If you listen to The Talented Learning Show podcast, you know I close each episode with a similar question for every learning practitioner and technology innovator I interview: “What advice would you share with people who are just getting started…?” In this case, I wanted to know about their top customer education tips.
After nearly 50 episodes, I’m convinced there is no “right way” to answer this question. That’s especially true for customer education. There isn’t a universal formula for success. Each organization must find its own unique path.
However, those who’ve been down that path can teach the rest of us many valuable lessons. For example, consider the impressive results that Avon has achieved by reinventing the way it educates its 5 million independent sales representatives, worldwide.
These “beauty entrepreneurs” are not just the extended enterprise engine that powers Avon’s revenues. They are also among the brand’s most loyal advocates and customers. And they deserve a learning experience designed specifically with their needs, interests and behaviors in mind.
That’s why Avon created an innovative social platform that showcases user-generated content and encourages peer-to-peer interaction. This approach has transformed its formal training process into a vibrant community of interest that empowers each representative to learn out loud, one shared bit of professional advice at a time.
Avon’s story is a beautiful thing. But what can we learn from others who are on the frontlines of customer education, every single day? Check this collection of “getting started” tips I’ve gathered from seven customer education pioneers…
Customer Education: Insights From Industry Experts
Q: What’s your best advice for organizations that are just getting started with customer education?
A: Sandi Lin, CEO and Co-Founder of Skilljar
Two pieces of advice:
- Start small and focus on quick wins. Crawl-walk-run. Don’t worry about perfection or building a complete program with 50 perfect courses. Chop up a webinar, add some assessments, focus on easy metrics like hours spent or course registrations. Use an agile approach to get started and I think the results will astound you.
- This may seem counter to my first point, but it’s important to build a solid data foundation. Unfortunately, we see many organizations relying on free systems for the first 6-12 months. But then they’re unable to prove program ROI because they’re not even sure who’s signing up and how it relates to their customer base. Or the platform is so limited that the next phase requires a full rip-and-replace.
You don’t need a “Cadillac” system to start, but you should choose technologies that can grow with you for the first 2-3 years without major rework.
Q: What advice do you have for organizations that want to focus on customer success?
A: Samma Hafeez, Sr. Director Sales and Customer Success, Insight Partners
Consider the kind of relationship you need to forge with customers. Are you truly their partner? Do you feel their highs and lows? Are you willing to work together as a single team?
I suggest you start by talking directly to your customers. Ask them if your company is delivering a valuable service experience. Ask them if you are validating their reason for choosing you in the first place. Be prepared to learn a lot from their answers. You’ll uncover a lot of pain points and challenges.
Also, look at how many of your customers are walking out the door. If you see a pattern where customers are downgrading or terminating at a given point in the lifecycle, that’s probably a sign that something is wrong. You’ll want to investigate that more thoroughly to understand the cause and determine if education or support could help.
This upfront discovery process is essential. It’s your opportunity to become better informed, so you can make intelligent decisions about the kind of resources you should offer.
Q: What advice would you share with organizations that want to offer product training?
A: Mike Martin, Head of Customer Experience and Training at SAP Litmos
Start by looking at the bigger picture. It’s not just about customers. It’s about getting buy-in for what you want your business to accomplish with customer training. And that comes through a combination of content, support and system.
It’s like opening a restaurant. How can you succeed? There are so many variables.
Your food needs to be good. Your service needs to be great. You need to ensure that people know about your restaurant and can find it when they want to eat out. This also applies to customer training.
You can’t assume that if you build it, people will come. And when customers do show up, they must have a good experience. They won’t tolerate a system where passwords regularly break or where it takes 12 clicks to find relevant content. And when they do find that content, what if it’s bad? People won’t engage with your training or your product.
I use the restaurant analogy because I won’t go back to a restaurant with bad food, even if the service is great. And if I don’t know about it because there’s no buzz, I’ll never get there in the first place.
So content, support and system. You’ve got to think of all three together in unison – especially if you’re just getting started.
Q: For companies that are thinking of hosting a customer conference, what advice would you offer?
A: Tara Pawlak, former Director of Marketing, and Tristan Jordan, General Manager at Community Brands
TARA: For us, it starts with content. That’s why people show up. It’s why they wait to see the final agenda before they register. They want to know that sessions and tracks align with their interests.
Will attending really help them gain important new skills, or improve their organization’s mission and impact? Without the right content, it’s really challenging for customers to get the most value from a conference – and sometimes even get approval to attend…
TRISTAN: Right. When building out a conference calendar, we try to keep in mind that people don’t want to come just to hear us talk about our stuff. So we focus on customer stories and customer-led sessions.
That leads to a really valuable agenda. And frankly, we love customer-driven innovation, so we want to offer plenty of opportunities for customers to tell their stories and discuss those experiences with colleagues. Those are the building blocks that really make a customer conference worthwhile.
Q: Your company has established a strong customer education program. What’s your next goal? Where would you like to be in two years?
A: Brittany Tamul, Director of Customer Success at ArrowStream
Our goals are to target a new type of learner with online education. Originally, we set out to target those who were entering the foodservice technology space – new customers moving through software implementation with us.
But now there’s also a need for us to target veteran users with self-service learning. These customers know how to use our system, but occasionally they have a specific question or they may want to expand their skills. Giving them an opportunity to look through catalog content makes it easy for them to get answers quickly.
Also, I would like to see us thinking differently about how our customers interact with the system in terms of certifications, gamification and other incentives that make the online learning process even more engaging. These things are the next frontier for us.
Q: How would you get the customer education ball rolling at an organization that hasn’t started yet?
A: Barry Kelly, Founder and CEO of Thought Industries
Who is responsible for training your customer-facing teams? Start there.
Either sales enablement or your L&D organization trains your support teams, your customer success teams, and possibly your go-to-market teams. There’s a lot of alignment between their agenda and the kind of information you want to share and the behavior change you want to impart through customer education.
In other words, as your internal training teams look at their curriculum and how it’s being delivered to employees, are they thinking about how it can be delivered to customers, as well?
It’s also helpful to encourage curiosity about customers within marketing teams. The more an organization understands about its market and its customers, the more it will benefit from that knowledge.
In our company, we often talk about walking in the shoes of the customer. But here’s the real test: If anyone in our organization had to take on a customer education role tomorrow, could they actually land the plane?
Clearly, there’s no shortage of great advice for organizations that want to succeed at customer education. To stay ahead of the curve, I invite you to check out our entire collection of Talented Learning Show Podcast episodes, anytime. And to be sure you don’t miss future interviews, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Thanks for reading!