Published On: February 27, 2019By
What is Customer Education? Learn from a customer learning expert in this interview on the Talented Learning Show with analyst John Leh


To learn more about this podcast series or to see the full collection of episodes visit The Talented Learning Show main page.


EPISODE 19 – Inside Customer Education Programs

On our previous episode, we talked about the increasing popularity of customer success programs among high-growth companies – especially software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors. But what role does customer education play in this process? And what does effective customer education actually look like?

Today, we discuss these questions and more with Dave Derington, Senior Manager of Customer Education at, a sales engagement platform. When we recorded this session, he was Director of User Enablement at Azuqua, a cloud integration-as-a-platform (iPaaS) provider, and prior to that, he held a similar position at customer success software provider, Gainsight.

Dave is also committed to empowering customer education professionals everywhere. Together with industry colleague Adam Avramescu, he recently co-founded the CELab Podcast as a knowledge-sharing resource for anyone interested in this discipline.


KEY TAKEAWAYS – Inside Customer Education Programs

  • Every business can benefit from educated customers. Yet customer education traditionally hasn’t existed as a dedicated function.
  • Recently, organizations have started seeing value in customer education programs – especially subscription-based software companies.
  • Because customer education programs are a relatively new concept, they’re often cobbled together by resourceful pioneers with limited instructional design experience. But new communities of practice are emerging to offer knowledge sharing and support.


Q&A HIGHLIGHTS – Inside Customer Education Programs

Welcome, Dave. First, could you tell us about your podcast, CELab – the Customer Education Laboratory?

Absolutely. Well, we fit into the extended enterprise learning space by focusing on the customer education segment. But we define that a bit more sharply.

How so? 

As my CELab partner, Adam, and I see it, customer education is a part of all organizations. But there’s definitely a gap.

For example, I previously worked at Gainsight, where we talked about customer success all the time. But 10 years ago that function didn’t even exist by name.

It’s the same with customer education. We know it’s been there and we’ve talked about it for years, especially in the software industry. But with CELab, we’re really interested in the leading edge of customer education. We want to move this profession forward. That’s the spirit behind the podcast.

Great idea to fill that gap with a community by and for customer education pros…

A lot of us find ourselves kind of falling into this field. In my case, I was an educator. I was a trainer. That helped a lot.

But startups run fast and lean. Many like me find ourselves in roles where we have to help customers succeed, yet content and infrastructure may not even exist. We know education is essential. But unlike corporate training professionals who are instructional designers by trade, many of us don’t know where to start.

So this is an open resource for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of customer education?

Yes. Our mission with CELab – the Customer Education Laboratory – is to take kind of a scientific approach to connecting practitioners with each other and with communities like yours. We’re tightly focused on bringing people up-to-speed and helping them understand what they need to do to be successful in customer education.

Excellent. You’ve brought your expertise to customer-oriented positions at multiple SaaS companies, including your current role Azuqua. Tell us a bit about that…

Good question. How do we define our job roles? Actually, HR directors at both Gainsight and Azuqua had the same question. I’ve written those descriptions for myself.

How did that happen at Azuqua?

My role is defined as user enablement. That’s a little broader than customer education. And I like that because an Azuqua user can be a customer, a partner or an internal employee. Regardless, they need to learn and learn fast. So my responsibilities are pretty clear.

First, I have to set the direction. When I started, we had no training. We had documentation and some material, but I needed to figure out what we needed, fill the holes, develop a training rubric so we could get a program together and start providing a foundation to bring users up-to-speed quickly.

Big job…

Yep. It’s a broad job description. Plus I’m in marketing, which may seem weird. But I love it because the scope of responsibilities in a startup is broad and it shifts daily.

Every quarter I define OKRs and targets because I’m not just in a box developing content. I’m also doing large-scale programs or social campaigns or I’m talking as an evangelist at events.

Yeah, that’s big and broad and fun. So to clarify, could you summarize what the Azuqua platform does?

Totally. So, if you’re familiar with Zapier or IfThisThenThat (IFTTT), these are great applications that allow you to set up point-to-point automated actions.


Azuqua goes even further, with an enterprise-grade platform or iPaaS (integration platform as a service). This means the platform is in the cloud and it allows you to connect anything to anything else, as long as an app can talk to it.

In other words, we help you easily connect, manipulate and move information where it needs to go, so you can act upon your data.

So it’s a central point of integration?

In the past, organizations developed and managed their own tech integrations. But we’re helping companies steer away from having to do that. Why should you build your own integrations when we have connectors for all the major business apps, and we’re connected to 250 others? Imagine the permutations…

Replay the Webinar: Customer Education Meets Customer Success - featuring learning tech analyst John Leh and Skilljar CEO Sandi Lin



Think about MuleSoft or Boomi, which connect business applications with an integration cloud that removes data silos. Azuqua is basically like that. It’s a powerful yet more cost-effective alternative. And it’s a lot of fun.

