launched a full certification program, ARR for those customers was 69% higher. And I found that accounts with a certified person had zero churn. Isn’t that what we all want?

That’s so inspiring…

So if you ask, “What is customer education?” I would tell you I have a long history in education, and I believe in understanding education science and learning science. But I don’t teach people so they’ll learn. That is not my goal.

I teach people so they’ll buy more product and use more product. I teach people so they don’t churn. I do it to cut support tickets.

Of course, every customer education team has different goals. So as you move from company to company, it’s important to understand and align with your organization’s strategic goals.


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So, to answer the question, “What is customer education?” from an audience standpoint, do you think beyond customers and prospects? Do you include partners, resellers, distributors and others?

Yes. All of that.

I have internal customers on CS teams and product teams who need to be trained. I also train paying customers, prospects, service partners, sales partners. In my company, those are all customers. Other companies may have many different types of customers.


I’ve struggled with keeping the word “customer.” But that’s important is because it focuses on the person who’s doing the learning. When we focus too much on “learners,” we start emphasizing the learning process and not what matters to people involved in the process.

Customer education focuses on the outcomes a customer needs. What are the jobs to be done? What knowledge and skills do they need for that?

It doesn’t matter if your customer is a partner or an internal user. They’re still your customer. They’re trying to get a job done. And your job is to help them use your product so they can do that job.

So, what are the biggest challenges customer education professionals face in getting that job done in 2024? 

Great question. One thing everyone struggles with is buy-in alignment and duplication of effort. Buy-in is hard because people often refer to customer education as a program. But it is not a program. Customer education is a function. It is a business unit that runs multiple programs.

I run an instructor-led training program. I run certification programs and elearning programs. Each of those programs include many projects. But I run customer education as a business unit.


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That language may seem like semantics. It may sound like a small thing, but there’s actually a huge difference. Here’s why:

A program, by definition, has a start and a finish. So, if you’re running a customer education program and the budget gets a little tight, someone may think it’s fine to cut that program. We cut programs, but normally we don’t cut business functions or business units.

So the language I use is very intentional.

Smart thinking. So to prove the worth of the customer education function, what are some of the best business impact statistics you’ve seen from organizations around the world?…


…For complete answers to this question and more about customer education, listen to the full 30-minute podcast on Apple Podcasts, on Google Podcasts, on Spotify, or right here on our site.


Learn More About CEdMA:

Interested in joining CEdMA? Find out how this organization empowers professionals as customer education leaders:


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About the Author: John Leh

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.
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