So among the 250 application connectors, which are most popular? Salesforce? And what else?

Absolutely. You can connect Marketo marketing automation data with Salesforce CRM and Slack for work collaboration or Trello for project management – whatever you need. There’s an app library on our website. We also offer a portfolio of common use cases. But the point is to save time and resources.


One of my favorite use cases is from Aramark. They needed to streamline their RFP response process. After using Azuqua to connect multiple apps, including Dropbox, Salesforce and Smartsheet, they sped up their sales process and are saving 40 hours a week of manual processing.

Nice. So you primarily train two external audiences – customers and partners. Is the educational approach different for each?

Yeah. This is a meaty problem. When training people, I have to think about all kinds of stuff. It’s not just teaching them how to use the product, but helping them understand conceptually how it helps them accomplish what they’re trying to do. And there’s is a bit of differentiation between the two user scenarios.

Let’s start with an end user…

OK. You buy, you sign-up for a free trial, and you start working with the product. Ultimately, you want a lot of self-serve type content, because you might not want to pay extra for training.

You could join me every Tuesday at 10 o’clock on Twitch. I do a product demo with a use case and it’s free, so you can learn a lot about the product that way. Or you could visit Azuqua Academy online anytime to pick and choose training from one of our various tracks.

And how is partner training different?

I really want those people to have a complete educational experience. Everything. So we may offer them a full series – 100 Track (the basics), 200 Track (more advanced), and 300 Track (for expert users). But customers can also self-select into what they need, and we don’t force them into any particular curriculum.

But I’m more into just-in-time type training, where you get what you need in the moment. We’re working on a lot of automation to help detect moments when a customer may be struggling with a particular connection. I can look for indicators that detect when you’re having an issue. Or you can notify me and I can create a flow that delivers relevant real-time help.

And the media? It sounds mostly like webinars and live streaming. Do you also do pure online or video activities…?

It’s a mixed-mode approach. I like to develop a video and a document that includes everything in the video. I also offer hands-on material if you want to do the work and skip the other stuff. And if we need to go deeper and answer specific questions for a partner, then I may develop and deliver live training for that.

Which content do you develop first?

Typically it’s easier to do instructor-led training first and then back into on-demand. But frankly, because we have such a big self-serve market, I had to do on-demand first.

ON-DEMAND WEBINAR: Strategies for Pricing Customer Education - with independent learning systems analyst John Leh and Thought Industries CEO Barry Kelly


Again, it speaks to the fact that customer education must address many different use cases, and in a fast-moving company sometimes you need to work outside of standard methodologies. You have to do what works for your customers and your team.

What’s your typical design process?

Generally, I start with a document and work through it with subject matter experts iteratively, in an agile way. Once I get the content squared and tested, I share it with a limited number of customers. Then I publish it.

What does your learning tech ecosystem look like?

You’ll love this. I built my own learning management system from scratch, accidentally. I know there are hundreds of LMSs today. And companies like Skilljar and Thought Industries offer great platforms for customer education.

But I decided to build-out our Academy just using HTML. In fact, we use GetHub to develop our training live or in a platform, just like a developer would. It’s weird, but kind of cool.

So I just have HTML right now, but the backend is very simple. I prototype with Google Forms, and then our product surfaces all that. So I can see when someone completes a quiz or an activity. My whole ecosystem is built with inexpensive off-the-shelf tools.

Interesting. And it’s in the spirit of your company to tie together free tools…

I love LMSs and I have a strong need for them in some settings. But for startups that need to move fast, you may not have the time or budget. In this case, by the time I engage with a vendor, I’ve got everything laid out, so we can replicate it in an LMS and take it to the next level.

No doubt. So customer education professionals seem obsessed with measurement – probably because that’s how you get funding and justify your worth. What are your thoughts on that?

This is a sticky question. Metrics. Data. It’s one of our biggest challenges. I tend to look more at consumption and adoption.

Primarily, I’m concerned with getting materials in place, making sure people start to consume that content, looking at where they struggle and covering gaps.

And for the long term, I need to focus on adoption. Who’s consuming training? What accounts are they associated with? Do we see an uplift for organizations that use training versus those that don’t? If so, I can share that message. “When you use training, you can expect x% increase in success with this product.”

How do you move the meter on adoption?

I would encourage your listeners to get a pencil and paper and start outlining ways you can add value to your company’s bottom line. Because I’m at a high-growth company, I can contribute value with an onboarding program that helps drive users to the training they need in-the-moment, so they can quickly overcome roadblocks in their path.

Then I can begin correlating this with customer adoption and success. For example, how much more time do trained users spend with the product than those who haven’t completed training? These can be squishy values, but it starts to paint a picture.


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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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